Ryman Auditorium and Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit logo

Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
7 Nights at the Ryman Residency

"Oh, oh big ol' jet airliner, don't carry me too far away," sings Steve Miller in the chorus of his band's 1977 single 'Jet Airliner'. He'd go on to say: "Oh, oh big ol' jet airliner, 'cause it's here that I've got to stay," which would perfectly sum up my latest experience with American Airlines.

View from the Red Cow Moran Hotel in Dublin
Scenic views of an industrial park from the hotel in Dublin. Definitely not Nashville.

A series of mistakes, mishaps and miscommunications led to the journey from hell, showing that my big ol' jet airliner really didn't want to carry me too far away. Another line from the song helped sum up the journey best, saying: "Ridin' high I got tears in my eyes. You know you got to go through hell. Before you get to heaven."

Sunset over Nashville on an aeroplane
Sunset over Nashville as my big ol' jet airliner (finally) gets me to my destination with time running out before the show.

Now, heaven in this case is the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee. A rather apt association considering the venue's past life as a place of worshipping God, before shifting to a life devoted to worshipping country music idols. Is that much of a difference? Probably not.

Hell would most certainly be sitting on an American Airlines aeroplane (could just finish that sentence here) that lacks a functioning in-flight entertainment system, any food and drinks service, all combined with the added fun of a noxious gas slowly filling the cabin as we start to soar over the Atlantic Ocean. A gas so potent that it (allegedly) rendered two of the flight attendants unconscious, if you believe the reports. I was certainly ridin' high with tears in my eyes.

Inside the Ryman Auditorium looking towards the stage
Seats at the back of the lower level offer fans of their TVs being set to letterbox mode a really good experience.

Of course, like most things of this nature, this could all have been avoided considering that our take off was already delayed due to a strange odour being detected by the flight crew. But instead of doing the obvious thing, you know, like finding out where it came from, they decided to just send us on our merry way anyway. It was in one of the bathrooms. How hard could it have been to find? It's an Airbus A330, it's hardly Buckingham Palace.

When it became noticeable that the flight attendants weren't their usual busy selves, and I hadn't even been served my usual in-flight Goose Island IPA (which I try to drink as fast as I can before the next round of drinks service comes round, because just asking for one with another already on the go seems impolite), it appeared as though we may just have a problem on our hands.

A look at the downstairs section at the Ryman Auditorium
Pews don't make for the most comfortable of seating for entertainment. After all, where are the cup holders?

And a problem there was. Two hours into the flight and whilst I was blissfully enjoying staring irritably at the seat in front of me hoping something might pop up on the blank screen, there was finally the announcement that trouble was afoot. But we were told not to worry. Even though some of the flight crew were "incapacitated", those chemical fumes were just noxious and not toxic. Hey, at least we weren't gonna die!

The masterplan from this point on was to turn round and head back to Heathrow. Kinda annoying, but not too bad. I can always get myself rebooked onto another flight out and land in the States later that night. That's not the end of the world, is it?

A look at the downstairs section at the Ryman Auditorium
It's not really America unless there's somebody walking around in a tie-dye shirt.

Wrong. We're being diverted to Dublin. Terrific. It's closer than Heathrow, I guess? With no working screens it was impossible to know where we were at this point. We could have been approaching the Moon for all I knew.

Dublin is a lovely city. But it was not where I wanted to be heading at this point. Landing unexpectedly and then sitting at the gate for an hour whilst paramedics and the fire service stormed the plane, like half hearted hijackers, to come and see to those who had suffered much worse than me seemed like an eternity. Finally we got to deplane and do the great thing all humans do when faced with uncertainty, huddle around in an area far too small for them, and getting antsy waiting to be told anything.

Artwork on the wall at the Ryman Auditorium displaying artists who have played at the venue
That's who's playing the show! Sorry 400 Unit, you don't make the cut.

I gathered from talking to similarly irate people that they had had to go through all of this the day before, so it could have been worse. I also discovered that American Airlines have no crew in Dublin, so the decision to divert here was pretty idiotic (or as well thought through as one can expect from American Airlines). I knew right away that I was in this for the long haul (and not the long haul I'd been anticipating).

