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Blackberry Smoke will set field party on fire

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By Brad Bowman

Blackberry Smoke’s music calls from the old, traditional hymns of country gospel and bluegrass harmony with the sweat and grit of rock ‘n’ roll.

Blackberry Smoke will headline Froggy Field Party 5 Saturday at the Kentucky Renaissance Fair grounds.

Lead vocalist and guitarist Charlie Starr just wants to write good music.

In junior high, Starr found an old wrecked truck where everyone went mud running. Trash spilled out of the truck: beer cans, a copy of Hank Williams Jr.’s “The Pressure is On” and an Aerosmith cassette tape.

“I heard Aerosmith’s rock, it was the song ‘Back in the Saddle Again’ and that’s where I got the loud Les Paul guitar bug,” Starr said. “I knew that was what I wanted to sound like. I went from playing a tennis racket as an electric guitar to learning rock ‘n’ roll.”

Starr’s father played bluegrass and gospel, but not rock ‘n’roll. His mother liked bands like the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. As a child, music surrounded him. Starr’s grandmother played mandolin, piano and sang.

Starr played bluegrass and gospel, but his friends were into bands like Black Sabbath and Van Halen. Like many adolescent musicians, Starr started playing with a friend who had a drum set and they dreamed of having a band.

Starr continues that dream with Blackberry Smoke, which formed in 2001.

“We are from the southeastern part of the U.S. and we get asked a lot if we are a southern rock band,” Starr said. “It’s fine with us to be called southern rock, but even the bands that were initially called that are more than just that. It’s putting them in a box. We just want to write good music and we enjoy our musical freedom and being able to utilize that freedom to write.”

Starr said the band doesn’t make a conscious decision to write and construct itself in any specific genre. Everyone sets their tone as they like it and the sound comes out.

“We don’t dictate how we sound. I’m inspired by writers like Tom Waits,” Starr said. “That’s why we do traditional things that’s in our system too like ‘Yesterday’s Wine’ (recorded with George Jones and Jamey Johnson), ‘Lesson in a Bottle’ and we write music that makes us feel good.”

Blackberry Smoke continues to burn up the road supporting their latest album The Whippoorwill on country artist Zac Brown’s label Southern Ground. Starr said the move ups the ante for the band.

“It’s better distribution for us and we have had some really irritating trouble with that in the past,” Starr said. “You need people who can throw your music the farthest. Zac’s a friend first and foremost, and signing with a label doesn’t mean you don’t work hard. If you play in front of 20,000 people you still have to play well or at the end of the night you sucked in front of 20,000 people. It’s a challenge as much as it is an honor.”

Blackberry Smoke recently played in Washington with Shooter Jennings, Waylon Jenning’s son, and stay on the road up to 250 days of the year. The band recently recorded a live show in North Carolina that will be sold,tentatively, as a live album with a DVD.

“We’ve been writing a few new songs for several months,” Starr said. “We have about 15 songs in the can for our next album. It will be out hopefully around Christmas or the first of the year.”

The band added keyboardist Brandon Still three years ago after they had a vehicle big enough to carry his equipment. The band includes a rhythm section made up of brothers — bassist Richard Turner and drummer Brit Turner with guitarist Paul Jackson.

“They’ve never played apart (Richard and Brit Turner). They are a package deal,” Starr said. “We kind of ended up together when we all played music in Atlanta. We’re five guys working toward the same goal. It’s not ‘so and so’s band’. We are all in the same boat rowing.”

This camaraderie enhances the chemistry of the band on the road and in the studio.

“About half of the songs on Whippoorwill were new and the other half we’ve played for a while,” Starr said. “The songs aren’t all together complicated. They feel natural and when you’ve been in a band playing with each other for so long you kind of know what someone else is going to do. Richard says he knows when his brother is going to mess up even before he does.”

Blackberry Smoke’s honest approach to music speaks to their artistic integrity. When asked about what he would say to attendees not familiar with the band’s material, Starr echoes the sentiment.

“I hope everyone sees that it’s just honest. We aren’t an act,” Starr said. “We didn’t get into this to be famous or sell a catchy one hit wonder. We are just doing what we love.”

For more information about tickets for the Froggy Field Party visit: www.goo.gl/K9RRu7

For more information about Blackberry Smoke visit: www.blackberrysmoke.com.