During a Peach Music Festival that was surprisingly lean on Southern rock and country acts – considering the fest was founded in 2012 by the Allman Brothers Band, pioneers of Southern jams – Blackberry Smoke put on a Sunday afternoon display of hard-edged country and rural rock that left the Peach crowds gathered in Scranton, Pennsylvania, breathless.
Long-haired and bearded, somewhere between hippies and mountain men, the quintet wore their influences on their sleeves during their greasy set, evoking their Georgia brethren the Allmans, along with Lynyrd Skynrd and the Black Crowes — guitarist Rich Robinson sat in near show’s end.
In front of an amber-colored tapestry displaying their name in floral ribbons and lightning bolts, Blackberry Smoke, led by charismatic denim-clad frontman Charlie Starr, roared through live favorites like “Six Ways to Sunday,” “Rock and Roll Again” and the ominous “Sleeping Dogs.” They also previewed their upcoming new album, Like an Arrow, with a fierce take on “Waiting for the Thunder.”
Throughout, brothers Richard and Brit Turner held down a driving rhythm section on bass and drums, respectively, while keyboard player Brandon Still doled out gospel organ that took the crowd to church. A twangy blues cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come” was bolstered by guitarist Paul Jackson’s smoky riffs, which had fans on the lawn vibrating.
The most bona fide country moment, however, saw Starr trading in his electric SG for an acoustic Gibson SJ-200, delivering the hopeful ballad “Ain’t Got the Blues,” off 2012’s The Whippoorwill. The drawling singer gave his pure voice a chance to shine after belting out rocker after rocker, lingering over the lyric, “If I ain’t got ten, brother, I got nine / The good lord smiling down on me / ain’t a worry on my mind.”
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The loudest ovation came when Starr welcomed Robinson to the stage. Together, they launched into the Crowes’ “Wiser Time,” off 1994’s Amorica, with Starr swaggering through his vocal turn. Robinson, meanwhile, embellished the solo he played on the original, tiring out his fretboard before trading riffs with Starr to end in a climactic display of guitar fireworks.
Like an Arrow, Blackberry Smoke’s fifth studio album, following the Number One Holding All the Roses, will be released October 14th. The album features a guest appearance from Gregg Allman, who was forced to cancel his appearance at the Peach Music Festival to deal with “serious health issues” under his doctor’s care at the Mayo Clinic. In his stead, members of the String Cheese Incident and Allman Brothers Band alumni performed Allman nuggets as the “Allman Brothers Family Incident.”