This blog is about the connection between the outdoors and our military family and veteran community, so it may seem strange to you that today’s blog is about a concert I saw a while back from Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.
I’ve been a big Drive By Truckers fan for years, and if you like Southern influenced rock, you’ll be a fan as well. Somehow though, in the various moves over the last several years, I missed that Jason Isbell left the band and started up his own group, the 400 Unit. On the first day we were out of Iraq last December, one of my friends from back home, we were Cub Scouts together I think, sent me his song, Tour of Duty. Now, Isbell himself is not a veteran, but he seemed to capture exactly how I felt when I first came home.
At the show, a few songs before Mr. Isbell played Tour of Duty he played the song Alabama Pines. It’s a beautiful song about wanting to get home, but being stuck somewhere far away without being able to get home. The song is about an outdoor place, a vision; a landscape Isbell longs for in the song but can’t get to. Anyone else have those places they returned to when things got tough? Where are they for you?
For me, having spent four years in Mississippi immediately prior to receiving my commission in the Army, one of the places I returned to in my mind during moments of extreme stress while stationed overseas, was the backcountry in the northwestern hills of Mississippi. That’s right, the backcountry of Mississippi. One definition of backcountry I’ve heard is more than four hours away from hospital care. You can find that it in Mississippi. You can find the outdoors, wilderness, backcountry, and awe-inspiring beauty just about anywhere. There may not be as much of it as you want…but you can find it if you look.
During the show, something about the sequencing of Alabama Pines and Tour of Duty made me feel like Mr. Isbell and his fine band were playing just for the Sierra Club Mission Outdoors program, so succinctly did their messages hit home to me. Give the songs a listen, let me know what you think.
That particular time of the show closed with a moving tribute to one of Mr. Isbell’s friends who had died in Iraq. The song is titled, Dress Blues. And while this song does not have much to do with the outdoors, it has almost everything to do with our own communities. I’ve been home from Iraq for almost five years now. I’ve been to countless parades, memorial services, and funerals. Somehow though, in a crowded theater, that song, that night, was the most moving public tribute and memorial to all that we had lost, and gained, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The crowd knew that song. I mean they really KNEW that song. People sang aloud, people sang with heart and gusto, men and women around me shed tears as the lyrics came through the sound system. Did everyone know a veteran? Had everyone really lost someone to the war? Maybe they had, maybe not, but for one moment, 500+ people in the Fox Theater cared about our veterans and that’s saying something.
I guess I should know by now to expect the unexpected, but that series of songs blew me away. If I can find wilderness in rock and roll, maybe we can all find a bit of rock and roll in wilderness…and I think that will take us a long way to Alabama pines, Mississippi hills, sunny beaches, rocky coast lines, or soaring mountain majesties, and those places…well, they’ll be our home and they were worth fighting for.
~Stacy Bare, OIF Veteran
Military Families and Veteran Representative to the Sierra Club
"Helping America's Military and Veteran Community experience the freedom of the land they defend"