I walked into the Ryman knowing what I was getting with a Jason Isbell show, but I had never seen Amanda Shires live. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from her live show; however, what I, and the rest of the crowd, got was a treat. We did not see an opening act. We saw what felt like a co-headlining show.
Shires started her set by dedicating her time on stage to the late John Prine. She then began to play a Prine song — and nailed it. I became an instant fan of her as both an artist and performer when she yelled to the crowd, “Did you hear my solo, or do I need to redo it?” She then yelled at the sound guy to turn her fiddle up and turned to the crowd and stated, “If we are going to do a John Prine song, we are going to do it right.” What followed was a killer fiddle solo. It is this crowd work that makes Shires the top-tier performer that she is.
The concert was taken to another level when she invited the incomparable Brittany Spencer on stage to join her for several songs. They had a natural chemistry that enthralled the crowd. Whether with their storytelling or their harmonies, the two had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands. Even further proof of this is that Shires got four standing ovations during her set (at the freaking Mother Church).
Shires’ set came to a close with her, her husband Isbell and their daughter, Mercy, singing “My Own Galaxy.” It was at this point that Mercy stole the show. With every one of their daughter’s howls, the crowd got louder. For just a moment, I forgot that I was here in my capacity as a journalist and cheered along with the crowd in support of Mercy. The set could not have ended in a more heartwarming and entertaining way.
Shires’ night did not come to an end with her set. She soon joined Isbell and The 400 Unit on stage. During multiple songs where Isbell and the band took a step back, she was left alone at the front of the stage. Whether intentional message or not this was the band telling the crowd something I said earlier in this review. Amanda Shires is no featured artist; she is a headliner.
The final aspect of the show that stood out to me was just how pure the love between Isbell and Shires is onstage. Whether it be the way they look at each other during “Cover Me Up,” or the way he carried her over his shoulder off stage at the end of the encore, there is a genuinely beautiful adoration there.
After tonight I cannot tell you what genre of music Shires plays. And I don’t care. What Shires does is she makes great music. She then takes that music to the. stage and performs them in a way that makes the audience feel like they’re about them. If you get the chances to see Shires or Isbell, I can’t recommend either of them enough.