Jason Isbell performing at Athens’ Terrapin Beer Co., releasing Georgia-themed album

The former Drive-By Trucker will return to Georgia for four more shows later in the year.

Four-time Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter and guitarist Jason Isbell is scheduled to perform with his band the 400 Unit on Sunday, Sept. 12, at Terrapin Beer Co. in Athens.

It’s a homecoming of sorts for Isbell, who first found fame at a young age as a member of the Athens-based Drive-By Truckers.

Since then, the northern Alabama native has not only grown in stature as a musician, but has become something of a left-leaning cultural icon — helping to define what the Truckers’ Patterson Hood once dubbed “the duality of the Southern thing.”

Rolling Stone has called Isbell a master of Twitter, using the medium to artfully project “a delicate balance between music talk, irreverent fun and serious discourse.”

Credit: Robb Cohen for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Robb Cohen for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“I think a lot of people misunderstand the purpose of Twitter, because it’s not a bulletin board, and it’s not Facebook, and it’s not where you go to catch up with people, or even where you go to espouse some view that you just landed on,” Isbell said during a recent phone call from his country home outside Nashville.

“It’s more of a place where you go to react, and to respond to information. To do that you need the ability to react quickly and precisely, because you can’t edit, of course. If you could it would destroy the entire platform. I kind of picture it like everybody’s sitting around a big dinner table, and it’s one of those family reunions where half the people there you like, and the other half of the people there you hate.”

Not surprisingly, Isbell sometimes clashes with followers and even some fellow musicians over vaccines and mask mandates. Since resuming touring this year, he only plays venues and festivals that require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. And those protocols always apply backstage, too.

“We test a lot, and we wear masks,” Isbell said. “We don’t wear masks when we’re on stage, but pretty much all the rest of the day we wear masks. My daughter has one on at all times. She’s a reminder for everyone else. She gives people the thumbs up if they have their mask on right, and the thumbs down if they don’t. But she does that to strangers and everybody.”

As fate, or current events, would have it, the Terrapin show was a surprise, quickly scheduled to replace another headlining stop on the tour.

“We were going to play at that Rhythm & Roots Reunion in Bristol, Tennessee, and they weren’t able to implement our COVID safety protocols, so we moved the show, and the folks at Terrapin were good enough to have us play there,” Isbell said.

In addition to getting back on the road in 2021, Isbell has been busy with acting, producing a covers album, and relaunching an Alabama music festival.

Over the summer, he joined the cast of Martin Scorsese’s upcoming film, “Killers of the Flower Moon.” It’s an adaptation of the David Grann book about the early 1920s murders in Oklahoma’s Osage Nation, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro.

“I went out to Oklahoma and worked on it for almost three months,” Isbell said. “It’s based on a true story. There was a tribe in Oklahoma that found oil, and became extremely wealthy. I think they were the richest group of people in the world at that point in time. And then a lot of the Osage people were murdered for their land rights.

“But it was a really incredible experience, because I was out there for so long, and everybody that I worked with seemed to be the best at whatever they were doing. I guess the only real similarity between that and what I normally do for a living is that we’re all trying to tell a story. So to see a story told on this level, with this kind of detail and care was really impactful to me.”

In that vein, Isbell recently produced and played on a heartfelt album he said he would make if Joe Biden won Georgia in the 2020 presidential election.

Credit: Robb Cohen for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Robb Cohen for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“I’m gonna make a charity covers album of my favorite Georgia songs - R.E.M., Gladys Knight, Vic Chesnutt, Allmans, Cat Power, Precious Bryant, Now It’s Overhead, etc... And damn is that gonna be fun,” he promised on Twitter.

Titled “Georgia Blue,” it includes songs by a broad range Georgia artists, from James Brown to Jason Aldean, covered by Isbell, his wife Amanda Shires, 400 Unit guitarist Sadler Vaden, and the likes of Bela Fleck, Chris Thile, Julien Baker and Brandi Carlile.

The first track, R.E.M.’s rousing “Driver 8,” covered by John Paul White, will be released on Sept. 14, followed by a digital album release on Oct. 15, and a physical release on Nov. 26, with proceeds going to Black Voters Matter, Georgia StandUp, and Fair Fight.

Coming up Oct. 2-3, Isbell and the 400 Unit will be headlining Shoals Fest in Florence, Alabama, with a lineup that includes Lucinda Williams, Drive-By Truckers, Candi Staton, and the reunions of Centro-Matic, Slobberbone, and Pine Hill Haints.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Isbell said. “You know, in 2019, that was my favorite thing I did at work all year, putting that festival on. It just felt really good to bring big touring acts to my hometown, and do it the right way, where everybody was comfortable, the sound was good, and it was a beautiful location.

“When we didn’t get to do it last year, it broke my heart. But I’m very excited about this time around. The lineup has a lot to do with my early days of touring, and people I met in all those bands we toured with in 2002, 2003, and 2004.”

Finally, for fans in Atlanta, Isbell and the 400 Unit will be returning to the Tabernacle for four nights, Dec. 16-19, following up on what has become a sort of holiday tradition.

“I love being in Atlanta,” Isbell said. “And there’s something about the Tabernacle that just feels conducive to a rock and roll show. It’s a good room, and the size of the place makes you feel kind of like you’re in an old arena. It sounds big. And it just has the right feeling, and the right vibe.”


Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

7:30 p.m. Sept. 12. $59.50-$99. Terrapin Beer Co., 265 Newton Bridge Road, Athens. 706-549-3377, terrapinbeer.com.