A Holiday Homecoming: Blackberry Smoke Rocks the Tabernacle
For the third straight year, I found myself spending my Thanksgiving weekend with one of my favorite live bands at one of my favorite local venues: Blackberry Smoke at the Tabernacle in Atlanta. We arrived about an hour before the doors opened to find a typical Tabernacle concert line wrapped around the block. As we made our way to the back I could not help but notice how much the Blackberry Smoke fan base has grown. Not just in numbers, but in diversity as well. From deadheads and southern rock rebels, to frat boys and handlebar mustache bikers--sounds like a bar brawl just waiting to erupt, huh?--except there was no tension in the air. We were all here to boogie.
It was a beautiful homecoming for both acts as Blackberry Smoke was accompanied by Rich Robinson, longtime guitarist and songwriter for the Atlanta-based Black Crowes, a band that truly revived rock 'n' roll in the early 90s during a time where grunge, britpop, and thrash metal were becoming the face of the rock genre. Since the band's last breakup in 2015, Rich has continued to pump out the kind of soulful harmonious melodies that Black Crowes fans originally fell in love with.
Once inside, the crowd scrambled quickly to the bars and merch table before securing their spots on the floor, because once you leave that floor, chances are your spot is gone. Rich was right on cue at 8 p.m., taking the stage with his new single "Shipwreck," a fat blistering track that instantly converted the uninitiated into Rich Robinson disciples. Midway through his set Rich seemed to think that the crowd was eager for BBS, promising that he would only play a few more songs. The crowd responded with cheers of 'we're here for you too!' - a simple reminder that he was right at home. Nearing the end of his rich set (no pun intended) the band broke into a soothing Black Crowes love ballad "Oh, Josephine," which had the crowd falling in love with a woman they had never known.
Rich left the stage around 9 o'clock, and the already buzzing energy of the crowd seemed to double. The fans were ready for BBS. It was almost as if they could smell the smoke. The boys didn't keep us waiting long. After a short intermission Blackberry Smoke appeared on stage blazing through their crowd pleaser "Fire in the Hole." After their barn burning opener, front man Charlie Starr shouted his appreciation above the roars of the audience. Wasting no time the band launched into two more fan favorites including "Good One Coming On," properly setting the mood for the rest of the evening. As the night carried on we were serenaded with popular hits, beloved covers, and inspiring tracks off the new self produced album Like An Arrow.
The most memorable moment of the night began when Charlie Starr was handed Duane Allman's famed 1957 gold top Gibson Les Paul. He used the guitar to play the title track off of the band's 2012 album The Whippoorwill, a moving tribute to his late grandmother. As the crowd was nearly brought to tears, the boys launched into an Allman Brothers classic "Blue Sky." The band seemed to channel their 70s rock 'n' roll heroes as they smoothly sailed from "Blue Sky" into the Grateful Dead's "Franklin's Tower."
After seemingly giving us all we could handle, the boys took the stage for a riveting five-song encore. Although many of us had been our feet throughout the staggering two and a half hour set, the encore filled the former sanctuary with an almost spiritual type of energy. We found ourselves arm in arm as the band closed out with the Bob Marley classic "Three Little Birds." We joined together singing the words "Every little thing is gonna be alright," and in that moment all 2,600 of us believed it.
Your people, your music. Keep rockin' Atlanta.