I do not understand how people could listen to only one genre of music. I love pasta but I don’t wanna eat it every single day. Although my record collection is quite eclectic and my Spotify playlists look like they belong to a schizophrenic, the most “country” music that I listen to is probably Johnny Cash and The Cowboy Junkies.
This year I agreed to step out of my comfort zone, so when I saw the promo for Blackberry Smoke at the Corona Theatre, I decided to check it out. All I knew was that it was being presented by Lasso which meant that it was country music. Since they were described as southern rock and I’ve always loved the Allman brothers I had a good feeling that I would enjoy the show.
I’m glad that I caught the opening act because The Cory James Mitchell Band set the tone for an unforgettable night. This bluesy/country rock band from Sarnia, Ontario did a wonderful job of warming up the crowd. With honest, emotional lyrics and a strong and gritty voice, Cory definitely made a few fans in Montreal.
Expecting to see a lot of cowboy/truck driver type dudes and unable to convince any friends or family to join me, I was a little leery of attending the show alone. As a child of the ’70s, I couldn’t help picturing every bar-room brawl scene from The Dukes of Hazzard but luckily the crowd was quite calm.
The band came on at exactly nine o’clock , they played for 2 hours nonstop and they were as sweet and polite as they were professional. Perhaps it’s a southern thing, but it’s something I’m not always used to attending rock shows.
Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Blackberry Smoke is Charlie Starr (lead vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar), Paul Jackson (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Brandon Still (keyboards), Richard Turner (bass, backing vocals) and Brit Turner (drums).
They have been the supporting act for artists such as ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd and are currently headlining a Canadian tour. These seasoned musicians have been together for about 20 years, so when Charlie informed us that this was their first time in Montreal, I was genuinely surprised.
The boys wasted no time, playing everyone’s favourites from their six-album discography. I can’t believe they released their debut album, Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime, in 2004 and I had never heard of them. In my defense, they were never played on the radio and they have never been to my town. Thankfully their tour brought them to Canada so I finally got my chance.
“We’ve never received a great deal of radio airplay, so we have to take our music to the people. I suppose we could stop anytime we want. But it’s not like anyone’s forcing us to do this. We really just love to do it.” Charlie Starr
“Waiting For The Thunder” (Like an Arrow 2016), got me stomping my boots with its hard-driving riff into. It seems like Charlie switched his guitar at every song and he had some beauties.
Things started cooking at “Let It Burn” with its upbeat tempo and great guitar work. Followed by “Lucky 7”, where we were treated to some funky keyboards. The band really cut loose, weaving in a super groovy medley from the Beatles’ White Album. I was close enough to the stage to see the band members smiling when Charlie began to sing “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road.” We all cheered on, which prompted Charlie to exclaim; “Looks like you guys are feeling the spirit!”
And then Blackberry Smoke did that thing that only great bands can do. They started jamming spontaneously, feeding off our energy, making us feel like it was a magical, unrehearsed moment. The entire room began to sing “Come Together” while the band got psychedelic with a keyboard solo that would have made Ray Manzarek smile.
I noticed two super fans at the very front of the stage that seemed to know the lyrics of every song. I also noticed how Charlie was genuinely touched when they sang along to “One Horse Town.”
I did not know it at the time but this will be the last live concert that I will be attending for quite a while. The irony of the name of the venue was not wasted on the band who truly played as though it would be their last gig for a long time. (After playing Ottawa the following night they had to postpone the rest of their tour).
My heart goes out to all the hard-working travelling bands that can no longer perform. I feel lucky that I had the chance to see BlackBerry Smoke and will close with some words from “Ain’t Much Left” which was their final song. “Well I’ve been rained on, rode hard and put up wet Danced with the devil ’till I’m in debt Took all I got and there ain’t much left of me I’ve been knocked down, drug out and left for dead Barely held together by a few old threads And I’m still here there ain’t much left to see, no Well I’m still holding on and there ain’t much left of me There ain’t much left of me I said there ain’t much left of me, no Yeah well there ain’t much left of me”
I sincerely hope not.
Review – Annette Aghazarian
Photos – Eric Brisson