TVD Live: Jason Isbell, Sheryl Crow, and Waxahatchee at Wolf Trap, 6/17

Bundling acts together for summer tours doesn’t just provide entertainment value, it also allows fans of one act to be introduced (or reintroduced) to acts they might otherwise not have bought a ticket for—and being pleasantly surprised as a result.

At first look, the Americana stardom of critics’ favorite Jason Isbell might not need a second act to bolster sales. Indeed, he’s drawn large crowds on his own across the country—including Wolf Trap, just last fall, where this month he was back again for two nights.

Yet for all his success, he hasn’t had a fraction of the radio play, sales, or widespread pop dominance of Sheryl Crow—whose fans in turn may or may not be aware of his deft songs. Sharing a bill on a tremendous summer night at the wooded Virginia venue and showed how much they have in common, with great bands and sharp songwriting.

Fans of Isbell would be reminded how many of Crow’s songs they already knew by heart and may have forgotten; and those who came for her hits were open and fair minded enough to hear what the fuss about Isbell was all about, maybe for the first time.

The double bill was more than a Machiavellian promoters’ idea; the two had worked together on Crow’s last album, Threads, on a remake of Bob Dylan’s “Everything is Broken” that they reproduced on stage, trading verses and guitar licks.

Crow professed to love everything about Isbell’s music and his politics—though that didn’t come up at all from either artist, particularly. Isbell, for his part, said he’d never had a more fun tour than the one with Crow and opener Waxahatchee, which was already winding up after just seven dates up the Atlantic coast. (Really? Never?)

Anyway, it was an evening of good feeling all around, with Isbell happening to top the bill (Crow had closed the night before at Wolf Trap). With slightly shorter sets than either co-headliner might otherwise play, each was more focused in what they chose to play and as a result had more impact.

Isbell, with his band The 400 Unit, had been switching up setlists each night and even when he repeated songs from the night before, put them in different parts of the show. The one-two punch of “It Gets Easier” and “24 Frames” set the stage, with his own guitar solos backed by support that included his wife Amanda Shires on violin and backing vocals. An occasional member of the 400 Unit with a big career of her own, she had driven to Virginia the night before to help close out the tour.

Isbell’s “Dreamsicle” was a good summertime choice, blending blissful memories of warm vacation nights blunted by a divorce at home. But “Overseas” and “Traveling Alone” was a good pairing as well. He threw a couple of songs he had written in his previous band, Drive-By Truckers, in “Goddamn Lonely Love” and the encore “Decoration Day” and let his guitarist Sadler Vaden take the lead on a song from the band he was once in, Drivin’ n’ Cryin,’ “Honeysuckle Blue.”

Isbell gets a great band sound in part by encouraging and spotlighting the musicians individually, turning to them sometimes instead of the audience. But he was still so dynamic that few who may have come to see Crow do her hits left during Isbell’s set.

And Isbell fans were likely impressed not only by the number of mid-’90s hits Crow performed but how solid they were, how tough her stance, and how good they sounded. With her hair waving in the breeze, she looked nothing like the 60 she said she was. She included her first new songs only after a half dozen of the familiar ones.

The subject of a revealing new documentary on Showtime, Crow spoke just a bit about her bout with cancer, her hiatus, and her adopted sons, who she said weren’t hip to her career until she sang the song “Real Gone” for the 2006 animated Cars, which she proceeded to play. The sheer number of her hits, though, meant she could only squeeze in a couple of the newer ones, but by then the audience was open for whatever she wanted to throw in.

Opening the show with an indie spirit was Waxahatchee, the band led by Katie Crutchfield. She had opened for Isbell the last time he played Wolf Trap (a one night performance on a tour where he was using fellow musicians from Alabama). Here, she had been opener for the whole tour, with nine of her 10 songs from her latest album St. Cloud and ending with a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning.”

For those who arrived early enough, she may have been an additional discovery for fans of either of the co-headliners.

It Gets Easier
24 Frames
Traveling Alone
Honeysuckle Blue
Goddamn Lonely Love
Be Afraid
What’ve I Done to Help
Hope the High Road
Cover Me Up

Decoration Day

If It Makes You Happy
All I Wanna Do
My Favorite Mistake
A Change Would Do You Good
Leaving Las Vegas
Strong Enough
Real Gone
The First Cut is the Deepest
Everything is Broken
Cross Creek Road
Soak Up the Sun
Everyday is a Winding Road

Recite Remorse
Can’t Do Much
The Tye
Hell Lilacs
Ruby Falls
St. Cloud
Light of a Clear Blue Morning

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