Once informed that there was no flight going out, we were soon hauled off to a nice hotel nowhere near the city centre. Having been determined to make the most of the shitty situation I found myself in, I was soon disappointed to find out they don't play any sports one can attend on Mondays, and I wouldn't even be able to enjoy Dublin itself since, a) it was miles away, b) I had no Euros, and c) I spent most of the time on the phone with American Airlines because they seemed incapable of knowing what the hell was going on either.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit performing at the Ryman Auditorium
A sense of relief when it was discovered Jason was just the right height not to be guillotined by the balcony level.

I could probably now class the kind folks manning the phones at American Airlines (in India) as some of my closest friends, considering I spent longer speaking to them that night than I have any of my closest friends this year. I can't wait to speak to you guys again next time I'm stuck somewhere, miles away from where I paid to be.

Whilst enjoying a delightfully stereotypical Irish buffet dinner, I soon discovered the scheduled flight out from Dublin the next morning was predictably cancelled and replaced with something significantly later, putting me in serious danger of missing the show.

Jason Isbell performing at the Ryman Auditorium
Jason Isbell in CinemaScope.

It was left to just calling it quits and making alternative plans. I was to return to Heathrow and then hop on a direct flight to Nashville. Who knew there was even a direct flight to Nashville?

Rising early the next morning and hopping into the taxi I'd booked and was assured I had to pay for by the front desk because I wasn't part of the travelling party anymore (I didn't have to pay), I was finally ready to get the road on the show. The large queue of non-English speaking Chinese people being seen to by only one check-in attendant didn't deter me and once I barged past them because they were taking far too long, I was ready to get back home.

Stained glass window inside the Ryman Auditorium
The iconic stained glass windows.

Hang on, there was an American Airlines flight heading out to Philadelphia that morning that wasn't mine? You sneaky devils. I thought you had no base here. Either way, I'd have missed my connecting flight and therefore the concert anyway, but still. It's the principle, people. Incredibly, after a short flight with zero problems, I was back to Heathrow on time, ready to start this journey all over again. Back to square one.

Some 32 hours after my taxi mum dropped me off at Heathrow, I was finally boarding my flight to Nashville. It was while I was taking my seat that I realised all I'd managed to accomplish in this time was travel from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5 via Dublin. Seemed a little bit extravagant when you can just transfer by bus. If that's not the scenic route then I don't know what is.

Exterior of the Ryman Auditorium
The windows at the Ryman Auditorium hint at the venue's former life as a church. Is that Ryan Fitzpatrick?

As I was booked onto British Airways flights the whole way, it rendered the perks I usually get (for being stupid enough to fly with American Airlines frequently enough to earn Gold status) completely useless. Hello window seat.

At least the screens were working so I could watch the estimated time of arrival get later and later, and I could kill hours of the flight trying to win a damn game of Solitaire. With just two hours left until the support act took the stage, I finally landed in Nashville. I was going to make it.

Screen outside the Ryman Auditorium
Should have just tried to get tickets for the Wednesday show.

Or was I? Nashville International Airport is one of those delightfully misleading airports that are in no way 'international'. Immigration was interminably slow and I still had the small matter of stopping off at the hotel first, because good luck getting into anywhere with a massive suitcase and backpack.

Having cleared immigration at 7pm, I was finally sprinting to the Uber meet up point, where Berkeley helped maintain my 4.95 Uber rating and took me to my hotel. A quick shower and change of clothes suggested I had way more time than necessary and I finally got to the impressive Ryman Auditorium, and took my seat with a beer, just as the support act took the stage.

Lower Broadway in Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville's Lower Broadway. Home to bars and restaurants owned by all of America's favourite country artists (and Kid Rock).

The Ryman is a fantastic venue with great acoustics, and Jason Isbell and his band gave a superb live performance. Despite the journey getting there, it turned out to be well worth effort to visit such an historic place for country music, and to see one of my current favourite artists perform.

I didn't get a chance to experience much of Nashville as a city, but I did get to see the bizarre Lower Broadway, lit up and full of bars (that wouldn't serve food late at night) with bands playing cover versions of the same song. It was loud, and after an incredibly long journey getting there, I might have appreciated it more when I wasn't so exhausted. As Steve Miller would say: "I don't want to get caught up in any of that funky shit goin' down in the city."

Useless information about the Ryman Auditorium

Address: 116 Fifth Avenue North, Nashville, Tennessee, 37219
Capacity: 2,362
Pitch Type: Wood?
Ticket Price: $59.75 (Main Floor)
Programme: None, but you could get a cool 2 sided setlist card for free

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit Ryman Auditorium ticket

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit Ryman Auditorium setlist card