Shut Up and Strum

Alt-country singer-songwriter Jason Isbell is one of those artists I’ve been meaning to familiarize myself with for quite some time. What I’ve heard has sort of a Band/Lowell George/Rodney Crowell vibe to it, which is a good thing indeed.

I enjoy following Isbell on Twitter, he’s one of the more intelligent and insightful musicians on social media. Recently, he’s been outspoken in his pro-vaxx and anti-mask warrior views.

Isbell is putting his money where his mouth is  by requiring concert attendees to be either vaccinated or tested:

From the conduct of such artists, to the criticism of Isbell’s virus precautions, the pandemic has laid bare one of country music’s longest running divides. Before those ongoing rows, Isbell regularly traded barbs with right-leaning followers who implored him to focus on music and forget politics.


A greater part of country lore occurred backstage at Willie Nelson’s 70th birthday concert in 2003, when a Nashville chart topper argued with elder singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson about his “lefty shit”.

“There’s more than one kind of country singer, and if everyone outside our community learns we aren’t all big dumb hillbillies then that’ll be a nice side-effect to all this. But I’m not setting out to do that, I just want everyone to be safe,” says Isbell. “A lot of country stars look just like me. And we have a lot of white men in our audiences who feel disadvantaged these days. But if the music had been more inclusive of other stories, we’d have a broader cross section,” he says, before adding that this has compelled him to support female African American country singers like Adia Victoria, who has frequently opened for him.

The music world needs more people like Jason Isbell and fewer people who tell him to shut up and strum.

Since Kris Kristofferson is a fellow San Mateo High School graduate, here’s a longer version of the “lefty shit” story from a Rolling Stone article written By Ethan Hawke:

Up from the basement came one of country music’s brightest stars (who shall remain nameless). At that moment in time, the Star had a monster radio hit about bombing America’s enemies back into the Stone Age.

“Happy birthday,” the Star said to Willie, breezing by us. As he passed Kristofferson in one long, confident stride, out of the corner of his mouth came “None of that lefty shit out there tonight, Kris.”

“What the fuck did you just say to me?” Kris growled, stepping forward.

“Oh, no,” groaned Willie under his breath. “Don’t get Kris all riled up.”

“You heard me,” the Star said, walking away in the darkness.

“Don’t turn your back to me, boy,” Kristofferson shouted, not giving a shit that basically the entire music industry seemed to be flanking him.

The Star turned around: “I don’t want any problems, Kris – I just want you to tone it down.”

“You ever worn your country’s uniform?” Kris asked rhetorically.


“Don’t ‘What?’ me, boy! You heard the question. You just don’t like the answer.” He paused just long enough to get a full chest of air. “I asked, ‘Have you ever served your country?’ The answer is, no, you have not. Have you ever killed another man? Huh? Have you ever taken another man’s life and then cashed the check your country gave you for doing it? No, you have not. So shut the fuck up!” I could feel his body pulsing with anger next to me. “You don’t know what the hell you are talking about!”

“Whatever,” the young Star muttered.

One of the best dressing downs of a chicken hawk I’ve ever heard.

The “lefty shit” story is a good example of what artists like Jason Isbell have to deal with.

Keep up the lefty shit, sir. Never listen to anyone who tells you to shut up and strum.

The last word obviously goes to Jason Isbell as suggested by Val McGinley:

One thought on “Shut Up and Strum

  1. This is an older one he released a short while after he left Drive By Truckers, but it is richly flavored:

    Live Oak off of his 2013 Southeastern album / cd.

    (The links look like long spammer threads, so I did not put one here, but the studio version and several live versions pop up in search engines.)

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