Jason Isbell Welcomes Zach Bryan for “King of Oklahoma” in Detroit, Dusts Off R.E.M. Cover for First Time Since 2011

June 21, 2024
Jason Isbell Welcomes Zach Bryan for “King of Oklahoma” in Detroit, Dusts Off R.E.M. Cover for First Time Since 2011

Photo: Marc Millman

Last night, Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit opened for country favorite Zach Bryan. During the initial set at Detroit’s Ford Field, Isbell delivered 11 songs, mainly originals, with a particularly intriguing cover, which doubled as a bust out of R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” played for the first time since 2011. Ultimately, the frame was highlighted by an appearance from headliner Bryan, who turned up and assisted on the Isbell original “King of Oklahoma,” a fitting pull given the country star’s Sooner State roots. 

Notably, Isbell’s “King of Oklahoma” appeared on his 2023 release, Weathervanes, and sparked while working on location in the South Central state on the Martin Scorsese Western crime drama Killers of the Flower Moon. Touching on songwriting and the film location, Isbell previously provided background on the song, telling NPR, “I was exposed to a lot of people that I didn’t know, people that I didn’t see every day. And I spent a lot of time either on my own or just sort of bumming around Bartlesville, Okla. And it was really great for the songwriting process.”

He continued, “It’s sort of like you’re doing three jobs at once. You’re trying to tell the story. And you’re trying to paint this picture that people can visualize. But you’re also trying to make something that’s really singable, something that works as a song. And it’s a fun challenge. It’s not all that different from a crossword puzzle because you have a certain amount of space that you have to get a detail into.” Watch a fan-shot video of the team-up below.

Following the sit-in, Bryan followed up via social media, writing, “thanks for letting me ruin your song Mr. Isbell. I respect you and care for your music more than life itself. It was a privilege and an honor to meet a hero[.] Can’t wait to hear this without my voice on it at the next one, we love ya!”
After Bryan left the stage, Isbell seized his final moments on stage to treat folks to a rendition of R.E.M.’s “The One I Love.” Notably, the song’s arrival came after the revered Athens, Ga. band appeared for a rare public performance in association with their Songwriter’s Hall of Fame status. Read more.