Jason Isbell merch

Jason Isbell merch: Cover Me Up facemask | By Niall Stanage, The Hill | Live music has become one more battlefield in the nation’s culture war over COVID-19. Americana star Jason Isbell recently announced he would require all fans at his forthcoming shows to be vaccinated or show a negative test result. But that’s the kind of move more mainstream country artists have generally resisted.

One such artist, Jason Aldean, told a Long Island, N.Y., audience from the stage earlier this month, “The coolest thing about all this [is] I don’t see one f—— mask … I’ve had just about enough of that shit.”

The struggles over COVID-19 restrictions are not confined to any one musical genre.

Rapper and producer Busta Rhymes had an anti-masking speech from June go viral just this week. Rhymes lambasted masks and mandates as an infringement on “the God-given right of freedom.”

On the flipside, another rapper, Juvenile, reworked his 1999 hit “Back That Thang Up” last month into a pro-vaccination track, “Vax That Thang Up.”

These struggles come as the live music industry is just beginning to roar back to life having been decimated by pandemic restrictions.

Isbell’s manager, Traci Thomas, told this column that her artist’s decision to require vaccinations for fans was “a no brainer.”

“Jason enjoys his job and he can’t enjoy himself if he feels he is putting his audience in danger,” she said.

But Thomas also put the vaccine move in the context of the vital need to keep live music open, given the devastating economic effects of the earlier shutdown.

“We have got a fair amount of backlash to say, ‘Stay home, just cancel the tour.’ Well, we are not the only ones to consider. There are the people who make the merch, the venues, the bartenders,” she said. “To us, this was the only option. Our industry can’t afford another shutdown.”
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While West made clear he disagreed with Rhymes, he added, “Keep in mind that you’ve had musical artists that have tried to call people out to take the vaccine as well as those who do not trust it. You have suspicions of authority across the board — and that is just built into any community.”
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…. “But if they’re not keeping them safe, they are going to lose them if they die.”

The specter of the Dixie Chicks, who created a crisis in their career almost two decades ago when they criticized the Iraq War and President George W. Bush, still looms large in music business mythology.

“If anything, it might improve his album sales. It could maybe hurt him getting airplay on mainstream country stations, but I don’t know by how much,” he said.

Robert Oermann, the author of nine books about country music, including as co-author to Dolly Parton on last year’s “Songteller,” said that from anecdotal evidence it was “shocking” to him how many artists themselves remained unvaccinated.

But he cited the example of Parton — who contributed $1 million to the development of a COVID-19 vaccine — to caution against oversimplifying the situation.

“Country artists and their fans are not monoliths,” he said. “She has been on the side of the angels.”
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The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.


[Thank you to Alex Teitz, http://www.femmusic.com, for contributing this article.]

[Editor’s note: A big raspberry to Jason Aldean for protecting his fans…]

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