In its 31st season, Friday Cheers is still finding ways to excite music lovers in Richmond, with a lineup each
In its 31st season, Friday Cheers is still finding ways to excite music lovers in Richmond, with a lineup each year full of incredible artists from up and down the musical spectrum.
While this year will see that musical spectrum stretched thin thanks to synth-rockers Future Islands and prog-rockers Moon Taxi, it’s the soothing sound of southern rock and roll from Jason Isbell that was most at home this past Friday evening.
Richmond got its first taste of the Alabama singer years back when he was a member of the Drive-By Truckers, a southern rock band with deep roots in Richmond and a following here that most bands would kill for. After parting ways in 2007 to start his own career, Isbell quickly established himself as a premier force on the alt-country/southern rock circuit, with a refreshing style of songwriting that instantly won critics over. Richmond’s been waving his flag since his start, supporting him the best way it knows how with a fervent crowd showing up each time he rolls through. Last time, it was a hot August night inside The National where fans scuttled inside to hear the sweet sounds of his fourth album, Southeastern. This past Friday night, it was a seemingly never-ending crowd of music lovers, all ready to take in his humble charisma and sweet southern soul on a perfect night in the heart of Richmond.
Richmond’s own Horsehead opened up the night with their well-established take on southern rock and roll, one full of rich harmonies and bombastic instrumentation. With the sun beating down on a crowd told to invest in sunscreen by the band themselves, the quintet played many of the songs that have made them a favorite in Richmond’s thriving music scene as well as a good amount of tracks from their upcoming album, Casual Dracula, due out June 23rd. With a sound that goes nearly hand in hand with Jason Isbell, Horsehead set the stage as best as possible for southern rock to really take command of Friday Cheers in a memorable fashion.
The command stayed just as strong while switching hands from Horsehead to Jason Isbell and as the opening melody of “Stockholm” rang out, the perfect outdoor soundtrack for a Friday evening in spring began. With his backing band The 400 Unit as tight as ever, Isbell whipped through song after song, most of which were brand-new to Richmond’s ears as they’re set to be released on his forthcoming album Something More Than Free. Perhaps it was the third-beer buzz kicking in or maybe it was just the sheer strength of his songwriting, but when performing songs virtually no one knew, the attention still stayed just as firm on Isbell and his modest stage presence.
Isbell’s rocky past has been discussed for years now, but he addressed it multiple times throughout the show, it was clear it’s still on his mind every day. When a train barreled down the tracks over the island, the singer remarked how he would have been quick to jump on it at one point in his life, just to get away. He opened up even more later on by sharing the story of how the last drink he ever had was in Richmond, a fact made even more serious by the knowledge that he’s been performing in Richmond since before he could even legally drink. Richmond has truly seen Isbell through every stage of his life so being able to enjoy him at his absolute best after all this time, it’s merely icing on the cake next to his undeniable talent and impeccable live performance.
As the show came to a close and he gave a personal shout-out to Deep Groove’s Jay Leavitt, a long-time friend of both his and the Drive-By Truckers, Jason Isbell cemented his relationship with Richmond. For over fifteen years, the city has had the privilege of watching Isbell grow as an artist and more importantly, as a man. Through every up and down, Richmond’s been there to show its support and with the show on Friday night on Brown’s Island, Jason Isbell repaid those years of support with an incredible night of brilliantly crafted music and cathartic triumph.