Jason Isbell Concerts Will Require Vaccination, Negative Covid Test or ‘We Won’t Play’

UPDATE 2 (8/11): In response to Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion’s claim that they didn’t have time to institute a vaccine requirement, as Jason Isbell requested, Isbell’s rep says: “Our agent contacted Live Nation in Houston on July 31st with our new protocols.”


UPDATE (8/11): Jason Isbell was scheduled to perform a Houston concert this week, but the show was canceled after the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion “was not willing to comply with the band’s updated Health and Safety standards,” according to Isbell’s label, Southeastern Records. In a new statement to Rolling Stone, Jerry MacDonald, the president and CEO of the venue said timing was the issue.

“We got the request for the change on Monday. To implement a major change in policy such as what was requested would take more than 2 days to properly implement,” MacDonald said in part. “We would hold our staff to the same standard as our guests and there needs to be time to address this logistically. We are currently following all CDC guidelines in operating The Pavilion. The venue is an outdoor, open-air facility. The Isbell show would have been at about 10% capacity with the ability to socially distance. The Pavilion gave Mr. Isbell and his team several options to produce a safe event at the venue and even offered to postpone the show to a date when the protocols could be implemented. All options were denied.”

Isbell and the 400 Unit also announced a venue change to their Friday show in Fort Worth, Texas. Originally scheduled for Panther Island Pavilion, the concert will now take place at Billy Bob’s Fort Worth. Previous tickets will be honored.

A post on the Billy Bob’s Texas website says, “When Jason Isbell announced new guidelines for his upcoming Fort Worth concert, his management reached out to Billy Bob’s Texas to facilitate the show on Friday the 13th. Jason Isbell says he’s requiring COVID-19 vaccination proof at his concerts to keep his fans safe because ‘if you’re dead, you don’t have any freedoms at all.’”

In a statement to Rolling Stone, a rep for Live Nation said, “We are fully supportive of Jason Isbell’s decision to require fans to provide proof a negative COVID-19 test or full vaccination for entry to his shows. We also encourage everyone who can to get vaccinated as that is the best way for us all to take care of each other and get back to doing what we love.”


UPDATE (8/10): Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit canceled a Houston show for Wednesday claiming that the venue, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, “was not willing to comply with the band’s updated Health and Safety standards,” according to a statement from Isbell’s label.

Reporter Sally MacDonald objected to Isbell’s statement, writing on Twitter, “The pavilion statement doesn’t say they weren’t willing to comply. It says they couldn’t implement a change like that on short notice. Like everywhere else they are short-staffed, too.”

To which Isbell responded: “The pavilion statement is false. Live Nation, the promoter, was on board but the venue owner flat-out refused to even attempt to implement the policy.” He also pointed out that MacDonald is supposedly the daughter of the venue owner.

Neither MacDonald, the venue, nor Live Nation immediately responded to Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.


Jason Isbell will now require proof of vaccine or a negative Covid test at all of his upcoming shows with the 400 Unit. The singer-songwriter appeared on MSNBC to discuss the decision, which affects a busy fall schedule that includes multiple nights in Nashville.

“We’re now requiring proof of vaccination or a current negative test to attend all our shows, indoors or out,” he tweeted. “If the venue won’t allow that, we won’t play.”

Isbell explained to MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle that he’d gotten positive feedback on his decision from people working in the music industry and particularly in the touring sector.

“People who work at the venues and who work in the music business understand,” Isbell told Ruhle. “From everything I’ve heard so far all the response I’ve gotten from people in the business has been positive because they understand that we could go back to not working at all. A lot of these smaller venues, they’re not going to be able to reopen if they go through another round of shutdowns.”

Some of those smaller venues and industry workers are located in places where they’re also facing pressure from leaders who want them open with zero requirements.

“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 their freedom is being encroached upon,” Isbell said. “I’m all for freedom, but if you’re dead, you don’t have any freedoms at all. It’s probably important to stay alive before you start questioning your liberty.”

Isbell had announced at the end of last week that his shows at Austin’s Moody Theatre and Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom would be requiring proof of vaccinations or a negative test within 72 hours. Many applauded the move, but singer Marc Broussard lashed out at Isbell, calling the decision “bourgeois” and “elitist.” Isbell fired back at Broussard with a call to his humanity. “How many kids are in the hospital in Louisiana right now, the place you love so much? How many of our heroes died in the last year and a half? You seriously need to rethink some shit.”

Live events and some cities have been slowly moving in this direction as transmission of Covid’s delta variant has new case numbers surging. Chicago’s Lollapalooza festival required its attendees to show proof of vaccination or a negative test, while Live Nation is putting that decision in the hands of its artists. Some festivals, like Kentucky’s Railbird, have followed suit, while others like New Orleans’ Jazzfest have rescheduled until 2022. So far, no mandates have been placed on Tennessee’s Bonnaroo, set for Labor Day weekend, or Texas’ Austin City Limits Festival in early October.