Show Review: Blackberry Smoke at the Ryman with Will Hoge

Show Reviews

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Opening for Blackberry Smoke at the famous Ryman Auditorium this past Saturday, February 23rd, Will Hoge shared his stories and songs to a hometown crowd. He admits,“I maybe shouldn’t say such things so publicly, but back when I used to come to shows here at the Ryman, the good folk’s who worked here at the time were no less than 306-years-old—which made it pretty easy to outrun them if I didn’t have money to see the band.”

Hoge is a Nashville native, and with his recent release of “My American Dream”, he has been very honest about how his life growing up in the South has shaped his firmly positioned views today. In many ways, Hoge, along with other more politically vocal artists in his genre, are still outrunning 300-year-old gatekeepers. In this case, he’s won, performing his own foot-stomping, message-driven, rock n’ roll on the best stage imaginable.

After an Interlude that flooded the refreshment stands with plenty a pearl buttoned blouse, and shimmering, bedazzled boot, the crowd made their way back to their pews—a different sort of church was about to begin. The spirit in the hall hummed with an eagerness that vibrated the mezzanine, and a rowdiness won from more than a couple double margaritas.

The lights dimmed. An actual blackberry haze seeped in across the stage, and with a pulsing flash of lights, and psychodalia uncommon to the prestige of The Ryman, the band revved in with a loud and groovy rendition of “I’m Gonna Love you Six Ways to Sunday”.

“Man, there is nothing like looking up at those stained glass windows!” Charlie Starr, lead guitarist and vocalist,  smiled all over that hardwood stage like a boy living out his dreams. This was barroom night at The Ryman! “I’m going to keep this party riding to the break of dawn. / I can feel a good party comin’ on.” In its most in-auspicious form, Blackberry Smoke’s performance was pure rock n’ roll with a touch of good ol’ hippy dirt barn and a sprinkling of well-tailored, vintage rock’o’bilia.

With a classic, distorted guitar riff that drove straight to the ‘heart’, the song “Crimson Moon” worked to pull each date-night couple a little closer at the hip. This true, blue American tale of boy meets girl made every person in the room sink a little lower and stomp a little harder. “Homecoming queen, about to turn 18 /Just a couple of months younger than / That wanna be James Dean.”

It was right about that time that Brit Turner’s drum kit popped out at me. It read, “CAMPBELL HIGH—SMYRNA, GA”. Now, that’s a high school in Georgia if there ever was one. In fact, it’s THE high school that my cousin went to—and is also the school where Julia Roberts graduated from (which I only know because of my cousin).

A high school situated just five miles outside of Atlanta, Campbell High is emblematic of so many parts of the South where the boundary between urban and rural life are minced—where rhetoric, and policies, and politics are second to the real experience of simply being a good neighbor. Within this realization of the band’s origins was a sense of belonging, and a visceral connection point, a raw and psychedelic oneness.  When it came down to it, there was more than a cruising, hip vibe that allowed the audience to believe, and get behind Blackberry Smoke’s performance. These guys represented an American identity—a middle ground ready to break the mold, and outrun three-hundred-years of just doing as they’re told.

“This little bitty town it ain’t nothing new / We all stick around ’cause they all tell us to / Swallow your pride just to make your family proud / If I didn’t think that it would shut the whole place down / I’d ride my pony right out of this one horse town.”

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