Anaheim, CA resident Jennifer Ware travels wherever alt-country singer-songwriter Jason Isbell plays every year on the anniversary of her partner’s death.
In 2023, that journey brought her to Victoria. Her partner Ryan Jones took his last breath on March 6, 2018 after a battle with cancer.
“Jason’s song Last of My Kind just happened to be playing on my Spotify mix at the time of Ryan’s passing,” Ware said. “Now I go see Jason play Last of My Kind annually.”
Ware has been an Isbell fan for over 20 years and can’t remember how many times she’s seen him perform. She’s gone to his shows in Las Vegas, Hawaii, Arizona, Montana, all over California and now Victoria.
“I could see him play 1,000 times and never get sick of it,” Ware said.
Ware sat beside me during Isbell’s final song of his debut show in B.C.’s capital city on March 6. She had tears in her eyes and her late partner’s ashes clasped in her hands as Isbell performed If We Were Vampires, which was released just before Jones’ terminal diagnosis.
“It’s knowing that this can’t go on forever,” Isbell sang emotionally during the hit released in 2017. “Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone. Maybe we’ll get 40 years together, but one day I’ll be gone or one day you’ll be gone.”
My eyes didn’t stay dry much longer.
“The show was amazing as always,” Ware said. “Jason is the best.”
Hearing Elephant live - a song about witnessing a loved one dying from cancer - was a heartbreakingly beautiful experience, but this was especially the case for Ware as Isbell sang the poignant lyrics: “There’s one thing that’s real clear to me. No one dies with dignity. We just try to ignore the elephant somehow.”
Mortality was a common theme throughout the set. Those in attendance also heard Death Wish, the lead single from Isbell and his band, the 400 Unit’s upcoming album “Weathervanes”, which is set to be released on June 9.
“There is something about boundaries on this record,” Isbell said in a press release. “As you mature, you still attempt to keep the ability to love somebody fully and completely while you’re growing into an adult and learning how to love yourself.”
The crowd showed support for Isbell’s sobriety and performance with loud cheers as he sang, “I sobered up, and I swore off that stuff forever this time,” during his massive hit Cover Me Up. Isbell has been sober for more than 11 years after struggling with cocaine and alcohol abuse.
It was a rare show where there was more energy in the room during the ballads, including Cover Me Up and Traveling Alone. Soft-seaters seem to suit Isbell well, so the Royal Theatre served the crowd perfectly, who remained seated but engaged throughout the concert.
The most uptempo and heavy song of the night was Honeysuckle Blue, a Drivin’ n’ Cryin’ cover sung by the 400 Unit’s lead guitarist, Sadler Vaden. The cover was also released on Isbell’s latest album “Georgia Blue”.
Overall, Isbell and the 400 Unit put on a country-infused show even people who aren’t fond of modern country music would enjoy. Instead of singing about blue jeans and tailgating, Isbell dove into themes involving politics, sobriety and a cathartic look at death.