Jason Isbell is in the middle of his third annual Ryman residency, continuing a beloved Mother Church tradition that began for him in 2014. When Isbell wraps up this run on Saturday, October 26, he’ll have an astounding 27 Ryman shows to his name.

What makes one of the most respected singer-songwriters return time after time to this place? To find out, we’re opening up the Ryman vault to revisit the reverie of Isbell’s very first show here on August 17, 2014.

“It’s a small enough venue where everybody can see and hear and feel like they’re connected to the people performing, but it’s big enough to where you really feel like you’re part of something special,” Isbell said in a filmed interview before that 2014 show.

The Backstage at the Ryman episode provides an intimate, if not quaint, view of his 2014 show, which was a one-night-only occasion. You could say his 2019 residency is just a bit bigger — the sold-out engagement spans a full week spread across nine days.

  But even as his residency has scaled in size, it hasn’t lost the secret sauce that makes his Ryman shows stand out from all the others happening in Nashville at the same time. Never the same show twice, Isbell and his band, The 400 Unit, perform a unique set list each night, playing deep cuts and fan favorites alike.

In many ways, Isbell’s residency is a microcosm for the magic made at the Ryman: a transcendental experience that’s hard to put into words, harder to replicate, and known only to those in the pews and the artist on stage in that singular moment.

As Isbell said right before his first song of the first show this year, “Happy to be here at the greatest place on Earth.” Like he said. You just have to be here.