LIVE REVIEW: New Year's with Hoge and Isbell 

If you were a little the worse for wear and making your way through the crowd at the Music Farm on New Year’s Eve, you would have had plenty of people around you to lean up against and use as vertical supports. But two smartly-dressed women were attempting — stop and go — to navigate the room by themselves and a burly staff member paused to offer his assistance. “Your friend … maybe’s had enough to drink?” he asked the woman propping up her BFF by the elbow. The woman shot him a slightly offended look and waggled her head at him. “No,” she said, “she’s just … wearing new heels.” To his credit, the bouncer stifled his laughter and helped them anyway. It’s always nice to see a pro at work especially on a nice long evening, as this one turned out to be.

The Music Farm, refurbished and celebrating its first New Year's under new ownership, rang in 2008 with Will Hoge, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, and local band Leslie. Doors opened at 7 p.m., and, if you were in for the duration, you had a seven-hour commitment ahead of you.

By the time Isbell and his band took the stage a little after 10 p.m., the Farm's floor was brimming with fans. The singer/guitarist kicked his set off with a spirited version of "Brand New Kind of Actress," from his new album Sirens of the Ditch. Right away he had the crowd singing and bouncing along to the music. Many were there just to see him, and they made sure he knew it. Standout numbers included "Try," a crowd favorite, and "Chicago Serenade" — both cuts from the new album. Thrown into the mix were a couple of covers. A rendition of the Talking Heads' "Pyscho Killer" gave the 400 Unit's guitarist Browan Lollar a chance to shine. Isbell's take on Van Morrison's "Into The Mystic" was shimmering. The frontman offered his audience plenty to enjoy, and when he spoke, it was all gratitude and good wishes for the New Year.

Hoge came on after the countdown to midnight, stoking the room with high-octane, straight-ahead rock 'n' roll. His hallmark on stage is his intensity, and the crowd responded to it with renewed energy throughout the set.

Hoge's performance was theatrical and stage-managed compared to a lower-key act like Isbell's, but the contrast served only to highlight each performer's strengths. The bandleader appeared to revel in the upper reaches of the decibel range but still managed to pull together a very musical show. Cuts from his new album Draw the Curtains joined some old favorites to round out the 90-minute set. An encore brought Hoge and Isbell together. Hoge closed out the evening with "Southern Belle."

Gently herded toward the door as the house lights came up, the crowd left smiling, feeling they'd gotten their money's worth for the evening.

And lastly, from the "Wonders Never Cease" department: at the new Music Farm you can actually get a drink. Happy New Year. —Jon Santiago

Will Hoge and Jason Isbell return to the Carolinas for a show at Headliner's in Columbia on Tues. Feb. 26.


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