Atlanta Georgia’s southern rockers, Blackberry Smoke, were just getting the evening started when singer/guitarist Charlie Starr belted out the lyrics “We’re gonna keep this party rockin’/Till the break of dawn” from one of the band’s many hits, “Good One Comin’ On.” While we didn’t quite make it to the break of dawn, Starr’s lyrical prediction about a late-night party proved true in all other respects as the veteran performers turned the hallowed Ryman Auditorium into a raucous occasion.
A few hours prior, fans circled the block well before the venue’s doors opened—even with assigned seats for a sold out show. To say that there was anticipation for the evening would be a drastic understatement. Such excitement was understandable: For 22 years, Blackberry Smoke has churned out enough fan favorites to fill numerous setlists and for about a century, The Ryman has been home to thousands of the most memorable shows to happen in Music City. It was a perfect pairing.
Now that the band was on stage, the hours of anticipation were giving way to a setlist that was crafted to amp up the already ravenous crowd. We made it a good 5-6 songs into the show before the band even attempted to slow down the tempo. That opening run of songs included sticky guitar-filled songs like “All Over the Road” and “Six Ways to Sunday.” The crowd, clearly full of dedicated Blackberry Smoke faithful, seemingly knew every word to each song. However, the room erupted in full voice when the band started one of their biggest hits, “Waiting for Thunder.” It was the first of many full-room singalongs of the night. A few songs later, the band did manage to slow the tempo a bit with another hit, “Hey Delilah,” from their recent album, You Hear Georgia. However, that didn’t take an ounce of energy out of the room. Even confined to the narrow paths between the Ryman’s sacred pews, plenty of dancing could be seen. Remarkably, the band and the crowd managed to keep this pace for 21 songs stretching over 2 hours.
They always say that you never know what might happen at the Ryman—and who might guest appear. For this special show, the band made sure to guestlist some top names to add some additional flair to the evening. Early in the evening Starr brought out his son, singer/guitarist Christian Gray, to jam on “Waiting for the Thunder.”
Later, the band was joined by rising rock/Americana star Marcus King, for a guitar-solo-filled version of The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Take The Highway.”
Near the end of the night, Butch Walker led the band through a wild version of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” Even the band may not have been fully prepared for Walker’s explosive stage personality, making the cover all the more memorable.
Of course, the band had also played the Ryman the night before, and Nashville favorite Jamey Johnson had stopped by for a couple songs. Fans kept watching to see if Johnson was waiting in the shadows. With the set over and the Ryman waiting for an encore, the stage crew rolled out a stack of analog amplifiers, a sure sign that something was about to happen. Sure enough, the first song out of the break was “Lonesome for a Livin” featuring Johnson’s deep, country vocals.
Although the guest appearances were over, the band wasn’t ready to let the party end just yet. Somehow still bringing the same energy that they had on “Good One Comin’ On” at the beginning of the show, Blackberry Smoke poured on the guitar-fueled riffs as they closed the night with the duo of “Old Scarecrow” and “Ain’t Much Left of Me.” Between the group’s thunderous sound and the stomping of feet in the crowd, the wooden floors of the Mother Church literally shook.
Even with the band taking a its final bow, the lights coming up, and the faint sound of house music letting us know that the show was over, the majority of the audience pleaded for just one more song. Unfortunately, that song will have to wait until the next time Blackberry Smoke stops by Nashville. However, as we exited, the stairways and halls were full of excited chatter about favorite moments, making it clear that the night had clearly lived up to its hype. The show proved why Blackberry Smoke has rocked across this country for 22 years…so far, and why the Ryman holds such a mystique for music lovers.
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