IF YOU GO
What: Jason Isbell in concert
When: 9 p.m. Satur-day, July 6
Where: Track 29, 1400 Market St.
Admission: $10 in advance, $15 at the door
Things are going well for Jason Isbell these days. His new record, "Southeastern," is getting rave reviews from critics who praise his heartfelt and honest lyrics about kicking his alcohol addiction.
He is happily married to Texas singer/fiddler Amanda Shires, and he is touring in support of the record.
Two weeks ago at Bonnaroo, Isbell got to sit next to his idol, John McLaughlin, during a news conference, then played on the festival's second-largest stage. Later that day, he got to watch Paul McCartney perform.
"It was a good day," he said.
During the news conference, Isbell told McLaughlin and the audience that he had written McLaughlin's name all over his binder in school. The teacher had no idea who the guitar master was.
Sitting next to his hero, he said, he kept glancing over at McLaughlin, looking for whatever it was that allows him to play guitar the way he does.
"I remember looking at [McLaughlin's] hands. They were just normal hands. I thought they'd be somehow different."
Isbell will perform Saturday night, July 6, at Track 29 with his band the 400 Unit. He said in a telephone interview that he will be doing some of the new material, some of his prior solo material and songs from his days with the Drive-By Truckers.
He said it is not difficult for him to mix new material about his sobriety with songs he often wrote and performed while drunk.
"I always wrote about very personal things," he said. "My story was different this time. No matter the subject matter, I felt like you have to be honest with people.
"I do think about the space I was in when I wrote a certain song, and it wasn't always a happy place."
With songs like "Live Oak" on "Southeastern," Isbell opens himself up and shares his fears that friends and family might prefer who he was while drunk to who he is sober.
He has since learned he didn't need to worry.
"They still remember the person I was before, and most of my anxieties were unfounded," he said.
He added that he feels better physically and enjoys having more time to write and enjoy the music he is making.
"I think I'm improving as a songwriter," he said. "For one thing, I have more time to work on it. Rather than having six or seven hours and then being drunk, I now have full days.
Contact staff writer Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...