Jason Isbell Pays Tribute to Drive-By Truckers Artist Wes Freed With ‘Decoration Day’ Rendition

by Clayton Edwards

Artist Wes Freed passed away on the morning of September 4th. Freed met the Drive-By Truckers in the late nineties and painted the cover for their 2001 album Southern Rock Opera. The relationship between the artist and DBT grew over the years. Two years later, Freed painted the cover of Decoration Day which was the first DBT album to feature Jason Isbell.

Freed continued working with Drive-By Truckers over the years. He created several tour posters and album covers for the band. In fact, his art adorns the most recent DBT album Welcome 2 Club XIII. More importantly, he became a part of the band’s extended family, according to Jam Base. So, when Jason Isbell took the stage in Charlottesville, Virginia on Sunday, he shared his grief with the crowd and dedicated “Decoration Day” to the late artist.

Jason Isbell Tributes Wes Freed

“I lost an old friend this morning, and a fine citizen of the state of Virginia, Wes Freed, from up in Richmond,” Jason Isbell told the crowd. Then, he discussed his connection to Freed. “He was one of the first people that I met on the road on tour with the Drive-By Truckers many, many years ago. More than 20 years ago, I met Wes Freed. Slept on his couch with his dog. I loved him. He was a great man. He was a great artist, he painted all the covers of those Drive-By Truckers records. This is for Wes Freed,” Isbell said before moving into “Decoration Day.”

It is interesting that Jason Isbell chose this song as a tribute. “Decoration Day” isn’t a sweet tune about mourning a lost loved one. Instead, the song drops you into a long-standing feud between two families: the Hills and the Lawsons. The song comes from the perspective of the last remaining member of the Lawson family. As the song unfolds we learn that the Lawsons beat one of the Hill boys pretty badly and their father, Holland, took revenge by killing the Lawson patriarch in front of his son.

The story in “Decoration Day” is a dark one that is inspired by true events. Jason Isbell is distantly related to Holland Hill and learned about the feud and murder in hushed family discussions, according to American Songwriter.

However, there is a connection here. “Decoration Day” was one of the first songs that Jason Isbell penned for Drive-By Truckers. It was also the title track to his first album with the band that allowed him to meet and befriend Wes Freed. So, maybe Isbell chose the tune because it marked the beginning of his relationship with Freed, in a way.

Whatever the reason, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit played a killer rendition of a classic song in memory of a good friend and talented artist. It seems like a fitting sendoff.