Jason Isbell Drops Out of Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion Over Vaccination Policy

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit have pulled out of the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion after the festival held in the Tennessee-Virginia border city of Bristol said it would not be requiring proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test for entry. Isbell announced last week that he will only play venues and festivals that enact such a policy.

In a statement, the organizers of the festival explained their decision not to require vaccination or a negative test. “The Birthplace of Country Music (BCM) has had numerous conversations with our local, regional and state leaders to assess options available to us concerning the requirement by one of our artists for our patrons to either provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of attending the festival,” it said. “After exploring all options, we have concluded that we cannot impose a vaccine mandate or negative test policy at this time without a state mandate.”

In response, Isbell wrote on Twitter: “We won’t be appearing at the Rhythm and Roots Reunion this year. Y’all be safe!”

Set for September 10th through 12th in Bristol, known as the Birthplace of Country Music for the historic 1927 recording sessions that occurred there, the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion also features Tanya Tucker and Blackberry Smoke atop the bill. Tucker, however, has recently canceled a string of shows as she recovers from hip surgery, and Blackberry Smoke had to cancel concerts after guitarist Paul Jackson tested positive for Covid-19. Both Tucker and the Southern rock band are expected to still appear in Bristol.

Other performers on the lineup include Dr. Dog, Yola, the SteelDrivers, the Steel Woods, Charley Crockett, 49 Winchester, and Early James.

A spokesperson for the festival told Rolling Stone, “As it stands, Bristol Rhythm & Roots is prohibited from enacting a vaccination/negative test policy per Tennessee law. As a public event that utilizes multiple downtown businesses and vendors rather than a private venue/site, the stipulations surrounding our event protocols are unique.”

Organizers said in a statement that, “while respecting individual rights,” they encourage vaccination and ask fans who aren’t vaccinated to “consider being tested prior” to the Reunion. Additionally, masks will be available to all fans at the entrance.

“I think if we hadn’t put these kinds of restrictions in place and we didn’t hold the line on it, I would feel like I was taking advantage of people while I’m doing my job,” Isbell told Rolling Stone last week. “I don’t ever want to do that, because that little thing that I love the most about the job that I have is the fact that it spreads something positive. I want to protect that. I don’t want to spread positive tests — I want to spread positive vibes.”