Indie-rock and folk artist Gregory Alan Isakov performed at Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theater on March 8, 2024 while on tour for his newest album, “Appaloosa Bones.” 

The show was opened by Seattle-born folk artist Damien Jurado. Jurado was accompanied only by a pianist, which showcased his unique and visually complex lyricism. His songs are reminiscent of stripped-down poetry and encapsulate longing in a beautifully reflective way. This misty set prepared the scene for the strong ringing out of Isakov’s folk sound.

When Isakov entered the stage, he was illuminated by a single stage light from above, and the crowd roared. Isakov’s harmonious songs resonated throughout the entire space of the venue as blue, red and yellow colors of light reached out toward the audience. Isakov’s harrowing voice and guitar complemented the various bluesy elements of the band. Throughout the show, there were soaring performances by the band on the banjo, bass, harmonica, accordion, violin and drums. Each element of the band felt essential to the songs presented, and the lighting from above highlighted each member’s importance.

Gregory Alan Isakov stands center stage as the rest of his band plays around him. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)

In between songs, Isakov talked about how he and his band are from Colorado, whilst presenting lyrics of natural landscapes and images of home. The lyrics and landscape visuals invited the audience to experience a sense of travel and finding where one belongs. The entire show was a journey — whether Isakov was singing about tall grass, open fields or the ocean tide, he showed that the narrator was looking for something to hold on to. It is easy to get lost in the beauty of the works presented because they feel like a tether to what you love; this is shown in the title track of the new album, where Isakov sings, “glad you found me when you did.” 

Isakov’s most popular song, “Big Black Car,” was performed, showcasing an interesting connection between the band and the audience. The song opens with “You were a phonograph, I was a kid,” which shows how one admires just humbly listening to someone talk. A phonograph, or a vessel of music, being much older than a kid ever could be. Watching the band shine onstage while the audience stared in awe was very reflective of this perspective. Folk as a genre would be the age-old tradition of storytelling through song that people today are so fortunate to experience.

Gregory Alan Isakov performs a solo on his banjo. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)

Gregory Alan Isakov (left) and Jeb Bows (right) perform song Dark, Dark, Dark. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)

The highlight of the night, however, was the encore. Isakov’s band all congregated in a huddle at the front center of the stage, encircled by rays of golden light. The band swayed back and forth as one unit to their hit, “Second Chances,” which was a beacon of hope. It was reminiscent of how folk music was started and continues to be played today — in small bars and venues where a small group of people come together to share their stories. The scene was similar to that of a Renaissance artwork of heavenly embrace, specifically Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa. It was a vision of artistic beauty that the crowd was enraptured by. 

The crowd watches as the band performs The Stable Song. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)

Jeb Bows plays a solo during the encore. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)

What was most exciting about this performance, as with folk performances in general, was the embrace of the human experience. Folk music captures what it feels like to be taken aback by the beauty of life and feel this humility that reminds the listeners to let go of what hinders them from enjoying it. Isakov reminds you of what places, what people you care about the most and what it feels like to experience that love. So sit back, relax, put on some Isakov one evening and enjoy looking at the stars with the people you love.

Steve Varney sings backup vocals while playing the keys. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)

Max Barcelow supports with vocal harmonies while keeping the rhythm going on the drums. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)

Steve Varney (Left) and Gregory Alan Isakov (Right) take the stage as a duo during the encore to perform some of the first songs they wrote together. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)

Gregory Alan Isakov sings into the mic while under the lights. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)

The whole band comes together during the encore and takes the front of the stage. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)

Gregory Alan Isakov and the rest of the band perform their final song of the night. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)

The band waves goodbye to the crowd at the end of the night. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)

Outside the Arlington Theater in Santa Barbara after the show. (Tyler Janous / Daily Nexus)