Jason Isbell was among one of the first artists to announce he would require a COVID-19 vaccine, or negative test, to attend his show, and he isn’t backing down. The 42-year-old, who fronts the band Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, explains why he is so insistent on implementing the policy, as numbers of the delta variant of COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to go into places and play shows for people, and I don’t think that’s going to last very long, unless we do it carefully,” Isbell tells MSNBC. “There’s never enough. We can’t guarantee that everybody that comes into the show is coming safely, and they’re not going to be spreading the virus, but I think it’s up to all of us to do what we can just to keep the music business running. We’re going to get shut back down again real soon if we don’t start doing this.”
Isbell got into a Twitter feud with fellow singer Marc Broussard over his policy, with Broussard criticizing Isbell, claiming he has “some working class fans who can’t afford the risks associated with either the vaccines or even getting a test.” It’s an argument Isbell doesn’t understand.
“I don’t understand the elitist thing,” Isbell says. “Maybe that guy has a harder time getting people to come to his shows, I don’t know but it doesn’t really feel elitist to me. To me, it just feels a little bit safer.”
Isbell’s Houston show, scheduled for Wednesday, August 11, has been canceled, after event organizers could not implement Isbell’s policy in time for the show. The singer-songwriter admits he considered canceling all of his shows, in light of the growing numbers, but felt having precautions in place was the best way for him to move forward, at least for now.
“I considered it, because I’m scared,” Isbell says of considering canceling his tour. “I’m scared for the audience. I’m scared for people’s kids at home and at school who can’t get the vaccine yet. I considered canceling outright, but what we decided to do is just for all of our shows, everywhere going forward to require either a vaccine card or a negative test, and we’re going to ask everybody to wear masks. I feel like we’ll probably get some pushback from certain states, on that.
“In a lot of cases, some of the venues are receiving some state funds and the states are threatening to withhold those funds from places who allow their artists to require proof of vaccination or COVID tests but we’ll just deal with whatever we have to deal with,” he continues. “If we have to cancel some shows, we’ll cancel some shows. If we get sued, I’ll get up and talk on behalf of the people in the audience, because I think it’s more important to keep them safe. We’re not providing something that’s necessarily essential. We’re not giving people healthcare or food or shelter. We’re trying to entertain folks. So I’m not saying anybody has to get a vaccine or a negative test but if you don’t, then you don’t get to come to the show. I think that makes sense.”
Isbell knows not everyone will agree, or want to comply, with his policy, but he is determined that his new safety measures are the best way for him, and other artists, to move forward.
“I think the people who work in the music business and who work in the venues understand,” Isbell maintains “From everything that I’ve heard so far, all of the response I’ve gotten from people in the business, they understand. They understand that we could go back to not working at all, and a lot of these smaller venues, they aren’t going to be able to reopen if they go through another round of shutdowns. So yeah, I think they understand. The problem is they’re just getting so much pushback from some of the governors of certain states who want to kowtow to their political base and try to make people think that their freedom is being encroached upon.”
Isbell also has a response for those who think he is infringing on their rights.
“I’m all for freedom, but I think if you’re dead, you don’t have any freedoms at all,” Isbell notes. “So it’s probably important to stay alive before you start questioning your liberty. It’s life and then it’s liberty and then it’s the pursuit of happiness. Those are in order of priority.”
Updates on Isbell’s tour schedule can be found at JasonIsbell.com.