“How many of you guys are as old as me? Do you like to have fun in Arkansas?” – Sheryl Crow
It wasn’t quite “until the sun (came) up over (Walton) Boulevard,” but Sheryl Crow and Jason Isbell certainly “had some fun” at the AMP Friday night. And their audience did as well. As noted, many times here at Shindigmusic, the 2019 Cox Summer Concert Series has been on a severe ‘90s kick, and such a party wouldn’t be complete without one of the biggest female music icons of the last decade of the 20th century making a stop.
Both Crow and Isbell have been here before. Together, in fact. They came through with Willie Nelson in 2017 as part of the Outlaw Music Festival Tour. We hope they’ll go for a hat trick in the future, because they pair up nicely. Isbell referred to Sheryl Crow as “his hero” at one point onstage, and Crow had Isbell join her for a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Everything is Broken”, a featured track from her new (and purportedly final) album Threads, which also released Friday. Crow’s set was very, very heavy on the hits; basically, if you’re a casual Sheryl Crow fan, you got to hear everything you wanted, but the duet with Isbell was a fresh, welcome addition to her repertoire.
Before his guest spot with Crow, Jason Isbell played a headliner worthy set himself with his killer backing band, the 400 Unit. Isbell has come a long way from his humble beginnings as the tertiary guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter in the Drive-By Truckers. He even came through NWA as a member of DBT, playing at Dave’s on Dickson (RIP) to maybe 50 people while touring 2003’s Decoration Day, to which Isbell contributed the incredible title track. Unfortunately, he didn’t play that or much else of his Truckers-era catalog, though he did treat his old school fans to a particularly raucous rendition of “Never Gonna Change” from 2005’s The Dirty South.
Instead, and much like his NWA solo debut headlining the inaugural edition of the Peacemaker Music Festival in 2015, Isbell opted to focus on his ever more successful latter-day songs. The audience repeatedly called for “Cover Me Up” from his 2013 breakthrough Southeastern, and when they finally got it, an epic sing-a-long ensued, though Isbell’s voice, Alabama accent and all, was somehow still more powerful than the thousands singing along. “Something More Than Free” from the eponymous, Grammy-winning album, was also a standout moment.
During “Can’t Cry Anymore”, Sheryl Crow wondered “aren’t you glad you’re here and not in front of the news?” Having fun has been a hallmark of her career, and it was kind of the theme of her performance at the Walmart AMP. Crow even poked a little fun at her host. “I got my braces in Jonesboro… I grew up just down the road, in the next state over, in southern Missouri, in the boot heel. I shopped at Walmart. I even got banned by Walmart once,” Crow noted in reference to the 1996 controversy over Sheryl Crow containing lyrics about Walmart gun sales. That was as close to political as the night got, and considering that Crow has also performed at the retail giant’s annual shareholders meeting in recent history, it’s safe to say it was more of a funny aside than any kind of real commentary on current events.
It was a much more subdued evening than some of the recent AMP shows, but it was still just as cool. It was also the first show of the season where a jacket came in handy, so clearly the summer is winding down, and along with it, these shows, but there are still a few more coming up in September and October. Get some outdoor live music in while you can. Arenas and clubs are wonderful, but music in
the open air is a singular experience and being able to enjoy it is one of the things that makes this corner of the Natural State so great.
PHOTO CREDIT: Arkansas Music Pavilion