Mickey Guyton, Amythyst Kiah, Adia Victoria

Last Friday, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit kicked off an eight-night run at the Ryman, a seasonal tradition that’s grown every year for nearly a decade. The residency, which continues tonight and wraps up this weekend — is without doubt a career highlight and a little piece of history for Isbell & Co. But the phenomenal lineup of talent he’s invited to support at each show deserves special attention, too.

Opening each show is a woman, most of whom are Black and all of whom make incredible music that draws on various roots traditions from country to blues to folk. All eight women are powerful musicians, and their influential, inspiring work is garnering attention well beyond Nashville. It’s no knock on Isbell to say that each could headline a Ryman show of their own. (One of them already has.) But the singing, songwriting, guitar-ripping frontman is using his platform — as a person who can probably sell out as many shows at the Mother Church as he’d care to play — to give a swift kick in the ass to the lack of support for gender and racial diversity in country and Americana music.

So far, Amanda Shires (who also happens to be Isbell’s wife and bandmate), Brittney Spencer and Mickey Guyton have performed. Amythyst Kiah plays tonight, while Shemekia Copeland, Allison Russell, Joy Oladokun and Adia Victoria are on deck later this week. Sometime Scene contributor Marissa Moss tweeted her thoughts on Sunday’s show, which Guyton opened, and it sounded like a fantastic night to reflect on Guyton’s story, to look to the future, and to enjoy one of the best shows in contemporary music.

I wanted to celebrate this deep well of talent with a special playlist, but I didn’t want the context for it to be solely my own gushing over the music. I reached out to each of the supporting artists and asked them to pick a song by one of the other women in the lineup and tell me something about why they love it. Not everyone was able to get back to me in time, schedules being what they are, but find notes from three of them below (plus some from me and other writers, as well as the playlist itself). Whether you’ve been to one of the shows already, have tickets in hand for one later this week, or not, take a listen and bask in the artists’ shining light for a couple of hours.

Amanda Shires, “You Don’t Get to Go”

A woman calling out the self-centeredness masquerading as selfless chivalry in her partner. I love the narrator refusing to give her partner permission to absent themselves in the name of sparing her and leaving the singer in solitude; burdened with the work of existing and carrying on. This song is a clapback to the myth of women as bottomless wells of self-effacement. This song is a refusal to partake in the violence of self-martyrdom too many of us mistake for love. —Adia Victoria

Brittney Spencer, “Sober & Skinny”

Brittney Spencer is my favorite singer, writer and voice in country music. She's fearless. Her song “Sober & Skinny” is sitting at the top of my Brittney queue at the moment. It's an example of mastery in the craft of songwriting. It's beautiful. Hear for yourself. —Amanda Shires

Amythyst Kiah, “Black Myself”

I love “Black Myself.” I think Amythyst Kiah is everything the world needs. She is a badass woman standing in her power singing the music she loves. You can’t put her in a box, ’cause she simply believes it doesn’t exist. —Mickey Guyton

Joy Oladokun, “I See America”

I recognized Joy Oladokun as Best Breakout in this year’s Best of Nashville issue. She’s had a hell of a year with multiple TV appearances, an NPR Tiny Desk concert and collaborations with artists like Maren Morris, and she’s headlining a tour of her own in the spring. She deserves every bit of that success. I wrote: “Her take on contemporary folk is rooted in her experiences as a queer Black woman living in a society that’s still deeply rooted in white supremacy, but even when she’s calling out the bullshit, as in ‘I See America,’ she does so with empathy and understanding.” —Megan Seling

Adia Victoria, “Mean-Hearted Woman”

Speaking of our Best of Nashville issue, we put a spotlight on Adia Victoria’s A Southern Gothic, calling it Best New Vision of the South. From music editor Stephen Trageser: “Musician and poet Adia Victoria has dedicated her overall body of work — and specifically A Southern Gothic, a rich, dark record about grappling with the pain of displacement that she co-produced with T Bone Burnett — to reorienting the narrative.” The ominous A Southern Gothic song “Mean-Hearted Woman” looks at the long-term effects of trauma and cruelty. After her appearance at the Ryman with Isbell and band on Sunday, Victoria will be back on the road with them in January, opening dates across the South. —Megan Seling

Mickey Guyton, “Love My Hair”

Mickey Guyton’s “Love My Hair,” from her new album Remember Her Name — her debut full-length, released after about a decade signed to a mainstream country label — is a beautiful ballad about her own long, hard journey to self-acceptance. In the song, Guyton untangles herself from society’s unrealistic (and often racist) beauty standards. She sings about hiding her hair in braids as a child and feeling out of place at school, but she finally found freedom and confidence when she learned to embrace who she is rather than fight it. As she sings: “I used to think what God gave me wasn’t fair / I’d braid it all just to hide the curls up there / I found my freedom when I learned not to care / Now I’m not scared to love who I am / I love my hair.” —Megan Seling

Shemekia Copeland, “Give God the Blues”

Just listen to Shemekia Copeland’s song “Give God the Blues” once and you will be a forever fan. Copeland doesn’t mince words. In the trudging, truthful blues song, Copeland examines how you can love someone and still be bummed out by their choices — and imagines what that would be like for God, looking down on His people. Look at us! Look what we have become. As a society we are hating one another, fighting one another, refusing to wear a mask for the safety of one another. And for what? In the name of whom? —Megan Seling

Allison Russell, “4th Day Prayer”

Allison Russell is another Isbell opener who made an appearance in this year’s Best of Nashville issue. Her solo record Outside Child, in which she bravely and poignantly processes sexual abuse from her childhood among much more, which we recognized as Best Americana Album. As contributor Brittney McKenna writes: “The album is a redemptive affair, one that finds hope in life’s darkest corners. The fact that it does so with such achingly beautiful music, too, is a rare feat and a gift to us all.” —Megan Seling

Like what you read?


Click here to make a contribution to the Scene and support local journalism!