Blackberry Smoke anniversary show revisits ‘The Whippoorwill’

The band has been touring relentlessly, drawing fans to the flames of their melting-face medley of blues rock, outlaw country, honky tonk jams and rootsy R&B.

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Blackberry Smoke

Blackberry Smoke’s usual touring lineup includes Preston Holcomb (from left), Richard Turner, Brit Turner (now sidelined with illness), Charlie Starr, Brandon Still, Benji Shanks and Paul Jackson.

Joe Lopez

The diehards tuned into Paramount’s Western drama “Yellowstone” might be familiar with Atlanta Southern rock fusion act Blackberry Smoke, who has enjoyed several key music placements in the hit TV series. But it was 10 years ago when the band first struck mainstream gold with their seminal album, “The Whippoorwill,” after surviving the Wild West as independent artists.

“We had been sort of forced into this stagnant period back then for a few years because we were involved in an odd independent label situation, and the president and CEO went to prison, so we were tied up legally. We were sort of frozen in musical limbo so to speak,” says frontman Charlie Starr over the phone from his Georgia home, while on a brief break from the road. “Nothing gets in the way of the music business like the music business.”

Blackberry Smoke

BLACKBERRY SMOKE

When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16

Where: Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield

Tickets: $35-$65

Info: axs.com

Prior to “The Whippoorwill,” with the keynote song “One Horse Town,” Blackberry Smoke debuted with “Bad Luck Ain’t No Crime” in 2003 and followed it with “Little Piece of Dixie” in 2009, both on the ill-fated BamaJam Records label.

In the interim, the five-piece (also comprised of brothers Richard Turner on bass and vocals and Brit Turner on drums, as well as Paul Jackson on guitar and vocals and Brandon Still on keyboards) toured relentlessly, drawing fans to the flames of their melting-face medley of blues rock, outlaw country, honky tonk jams and rootsy R&B.

The long-jam instrumentals and multi-part vocals, combined with a kinetic live show have them often compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers, wrapped up with a Southern Rock label bow. Sites like like AllMusic claim Blackberry Smoke have brought the genre into the 21st century. It’s “an honor” to be given that distinction, says Starr, but it might not have happened without the sensation behind “The Whippoorwill,” their quintessential second chance.

Much of it is thanks to alt country star Zac Brown, who recruited the band to release the album on his then-new label Southern Ground Records.

“Zac basically said, ‘Go make your record.’ We didn’t have many stipulations. It was the happiest time we’ve experienced because we were like kids with keys to the candy store in the studio,” recalls Starr, adding, “We didn’t have any idea that those songs would affect people, but that’s our most popular album to date so maybe it felt special for a reason.”

Blackberry Smoke is celebrating its 10-year mark by playing the album in full on its latest tour, which arrives Dec. 16 at the Vic Theater before wrapping up a day later (though Starr will head back out again in January for his annual acoustic shows also featuring Benji Shanks). Last year, the band celebrated 21 years together by releasing the popular Blackberry Smoke American Lager through a partnership with New Realm Brewing.

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3 Legged Records

These milestone moments have come at a tough time for the band. Founding member and beloved drummer Brit Turner has been battling health problems — including recently being diagnosed with a brain tumor — that have sidelined him from performing on all of the dates; filling in has been Georgia-based session drummer Kent Aberle.

“Brit is hanging in there right now. He’s got a rough road ahead of him so he will start treatment pretty much immediately, but he came out and played the last few shows with us,” said Starr about his longtime bandmate. “He’s a tough cookie.”

It was 13 years ago that Turner’s then 3-year-old daughter Lana was also battling cancer, leading to the formation of the Lana Turner Fund that all of Blackberry Smoke is heavily involved in, with charity motorbike rides and other events that raise money for children’s cancer search. The fund has raised more than $1 million to date. (Lana’s cancer is in remission and she is doing very well, according to the fund’s website.)

Working on new music has kept spirits high in the camp. Starr admits the group is at work on an upcoming album, a follow-up to their left-center 2021 EP “Stoned,” recorded in one take, straight to vinyl, and featuring seven covers of the Rolling Stones. The as-yet-to-be-announced new album will also be Blackberry Smoke’s first LP since 2021’s exceptional “You Hear Georgia” that pays homage to the rich musical traditions of their home state.

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