When the world overwhelms with more grief and horror than anyone can handle and in a way that leaves most feeling helpless, there’s little that can provide comfort and spiritual reprieve in the way of live music in a gracious, communal setting.
At the tail end of one of the most horrific weeks the globe has collectively seen in some time, a large crowd of patrons gathered Oct. 13 in holy fashion at The Anthem in DC for what turned out to be a curative, heartrending night hosted by esteemed singer-songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov.
Isakov is a majestic and captivating pathfinder in the world of folk music, and his writing and sounds are informed by his remarkable path: he moved from his homeland of South Africa to Philadelphia as a young boy and, having found his rhythm as a lifelong musician, he eventually moved to Colorado to study horticulture, which is still one of his passions and a main focus to this day.
While creating and cultivating in the Boulder area, Gregory’s become a household name over the course of the past decade. Touring in support of his eighth studio album, Appaloosa Bones, and with his full band supporting him — he introduced the group as “his best friends” — Isakov mesmerized with a long list of favorites, filling the space of the state-of-the-art venue with gorgeous, sweeping sounds he conceived covering tremendous ground as a nomadic soul.
Listen to Gregory Alan Isakov’s newest album, Appaloosa Bones, via Spotify:
Coming off a busy summer that included an appearance at the Newport Folk Festival and the release of Appaloosa Bones just a few weeks later, Isakov finds himself riding a high trajectory and with a voice that has become a guiding light to his listeners.
Isakov’s tightknit crew currently includes violinist Jeb Bows, multi-instrumentalists Steve Varney and Danny Black, bassist John Paul Grigsby, and drummer Max Barcelow, and together these elegant players seem to be expanding the hallowed, tender resonance Isakov has consistently created across his solo recordings.
Sharing some of his most beloved songs, including “San Luis” from 2018’s Evening Machine and “Big Black Car” from 2009’s This Empty Norther Hemisphere, Isakov offered a nurturing slice from his catalogue. Along the way, he took the stage by himself for a solo performance of “3 AM” from That Sea, The Gambler, released back in 2007.
Watch the official music video for “The Fall,” a single from Gregory Alan Isakov’s newest album, Appaloosa Bones, via YouTube:
The healing performance also saw the evening’s opener, indie pop duet Lucius, invited up to join the band for adorned versions of “If I Go, I’m Goin’” and, to close out the set, “Caves.” And with such a boisterous response to the three-song encore, Isakov returned alongside Varney for a second encore, bidding farewell with “The Stable Song,” nothing short of a masterpiece recorded on his third studio album.
While it was and still is impossible to shut out what is happening outside of this country, last Friday night provided concertgoers in the nation’s capital a sanctity in the songs of one of the world’s most visionary and thoughtful artists.
Before the Sun
This Empty Northern Hemisphere
Miles to Go
Big Black Car
3 A.M. (solo)
Second Chances (trio)
If I Go, I’m Goin’ (with Lucius)
Caves (with Lucius)
All Shades of Blue (with Lucius)
The Stable Song
Here are 35mm, home-developed/scanned images of Gregory Alan Isakov along with the night’s opening act and special guests, Lucius (Jesse Wolf and Holly Laessig), performing at The Anthem in Washington DC the night of Oct. 13, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Ryan Vock.