Blackberry Smoke is a hard-working Southern-rock band in perpetual motion. Over the last three years, the Atlanta-based group has opened for the likes of ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Shooter Jennings, Cross Canadian Ragweed, and the Zac Brown Band. This year, armed with a new concert DVD and an ever-growing regional following, they're firmly established as concert headliners on their own.
"In the early days, we played so many shows where we had 30-minute slots opening for a headliner," says lead singer and guitarist Charlie Starr. "You can't really even take a breath during a short set like that. The flip of the coin was when we played bar gigs where we had to play four sets a night, which was every Blackberry Smoke original and a shit-ton of covers, which is what most bands have to do when they're earning their stripes. Over the years, we've been lucky enough to earn our keep and hone a good set."
Starr and his longtime bandmates — bassist Richard Turner, drummer Brit Turner, guitarist/singer Paul Jackson — have been writing, recording, and touring for a decade. In late 2009, they released their second full-length album, Little Piece of Dixie. The raw and gritty collection earned rave reviews from critics and drew attention from the jam-rock and Americana scenes.
"It's been a whirlwind," Starr says. "People wonder if we ever take breaks, and we really only break briefly when someone's wife has a baby."
The band recently released a concert DVD titled Live at the Georgia Theater, which captured them in front of a sold-out crowd at the recently refurbished venue in Athens, Ga., last August. Special guest performers at the show included Zac Brown and Clay Cook (of the Zac Brown Band) and Jimmy Hall (of Wet Willie). Additional interviews and studio footage is featured in the DVD as well.
"We hadn't actually ever played the Georgia Theater before," admits Starr. "It was exciting, knowing what a historic landmark it is in that town and all the bands who've played there over the years. It was so cool."
The band's performance at the Georgia Theatre included keyboardist Brandon Still, the newest addition to the lineup. His tasteful organ and keyboard work added a classic rock texture to the band's riff-heavy songs. "The addition of Brandon on the keys gave me and Paul a chance to stretch out," Starr says. "There's another instrument in there that sounds beautiful, so we don't have to fill as many musical holes."