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There’s no such thing as someone else’s war

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Really interesting article about Jason Isbell’s annual residency at the Ryman:

But if the Ryman has become a kind of home for Isbell, this year’s residency carried a different energy. It was historic. For seven of the eight evenings, he had a different Black woman opening for him. In an industry and genre that is consistently failing white women and is downright hostile to Black women, the choice to feature these openers is a small revolution.

The openers vary in age, fame, and career stages. Between them, they cover a variety of genres under the roots music umbrella, ranging from country to soul, blues to folk, Americana to rock ‘n’ roll. For many of them, it was their first time playing the Ryman at all.

Perhaps the most recognizable name on the list is Mickey Guyton, a Nashville veteran who earlier this year became the first Black woman to be nominated for a solo country music Grammy. Guyton’s career is the perfect representation of how country’s corporate machinery regularly silences Black women. After weathering a decade of her label’s attempts to slot her into an R&B box, she stood her ground. Finally, in September, Guyton released her debut album, Remember Her Name. (“Thank God that Black don’t crack,” Guyton, who is 38, told me with a giggle. “Because I’d be screwed.”)

Isbell’s decision to feature seven Black women is notable in any year, but in this particular moment, it feels like a necessary course correction. Earlier this year, the country music industry was rocked by scandal after Ring camera footage leaked of rising star Morgan Wallen drunkenly shouting the n-word.

Wallen was dropped by his booking agent, and the all-powerful country radio stopped playing him. But a few months later, he is now sort of on parole, and radio stations are receptive to a new single. He’s rolled out a tour schedule after months of being MIA. The evidence suggests the appetite for forgiving Wallen is healthy.

When I first talked to Isbell on the second night of his Ryman residency, he seemed bothered by the relatively minor consequences that Wallen had faced. “I think it’s hilarious that people assume that making somebody less famous is like cutting their fucking dick off!” Isbell said. “We’re not calling for the man’s head! We’re just going, ‘This guy is an idiot. And he does not deserve to be put on a pedestal. So let’s take him off the pedestal and put him back down on the sidewalk with everybody else.’ That’s all anybody asked for.” (A publicist told BuzzFeed News that Wallen is unavailable to comment.)

Not only that, but Isbell is CANCELLING people who want to attend his shows unvaccinated! This is why Biden didn’t win Tennessee.

It’s not a surprise, then, that Isbell doesn’t do elephants in the room. (He has been outspoken about vaccine requirements at his concerts, earning some fans’ ire. Some declared they’ll never see an Isbell show again. “Sounds great!” he responded.) At least that’s the sense I got when he first walked into the small dressing room a few steps from the Ryman stage during our interview. This is someone who has little tolerance for vague small talk, preferring to get to the heart of the matter. So when I asked how he decided to have seven different Black women opening this Ryman run, there was a hint of exasperation in his voice. “First of all, I just love the music these women make,” he said. The choice of openers was neither some performative move nor an after-school special. “None of these people should be available to open for me,” he added. “They should all be too big for that.”

You don’t actually have to suck up or ignore people like Wallen to make a good living, but the path of least resistance is always going to be attractive to most people.

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