published Friday, June 15th, 2012

Atlanta rockers Blackberry Smoke give impassioned show

Blackberry Smoke is, from left, Richard Turner, Charlie Starr, Brit Turner, Paul Jackson and Brandon Still.
Blackberry Smoke is, from left, Richard Turner, Charlie Starr, Brit Turner, Paul Jackson and Brandon Still.
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

What: Blackberry Smoke.

When: Today, 7:45-9 p.m.

Where: Riverbend, Bud Light Stage.

Admission: Free with festival pin.

Despite their love of bands such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker and The Allman Brothers, the members of Blackberry Smoke prefer not to be corralled into the Southern rock camp.

With at-times twangy, at-times raucously wailing vocals and chicken-fried, occasionally funky guitar licks, the Atlanta-based quartet comfortably straddles the fence between rock and country.

When it comes to labels, however, they prefer a more free-range definition -- one that encompasses their equal devotion to bluegrass greats such as Bill Monroe and classic rock legends Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones.

"Our favorite bands, ... they all did different things," said lead singer Charlie Starr in a recent phone interview. "They didn't limit themselves to one thing they might do.

"That freedom is what's beautiful about it. By no means are we about to go make a hip-hop record, but we love such a wide array of music."

However people chose to define them, Starr said the most important characteristic he hopes they latch on to is their honest songwriting.

When he's contemplating where to place blame over a love lost in "Who Invented the Wheel?" or questioning an endless search for satisfaction in "Restless," Starr said his fans know he's singing about what he knows, not telling tales.

"Life experience is the best inspiration out there," he said. "I don't write cowboy songs because I'm not a cowboy.

"I think people can smell cheesy from a mile away, if someone is faking it and putting it on."

That has been true ever since he moved to Atlanta more than a decade ago to take advantage of a bigger music scene than the one in his Alabama hometown.

At one of the city's bars holes haunted by bands after gigs, Starr met Paul Jackson (guitar) and brothers Brit Turner (drums) and Richard Turner (bass). They hit it off, and realizing they shared similar musical sensibilities, decided to form a band in 2002.

The band quickly established itself on the road and have been on a nonstop touring campaign averaging 150 dates a year ever since. Over the years, they picked up a fifth member, Brandon Still (keys), and have supported artists such as ZZ Top, Montgomery Gentry and label mate Zac Brown.

Today, they'll stop to perform at Riverbend on the Bud Light Stage.

If honesty is the most important quality of their songs, Starr said the most important feature of their lives shows is an unabashed energy and joy of performing.

Tonight, that might mean hundreds of people listening to new material off their upcoming third studio release, but Starr said that sense of excitement was there even when they were playing to much smaller crowds.

"It doesn't matter if we're in an arena or in a club with 10 people," he said. "We love this music so much, and that's what keeps us smiling every day."

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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