Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion has lost its headliner, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, following the announcement that the event will not require vaccination and/or a negative COVID-19 test to attend.
The announcement comes as promoters, venues, artists, festivals, and more around the country have made moves to begin requiring COVID-19 vaccination/testing protocols amid a surge in delta variant cases.
As the Wednesday announcement from Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion notes, organizers’ hands were forced in this matter. “The Birthplace of Country Music (BCM) has had numerous conversations with our local, regional and state leaders concerning the possible requirement for our festival patrons … to either provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of attending the festival. We have concluded that we cannot impose such a requirement as it is specifically prohibited by Tennessee state law (Senate bill no. 858 section 6).”
The annual festival in the “Birthplace of Country Music” takes place in Bristol, a city that cuts through the border of Virginia and Tennessee and sees performances in both states.
The statement from organizers continues, “One of the things that make[s] Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion so special is our unique location along State Street, which separates Tennessee and Virginia. The cities provide public, outdoor spaces and resources (public safety workers, EMS) in partnership with BCM for the festival. Indoor venues are owned and controlled by private businesses.”
Although legal red tape may be stopping the event from explicitly requiring COVID-19 testing/vaccination, organizers still encourage attendees to take those precautions. “While respecting individual rights,” BCM notes in its statement, “BCM does encourage vaccination, and requests that non-vaccinated attendees consider being tested prior to the event to protect themselves and others.” The statement goes on to note that various other sanitation protocols and preventative measures will be taken onsite.
Jason Isbell, who was slated to headline the Bristol event with the 400 Unit, has been clear about his stance on the matter and quickly withdrew from the event when the decision was made to not implement the requirements.
We won’t be appearing at the Rhythm and Roots Reunion this year. Y’all be safe! https://t.co/7hWS2DQZ3X
— Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) August 18, 2021
Isbell made headlines earlier this month when he decided to require proof of a negative test or full vaccination for all of his upcoming shows. Some fans—and fellow artists—were quick to decry the decision, but Isbell was undeterred.
“I think it’s up to all of us to do what we can just to keep the music business running because we’re gonna get shut down again real soon if we don’t start doing this,” Isbell said during a recent interview with MSNBC‘s Stephanie Rhule.
“In a lot of cases, some of the venues are receiving state funds and the states are threatening to withhold those funds for places who allow their artists to require proof of a COVID test,” Isbell said. “We’ll just deal with whatever we have to deal with, and if we have to cancel some shows we’ll cancel some shows. And if we get sued, I’ll get up and talk on behalf of the people in the audience.”
“We’re not providing something that’s necessarily essential, we’re not giving people healthcare, or food, or shelter,” Isbell added. “We’re trying to entertain folks, so I’m not saying anyone has to get a vaccine or a negative test, but if you don’t then you don’t get to come to the show. I think that makes sense.”
In response to Isbell’s exit from the lineup, BCM noted in an Instagram post, “We are sad to say Jason Isbell will not appear on the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion lineup this year, and we apologize to all his fans – including us – who will miss him this year. We are working to make our event as safe as possible without vaccination status requirements, which we cannot impose, but we understand that everyone must do what they feel is best to keep themselves and their families safe at this time.”
For more information on Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, click here.
For a full list of upcoming Jason Isbell tour dates, head here.