Atlanta-based Blackberry Smoke will make their first appearance in Albany on Saturday night at the State Theatre.
ALBANY — As Atlanta-based Blackberry Smoke start their 12th year together, touring behind their excellent live album recorded at the historic Georgia Theatre in Athens and an album of new material in the can awaiting release, there’s a feeling circulating around the band that this could be the year, the moment in time when the tireless road warriors catch lightning in a bottle and break out in a big way.
“That ‘always the bridesmaid thing’ doesn’t bother us,” said BBS lead singer Charlie Starr, who was nursing a cold Wednesday after three shows in Mississippi over the weekend. “We’re starting our 12th year, so we’ve seen this thing we have grow from nothing. We didn’t win ‘American Idol’ to get our shot; we went out and started working.
“The road, we’ve discovered, is what you make it.”
Starr and his bandmates in Blackberry Smoke will make their first stop in Albany on Saturday for a show at the downtown State Theatre. It’s the kind of performance that has allowed the band to gradually build one of the most loyal fan bases in the Southeast.
“We take that one-show-at-a-time approach when we’re on the road,” Starr said. “We can’t take a show for granted because even if we’ve played a venue before, we figure we’re going to have an opportunity to play for people who’ve never seen us. We want to win them over, but at the same time we don’t want to play the same show for fans who’ve been with us for a while.
“Over 12 years, we’ve got a lot of material. We’re not going to do the same thing night after night.”
BBS — which, in addition to Starr, includes the sibling rhythm section of bassist Richard and drummer Brit Turner, guitarist Paul Jackson and keyboardist Brandon Still — is a collection of accomplished musicians who wear their Southern roots well.
With influences as wide-ranging as bluegrass greats the Stanley Brothers to Southern rockers the Allman Brothers to country greats Waylon and Willie and the boys, their music is a conglomeration of genres that is uniquely their own.
Which, of course, confounds music industry A&R folks and radio programmers who like their artists pigeonholed to fit neatly into a prepackaged, pre-ordained boxes.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but the way I look at it, it’s just the people in the music industry who think that way,” Starr said. “When I go and hang out at the merch booth and talk to fans, I talk with people who don’t have to have things so compartmentalized. They don’t have to have people explain things to them; they get it.
“A lot of people label our music ‘Southern rock,’ and we do owe a lot to bands like the Allman Brothers and the Marshall Tucker Band. But we’ve had people who don’t generally like Southern rock say they really love what we do. These people don’t need a label on music to know whether they like it.”
As hard-edged as Blackberry Smoke’s music might get on a given night, depending on Starr’s whims as master of the set list, the band can swing just as quickly in another direction and throw some hard-core country at their audience.
“I heard Marty Stuart on the radio the other day, and he said that playing real country music is about as outlaw as you can get right now, and I believe that,” Starr said. “Country music now is about as far from country as it’s ever been. But we lean more toward the traditional country of George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson.
“We’re just open-minded musically. One of my greatest thrills as a musician was recording a song with George Jones and singing ‘Yesterday’s Wine’ with him at the Ryman Auditorium. We do what we do not because it’s trendy, but because it’s good music.”
With the release of their fourth full-length album set for April, a collection tentatively titled “Whippoorwill,” and a touring schedule that will get them before more and more potential fans, BBS remain one of those bands that teeters on the verge of breakout stardom.
“The new album is the best stuff we’ve ever done,” Starr said. “I listen to our first album (‘Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime’ from 2004) and I hear a band that was wild, woolly and in a hurry. We’re more mature as individuals and as artists now. Getting a break, like having a hit record on the radio, is one of those being in the right place at the right time things.
“Something like that would be great, but we’re not going to try and change who we are to make it happen. Waylon Jennings said once, ‘Don’t write something you wouldn’t be proud to sing 35 years down the line.’ We’re going to be true to ourselves. Because when what you do is not real — when you’re pandering — people can sniff that out.”
Tickets for Saturday’s show, which are $15 through today and $20 at the door, are available at Harvest Moon, Blush, Moe’s and Backwoods Outdoors.
Opening for BBS will be Evan Barber & the Dead Gamblers and the Bo Henry Band.