Nothing can cure a Thanksgiving food coma better than live music, and a giant serving of Blackberry Smoke was the perfect recipe on Friday night at The Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Playing a holiday show in their hometown of Atlanta the day after Thanksgiving has become a bit of a tradition for Blackberry Smoke (dating back to 2013), showcased by their Homecoming: Live in Atlanta CD release back in November 2019 – which also happened to be the last time I saw them live.
Located a stones-throw away from Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta, The Tabernacle building is over 100 years old, and at one point was a Baptist Church with an active congregation of over 4,000 members. Having seen a number of shows here over the years, I have always been pleased with the acoustics and intimate feel of the venue, even if the posted capacity is 2,600 people.
After braving the 40-degree evening weather tailgating for over an hour in the parking lot adjacent to the building, a large crowd of fans streamed in starting at 7pm when the doors opened. What is convenient about The Tabernacle is there is a downstairs area (with bars and bathrooms) separated from the music hall where fans can hang out, and the merchandise tables are set up – and for those unfamiliar with Blackberry Smoke, this allowed the band to display and sell dozens of their t-shirt designs!
Promptly at 8pm, Missouri-based band The Comancheros stormed the stage. Self-described as “‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ meets early AC/DC,” this three-piece band of R. Michael Cook (drums), Jon Green (bass) and Tanner Bryce Jones (lead vocals, guitar) rocked through their 30-minute set with blistering energy. Green and Jones actively worked their instruments around the stage, with Cook sometimes coming out from behind the kit to circle it while playing the cymbals. The Comancheros definitely had a little harder edge to them than Blackberry Smoke – “heavy and western,” as they say – but the cross-genre musical influences to their tunes were clearly showcased in their song writing, including “We Own the Night”. I would also encourage you to check out their latest release, “Old Mexico,” on Spotify.
On this festive Friday night, Blackberry Smoke were also out supporting their seventh studio release, You Hear Georgia, their first full-length studio album since 2018’s Find a Light. Produced by fellow Georgian Dave Cobb, You Hear Georgia capturs the essence of a band that has the ability to cross multiple musical genres, blues, country, rock, folk, and all with that Southern twist seamlessly, while also leveraging their contemporaries such as Jamey Johnson (on “Lonesome for a Livin’”) and Warren Haynes (on “All Rise Again”). Lead vocalist Charlie Starr also co-wrote with Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Rickey Medlocke.
Following a quick 30-minute stage change, Blackberry Smoke took the stage at 9pm to the elation of the hometown crowd, breaking into “Live It Down” from their new album. If you have never experienced a Blackberry Smoke show, I would describe it as a bit of a musical carnival. The band, anchored by Starr in the center and bass player Richard Turner, now fills the stage with multiple guitarists, Paul Jackson and Benji Shanks, percussionists Preston Holcomb, Brandon Still and Brit Turner, and background singers Sherie and Sherita Murphy of The Black Bettys. And just for depth, a variety of occasional horn players. Everywhere you look is musical talent at play, supported by the large screen behind the band that rolls video of what I could best describe as “mood lighting,” e.g. lava lamp-type imagery, starry nights, etc.
Moreover, no Blackberry Smoke concert is ever quite the same. Their playlist for any given concert will change from night to night, making each fan experience unique in its own right. You can have this luxury when you have a 20-year catalog of music to draw from.
I am not one to generally give a song-by-song review from a show, instead focusing in on any key moments from a performance. What was really special late in the set Friday night was when Starr “fired Benji and Paul” and brought out Christian Gray (Starr’s son) and Spencer Jackson (Paul’s son) to take over guitar duties for the Black Sabbath cover of “Fairies Wear Boots,” a song Starr said the boys personally selected. This was clearly a prideful moment for both fathers, with hugs all around once the song was finished.
The evening banter between Starr and the capacity crowd definitely had a local flavor to it, as half the band was introduced as being from Cobb County and Rome, GA. There was also much talk about the Braves and “Go Dawgs”, but nothing could signify the demand for an encore better than the fans breaking out the Braves’ tomahawk chop chant. Blackberry Smoke retook the stage and closed out their nearly two-and-a-half hour set with a cover of the Rolling Stones song “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking,” followed by “Ain’t Much Left of Me.”
1.) Live It Down
2.) Payback’s a Bitch
3.) Good One Comin’ On
4.) Waiting for the Thunder
5.) Lord Strikes Me Dead
6.) Let It Burn
7.) Hey Delilah
8.) Believe You Me
9.) All Down the Line (Rolling Stones cover)
10.) Sleeping Dogs
12.) You Hear Georgia
13.) Ain’t Gonna Wait
14.) Run Away From It All
15.) Ain’t Got the Blues
16.) Up in Smoke
17.) Till the Wheels Fall Off
18.) One Horse Town
19.) All Rise Again
20.) Fairies Wear Boots (Black Sabbath cover, with Christian Gray and Spencer Jackson on guitar)
21.) Old Scarecrow
22.) Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (Rolling Stones cover)
23.) Ain’t Much Left of Me
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