by Jane Roser
A deluge of rain and the constant threat of flash floods didn’t dampen the spirits of Blackberry Smoke’s Brothers and Sisters. Loyal and new fans alike know that any concert by the Georgia-based outlaw country rock band is worth sloshing through any nasty weather to attend.
The Fillmore is a historic cornerstone located in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, just blocks from the iconic AFI movie theater. It’s a spacious venue with great acoustics, very long bars, and mammoth chandeliers twirling overhead.
The opener, Magpie Salute, performed songs off their debut album, High Water I, out August 10, including the title track, their single “Send Me an Omen,” a song about the “perils of selfies” and a Blind Faith cover. Created by former Black Crowes members’ guitarist Rich Robinson, bassist Sven Pipien and guitarist Marc Ford, they’re joined by vocalist John Hogg, keyboardist Matt Slocum and drummer Joe Magistro.
Hogg delivered a powerful performance with strong vocals: a bit Hendrix, Chris Cornell, Zack de la Rocha with a touch of Jeffrey Gaines; it’s just too bad his vocals were overpowered by the instruments throughout most of their set. The audience loved Hogg’s energetic delivery and sang along to many of the songs. At one point he played one of the coolest acoustic guitars I’ve ever seen-it had a heart-shaped sound hole.
“So we’re a new band; new record out in August, so we’re playing some songs off that record. Just take it all in.” The audience sure did and screamed for “one more song.”
Blackberry Smoke (Charlie Starr – vocals/guitar; Richard Turner – bass, Brit Turner -drums; Paul Jackson – guitar; and Brandon Still – keyboards) tour year-round and fans follow them from town to town. Every show is different which keeps it fresh and exciting, I can honestly say it’s one of the few live shows I never miss. Find A Light, the group’s sixth studio album, was released this year to critical acclaim and an acoustic accompaniment EP, The Southern Ground Sessions, will be out October 26th.
Opening with the track “Waiting for the Thunder,” off their fifth album, Like An Arrow, the audience was singing along and dancing on the now somewhat sticky floor. Starr is an accomplished rock and blues guitarist and is just mesmerizing to watch. He plays with such passion and makes it look as easy as pie.
“Fire In The Hole” and “Let It Burn” (I’m sensing a theme here) followed and the sound issues from earlier were non-existent and you could hear Starr enunciate every word. I became a bit fixated on how the stage fans caught Jackson’s long hair and it was now blowing upwards to the ceiling-it just reminded me of those 80s hairband music videos I was obsessed with in high school.
Brit Turner’s drum kit looked antique and had “American Legion Drum & Bugle Corps Post No. 1 Atlanta, GA” stamped on the front surrounding a giant peach. I’m dying to know the backstory to that gem.
I had attended a Ray Wylie Hubbard show the previous evening, so when Starr sang “Throw in Ray Wylie Hubbard/Sing along to Redneck Mother” I was tickled at the irony; when Hubbard introduces “Redneck Mother,” he instructs you to “sing along and relive your wasted youth”). There’s a lyric near the end of “Good One Comin’ On” which Starr changes for live shows. Let’s just say one-word rhymes with “hoochie” and the audience usually sings that part by themselves (with gusto, I might add).
“Rock and Roll Again” is one of my favorite songs from Holding All the Roses. I remember asking Starr about this song when I interviewed him several years ago. They’d played it live and I asked if would be on their next album. “I think so,” he replied, “it’s a good rock and roll song.”
A great blues riff opened their track, “Believe You Me.” Afterward, Starr said,”It looks like everyone feels like dancing tonight. Thank you for coming. It’s an honor and a pleasure to play music tonight with the Magpie Salute. We have a new album out. If you don’t have a copy you can get one tonight.”
During “Medicate My Mind,” the couple in front of me hung onto the guardrail and started jumping in the air, each trying to see how high they could go, so I was glad I had worn solid shoes.
“Sleeping Dogs” is a fun song they almost always perform live. At some point mid-set, they usually throw in a portion of a cover song. Usually, it’s a Led Zeppelin song, but tonight it was The Beatles‘ “Come Together.” The segue worked seamlessly with Starr finishing with their now classic: “Make no mistake, let there be no doubt/Paint me in the corner, I’ll fight my way out/The moral of the story brother, this is it/I’ll be all over you like stick on shit.”
“Run Away From It All” was followed by their ballad “Whippoorwill.” Starr wrote this song for his grandmother and now he dedicated it to their “hard-working crew.” This song really highlights Still’s piano-playing prowess.
A guy behind me kept yelling “Thank you!” as they went into “Lord Strike Me Dead.” Starr was given his acoustic guitar and said, “Hey mama!” while another guy in the audience yelled, “Sing that shit, Charlie!” “Ain’t Got The Blues” is an audience sing-a-long favorite and everyone was clapping along and “I’ll Keep Ramblin'” included a short cover of “Big River” in the middle.
“There’s still some soul and spirit here in Washington DC!”
Following the song “Sunrise in Texas,” off Like An Arrow, Blackberry Smoke went into the song “One Horse Town.”
The set ended with the title track from Like An Arrow, Charlie drew his guitar frets along the base of the mic stand like the badass he is. For the encore, Magpie Salute joined them onstage to perform Little Feat’s “Fat Man in the Bathtub.”
“Thank you for coming out on this rainy Sunday,” Starr graciously acknowledged playing what sounded like a bluesy rendition of “Amazing Grace” on his slide guitar, then going into “Ain’t Much Left of Me.” This is another song that Starr sometimes interchanges with a Zeppelin tune, but this time it was John Lee Hooker’s “I Got a Letter (This Morning)” that was the chosen track.
Throwing his pick to the audience, Starr said, “Thank you so much. God bless you!” The rain was now coming down in buckets, but everyone was on such a music high, no one even seemed to notice. I just still thought, thank goodness I wore those damn shoes.