Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit at the Historic Temple Theater
Have you ever had one of those occasions where you discover a new (to you) artist only to find out that they have been around for decades? In my opinion, it's quite possibly one of the coolest things in the world. Instead of having to wait for their next album to come out, you have a whole catalog of material to scour through.
That would be the situation with me and Jason Isbell. I actually almost missed the fact that he was touring so close to where we live. It just happened to be that my wife sent me the link. When I saw he was going to be at a small venue with only 1750 seats, I knew I had to buy the tickets.
The Temple Theater is located in Saginaw Michigan and it sits right across the street from two of @mrsbozz and I's favorite venues. We have seen concerts in both locations, but this was our first one at the Temple Theater. I think I can say with certainty, that after last night, this area now has three of our favorite venues to see concerts.
Here is a blurb from their website:
The Temple Theatre – known as the “Showplace of Northeastern Michigan” – is one of Saginaw, Michigan’s most distinguished buildings. With seating for 1,750, the theatre has been graced by legends ranging from B.B. King to George Carlin. It is home to the world’s only Barton Butterfield Special organ in original condition.
The theater was falling apart in 2002, but a local doctor bought the location and invested seven million dollars to keep it running. He also purchase the adjoining three story building which has a ball room, lounge, and commercial kitchen so they can host events there like weddings.
I have heard rumors that the location is haunted and there may have been a Netflix show about it. I will leave it to you to dig that up.
For some insane reason, the show was not sold out. On top of that, we were on the back end of a massive winter storm, so I figured traffic wouldn't be too bad around the venue. What I failed to realize was that there was a hockey game taking place at the arena across the street. Despite that fact, we were able to find a nice parking spot in the $5 (US) lot.
In the picture above you and see the building adjacent to the theater that the new owners purchased. Just beyond that red building is the Temple Theater.
I think it was a smart move by the current owner to purchase both the theater and this building. It is a cool looking old building and it definitely gives them more avenues to recoup their investment. I'd have to dig into it, but I have little doubt they host all manner of events here.
There is actually a raised walkway that connects the two buildings. I didn't a shot of it, but it is there to the right. The white car would have just driven under it between the two buildings. One of the things I love about these old town theaters is the fact that they look so normal from the outside. Besides the marquee on the front, you would think it was just another city building jammed in the middle of a million other city buildings.
Then you walk inside and you are blown away by the opulence and grandeur.
The doors opened at 5:00 PM and there was a short line when we got there around 5:15 PM. We didn't even leave our house until 5:00, this venue is so close and small, we didn't feel rushed to get down there.
Once we got in the doors we were "wanded" with a metal detecting wand as a security check and then we were permitted to the interior. We had to show our tickets quickly so they could scan them and then we headed to our seats.
I didn't get any pictures of the foyer except this one. It was packed with people waiting to buy beverages and "merch". It would have been cool to get a T-Shirt, but $60 for T-Shirt is kind of nuts if you ask me. You can just see they have some special lighting and other finishes that make this place special.
The interior of the theater is just as extravagant as you would expect. Like I said, I am always blown away how something so fantastic can be inside of a mild mannered brick and concrete building. I am going to share some more pictures of the interior for you.
They had a pretty strict policy about photos and video during the show, so unfortunately, I didn't get a ton of pictures after the lights went down. I figured I would wait to see what the "temperature" of the room was. If I saw a ton of other people taking photos I would to.
Unfortunately, as soon as the lights went down, the ushers were like wild cats pouncing on prey as soon as they saw someone with their phone up.
Don't get me wrong, I understand the policy, but it makes it quite difficult to write Hive posts about events like this!!!
The opening act was a guy named Peter One. He came to us from West Africa via Nashville apparently. He explained that he was from the Ivory Coast, but had moved to Nashville quite some time ago. Read that article I linked above for more information.
He had a very unique voice and sang his songs in a variety of languages. English, French, and his native African tongue. It was pretty engaging. I honestly didn't know what to expect going in as I had never heard of him before. His music had a really haunting feel to it that was somewhat soothing. It wasn't the kind of pump up the crowd music you usually expect from an opening act, but then again, this wasn't really one of those kinds of venues.
Here is a YouTube video of some of his work:
Peter started his set about a half hour later than we expected. It was right around 6:30 PM. We had expected 6 PM, but I think they were having issues shuffling all the people into the venue and through security.
Peter played for just about a half hour or forty five minutes and then they started shifting the stage around for Jason Isbell.
The stage setup was pretty simple. Just some backing panels, some lights, not much more than that. No big video screens, no pyrotechnics, it was pretty subdued and fit the venue very well.
As I mentioned before, we weren't able to get many pictures of the artist. I did get a couple that I will share later. They aren't great quality because we had to sneak them without getting caught.
I am going to share some videos from YouTube for you so you can see and hear Jason Isbell sing.
You may have heard that song above before. It has been covered quite a bit in the past several years. This is the original though. If you look at the time stamp, you can see Jason Performed this on Austin City Limits close to 9 years ago.
While I knew that Jason was an amazing vocalist, one of the things I failed to realize just by listening to his songs on Spotify, is how accomplished of a guitarist he is. It was pretty amazing watching him play along side his band.
There were certain sections where the lead guitar player would be doing a solo (as lead guitar players often do) on their electric guitar. Meanwhile, Jason would be on his acoustic guitar doing these counter riffs that you could barely hear, but they were there working in perfect counterpoint to the lead guitar.
It was so phenomenal. At one point during the encore, he brought out a very special guitar. He explained that six of those guitars had been built sixty some years ago in Kalamazoo Michigan and shipped directly to Sweden. They bounced around shops over there until he eventually just purchased one of them. He explained that this was the first time that guitar had been back in Michigan since it was built. Then he proceeded to shred away on it.
These were the two "forbidden" photos we got from the show. Jason played for just about two hours and it was just non-stop good music. In the second photo above, he was signing "Cover Me Up", the song in the video I shared above.
Finally, I am going to leave you with a YouTube video that has a complete hour and a half set from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit from a festival show they did about two years ago. I really encourage you to watch the whole thing to see just how talented this guy is.
Like I said in the beginning, if you have never heard of Jason Isbell before, lucky you! He has a ton of material on Spotify that you can start digging through!
This was absolutely a memorable experience. Probably one of the most awesome shows I have been to in the past five or ten years. I was pretty much in awe of him the whole time. The venue was equally amazing with virtually not a single bad seat in the place.
I highly encourage you to check out this amazing band from Muscle Shoals, Alabama! Especially live if you get the chance!