• Feature

Blackberry Smoke at Bourbon & Beyond

If you dig Drive-By Truckers, Black Crowes, Skynyrd or The Allman Brothers, you’ll find a lot to love about Atlanta’s Blackberry Smoke. After playing a scorching afternoon set on the first day of Louisville’s Bourbon & Beyond Festival, Charlie Starr (lead vocals and guitar) and Brit Turner (drums) were kind enough to take few minutes to chat with me about growing up steeped in musical influences, being replaced by holograms, the inequity of who gets in to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and why the owners may want to waterproof it.

CM: It’s my first time at the festival, first time really in Louisville and first time seeing you live and I gotta say that blew me away.

CS: Aw, thanks, man.

CM: You’re from Georgia and there are so many great bands from Georgia that I love like Drive-By Truckers, R.E.M., Indigo Girls (who I got to see last night), Black Crowes…as a northern-ish  guy in Cincinnati, it seems like there’s some magic about Georgia, an amazing sound that comes from there…  

CS: There’s a lot of sounds…

CM: So, how much of your sound was formed by growing up in that atmosphere and those influences?

BT: I think the radio played a lot of Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, Georgia Satellites…

CS: Drivin’ n’ Cryin’, The Crowes…

BT: That influenced us because it was on the radio and around playing, you know, Atlanta Rhythm Section, yeah.

CS: In the ‘80s, I would say that there was like a healthy local music scene in Atlanta. A couple local bands that were really melodic like The Producers and The Swinging Richards. That kind of stuff seeps in too. ‘Cause you catch yourself going, “Wow, ok, well this is a really pretty chorus, maybe it’s because I heard that damned Producers’ song five thousand times.” Who knows?

BT: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

CM: So, I was picking up my credentials this morning and I saw someone that was on your guestlist and asked them what they would talk about with you. They said, “Well, they love food, they love vinyl and they love guitars” and I thought -this seems like the right festival for you. 

CS: [Laughing] “So, tacos, Les Pauls and Live at Fillmore East…”

CM: The festival seems like an interesting intersection of people who love food, who love bourbon and who love music and an interesting mix of north and south. After seeing you play, it feels like you guys are the ideal band to be playing this.

CS: Wow… man!

BT: I mean I feel more at home at this festival than others for some reason. Maybe it’s because Louisville’s right in the middle of a lot of major cities with country folk.

CM: Does this feel north to you?

BT: [Laughing] No, no, just maybe fifteen more miles.

CM: [Laughing] So, Cincinnati’s north. We’re on the border with Kentucky. It’s like, Cincinnati’s definitely north and Newport, Kentucky is definitely south. Once you cross the Ohio river, that’s it.

BT: We had the opportunity to meet Freddy Noe and the guys from Jim Beam years ago and they’re more country and southern than any of us and the live right down the street.

CS: We watched Fred Noe and one of the Pappy Van Winkle guys have kind of a Bourbon standoff. Like they saw each other, they caught each other’s line of sight and it was like “Do do do do do, wah wah wah” [singing The Good, The Bad and The Ugly theme].

CM: Nice, you need like a third person to do that three-person standoff…

BT: Yeah, yeah, yeah like The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

CS: [Laughing] Yeah, maybe [bourbon expert Fred] Minnick.

CM: …like The Reservoir Dogs’ standoff…

CS: Yeah, yeah.

BT: They were like, ‘Sure, I’ll taste it, I’ll drink up all his profits up!”

CM: [Laughing] Sorry, I lost my train of thought.

CS: What are your thoughts on Cincinnati chili?

CM: Cincinnati chili, you’re asking me?  

CS: I’m asking you!

CM: I’m not a native, I grew up closer to Cleveland. The first time I had it, I was like, “Mm, I’m not so sure about this.” It took me years to warm to it.

CS: You love it now though?

CM: I love it sometimes, you can’t eat it too often.

CS: No, no, it’s rich.

CM: Have you guys played this festival before?

BT: It was rained out last year, so we couldn’t play.  

CS: But we didn’t play it before, did we? I don’t know.

BT: Yes, we have played it before. We did.

CM: Do you get a chance to intermingle with the other artists?  Who are you excited about bumping into or seeing?

CS: Foo Fighters…who else is playing today?

CM: Fogerty…


CM: Joan Jett is gonna play in a bit. She won’t let us photograph her. I got to photograph you guys, I got some amazing shots. Thanks for putting on an incredible show.

BT: You’re gonna have to clear those out, we don’t allow it [laughing].

CM: [Laughing} I got a lot of really good stuff. Hearing you and seeing you on YouTube is one thing, but seeing you live – super powerful show…

CS: Thanks man.

CM: Absolutely loved the energy, I think you’re going to make a lot of fans today including myself.

CS: Aw, great.

BT: That’s the goal.

CS: When the technology is finally developed where you can replicate the in-person experience, we’ll all be fucked.

CM: I don’t think that will ever happen.  No, I shouldn’t say that, they’re putting up holograms. Between VR and holograms…

CS: Yeah. Can we just do a hologram tour?  I’m a little tired.

CM: I think I’d rather sweat in the Kentucky sun and drink some bourbon and catch you guys. Make you guys bake in the sun.

CS: That’s where FOMO [Fear of Missing Out] comes from.

CM: Exactly.

BT: There’s gonna be, you know, like everything, there’s mistakes with any technology. You know like a big festival like this, maybe Tupac will appear on our stage.

CM: That would be awesome. I’d love to see Tupac with you guys.

BT: [Joking] We’re hard. We can be west coast. Been there a couple of times. So, Cleveland- are you familiar with The Dead Boys?

CM: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

BT: Just want to make sure people in Cleveland still knew…

CM: Do you know Henry Rollins from Black Flag?

CS: Yeah. 

BT: No.

CM: Every time he comes to Ohio and does a speaking tour, he says “I’m boycotting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until you let Devo in, until you let The Cramps in, The Dead Boys” – all these great Ohio bands.

BT: You could argue all day about it.  We went in there and…I mean, I don’t get offended by stuff like that normally, but they had Skynyrd shoved back by the toilet. 

CS: And they were all squished together.

BT: And there’s a whole floor dedicated to U2, that’s fine, they paid for the building probably, I don’t know, but man. If I was them and I came there to see it, I’d be like, hey…”

CS: But Iron Maiden is not?

CM: That’s a sin.  I just saw them in Cincinnati a few weeks ago and it was mind-melting.

BT: I wonder…the people that are in charge of doing that, I know it’s like anything else, you get voted in somehow. I would these people to go see like an Iron Maiden concert, something like that, and just leave there and still not want to induct them…I don’t get it.

CS: Green Day is in, but not the MC5 are not.

CM: Exactly.  Or like The Replacements came up and they didn’t make it in on the first ballot, like come on.

CS: Yeah…big surprise.

CM: But Westerberg probably doesn’t want in anyway.

CS: Of course, he would [just]come in and pee on everything.

CM: [Laughing].  Awesome, I know we wanted to keep it short. I appreciate your time, great chatting with you.

CS: Yeah man, thank you so much!