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Country rock outfit Blackberry Smoke has successfully developed a loyal fanbase with great songs, relentless touring and high-energy performances.  Formed in 2000 in Atlanta, the band has released 7 full length studio albums, with the last five reaching the top 10 of Billboard’s country charts.  Demonstrating a cross-over appeal to both country and rock fans, the band has also performed well on Indie and Rock charts.  After years of hearing rave reviews about Blackberry Smoke’s live shows, I finally had a chance to catch them in concert at sold out Belly Up in Solana Beach, CA. 

Waiting for the show to start I couldn’t help but notice all the musical equipment on stage.  I joked, “Is an army playing?  How many dudes are in this band”?  As the opening country rocker “All Over the Road” kicked in, I found the answer to be 7 band members – and holy (blackberry?) smoke they sounded fantastic!  It was clear right away that the live show’s heartbeat was charismatic primary songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist Charlie Starr.  Singing with passion and conviction, Starr danced and played guitar all over the stage.  Starr was a hoot, often bantering humorously with the audience in between songs. Noting the venue’s beach city location, he apologized for not knowing any Beach Boys songs.  Guitarists Paul Jackson and Benji Shanks made for a well-coordinated three-axe attack where each guitar part added a different element to the song. Keyboardist Brandon Still provided a southern rock flare with nicely placed piano and organ accents. The rhythm section consisted of brothers Brit (drums) and Richard Turner (bass) as well as percussionist Preston Holcomb to effectively blend everything into one cohesive sound.

The enthusiastic crowd were treated to a setlist longer than a CVS receipt – 22 songs ranging from kickass rockers like my all-time favorite “Waiting for the Thunder” to gentle Americana folk like “Old Enough to Know”.  The set showcased many songs off Blackberry Smoke’s latest album, the 2021 homage to their home state, You Hear Georgia  If you gravitate more to up-tempo rock jams like me, you’ll enjoy new tunes “Live it Down”, “All Rise Again”, and “All Over the Road”.  After witnessing the live performance, my new album favorite is the spirited folky blues rock track “Old Scarecrow”.  I’m a sucker for clever metaphors and I love this one – comparing a mindset of tireless work ethic, unwavering beliefs, and desire to live and let live to that of a scarecrow. Interesting side note, the tune was co-written by Rickey Medlocke of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blackfoot.  The first verse/chorus is restrained with just low-volume blues guitar and keys. Drums come in on the second verse to build the crescendo.  Finally, the second chorus erupts with roaring power chords with slide guitar and organ ablaze adding to the magic.


Like an old scarecrow
Standin' in the sun
Day after day
His work ain't never done
I ain't ever gonna change my ways
Make my stand for the rest of my days


Whether you’re a fan of country, a fan of rock, or something in between, these crafty musicians from Georgia will appeal to you in some way. Offering witty lyrics that resonate to everyday people, blending a creative mix of blues, country, rock, folk and Americana, and treating fans to an entertaining and energetic road show, there is nothing left to do but inhale deeply with a nice big hit of Blackberry Smoke!

Rock on and be well!  - Greg Vitalich

Greg Vitalich

Photojournalist - San Diego

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