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

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit
Jim Bennett/Getty Images

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit

The fest said it won't require proof of vaccination or negative test.

Sticking to his guns about playing COVID-safe shows, Jason Isbell announced on Wednesday (August 18) that his band, the 400 Unit, have dropped out of a headlining slot on the upcoming Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion festival in the Tennessee-Virginia border town of Bristol.

"We won’t be appearing at the Rhythm and Roots Reunion this year. Y’all be safe!," Isbell tweeted along with a link to a story detailing the event's decision to eschew the basic COVID-19 protocols that a growing number of tours and festivals have added as the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread across the nation.

“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,” read a statement from the event in reference to Isbell's recent announcement that proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test would be required at all performances by his band.

“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,” the organizers said. The Sept. 10-12 event in the town known as the Birthplace of Country Music will still feature Dr. Dog, Tanya Tucker, Blackberry Smoke, Yola, the SteelDrivers, Amythyst Kiah, Jim Lauderdale, Jesse Dayton and other acts; Blackberry Smoke recently had to cancel a string of shows after guitarist Paul Jackson tested positive.

In a statement to Rolling Stone, a festival spokesperson said, "“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.”

According to WJHL, organizers said they will encourage patrons to get vaccinated and request that the unvaccinated get a test before attending, while providing masks at the festival gates as well as hand sanitizing and hand washing stations throughout.

Last week, Isbell canceled a show in Houston at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion after the singer said that the venue owner "flat-out refused" to comply with his COVIDsafe policies. Virginia has had nearly 730,000 cases of COVID-19 and 11,632 deaths, with more than 15,000 new cases in the past week.

Check out Isbell's tweets below.