How Jason Isbell Consistently Wins at Twitter

How Jason Isbell Consistently Wins at Twitter

In the echo chamber that is Twitter, Jason Isbell’s voice constantly cuts through the static.

Nearly a decade since first joining the social-media service in March 2009, the folksinger has evolved into a master of the platform, spending much of his downtime perfecting a delicate balance between music talk, irreverent fun and serious discourse.

Although Isbell is a rare artist moving units in the streaming age — his latest, 2017’s The Nashville Sound, has sold 145,900 copies as of last month — interest in his musical exploits isn’t the only explanation for his 226,000 followers. To know the Alabama-born singer-songwriter is to understand he is many things: a father and husband, Southerner, recovering addict, sneaker nerd, and baseball diehard with a future in stand-up comedy in the unlikely event his music career fizzles out. On Twitter, he has the head-on-a-swivel awareness and empathy of an experienced middle-school teacher, working to wrangle and engage with his tweet-happy base, whichever side of the artist and his work speaks the loudest to them.

Leave it to Isbell, then, to turn even an obvious exercise in trolling into a teaching moment. That’s what he did moments after exiting the stage in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sunday to a storm of hostile tweets from one Denise “DC” McAllister, a local conservative blogger who attended the show. A self-professed fan of Isbell’s music — but apparently not “White Man’s World,” one of The Nashville Sound’s most talked-about tracks — McAllister dissed the song as “an effort to fit in with the celebrity world,” and Isbell as “ashamed of [his] roots.” In language peppered with right-wing buzzwords (“triggered,” “snowflakes”), she went on to tweet at him directly 18 more times over the next day.

Not only did Isbell respond, the “White Man’s World” tweets touched off a dialogue between the singer and listeners from both sides of the political spectrum.

“I’m not ashamed of a damn thing. I always play that song, and a couple thousand people bought tickets and showed up knowing they’d hear it. I’d call that a great reception,” read his matter-of-fact reply to McAllister’s initial tweet. Isbell followed that up by thanking her for “sharing my music” and reopening a discussion of the tough topics his songwriting has never shied away from, later de-escalating the tension when some of his more strident supporters had taken it upon themselves to give McAllister a piece of their mind. (“Hey everybody: Don’t threaten this lady!”)

“Conservative fans are a big part of the reason why I choose to speak my mind,” Isbell had tweeted from Asheville, North Carolina, two days prior to the Charlotte show. “I’m not looking for an echo chamber. If I hated you I wouldn’t want you to get better at empathizing. I’d just want you to go away.”

Or perhaps unfollow — which would be their loss. Regardless of what Twitter users might think of Isbell’s politics, they’d be missing out on his skewed sense of humor, whether he’s commenting on a fluff story about Jon Bon Jovi surprising shoppers at a grocery store (“I’m picturing him jumping out from behind the Doritos and yelling”); sharing his vision for Heart’s catalog (“Sometimes I picture a commercial with a bank manager singing ‘How do I get you a loan’ to the tune of ‘Alone’”); or dreaming up a 12-step-inspired rap handle (“A rapper named Step9 who pretty much just apologizes to everybody for shit he did last year”).

But even Isbell — one of Americana music’s most concise, deliberate lyricists — knows when 280 characters can be too much. “Social media is like a sauna,” he tweeted in June. “It feels nice for a little while but if you stay in there all day you’ll sweat yourself to death.”

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Published at Tue, 25 Sep 2018 21:18:30 +0000