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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

Blackberry Smoke's Charlie Starr on 'singing what you know' ahead of new album release

A black and white promo image of long-haired, bearded rock musicians in jean jackets and sunglasses
Andy Sapp
/
courtesy Sacks & Co PR
Charlie Starr and Benji Shanks, pictured with Blackberry Smoke, play an all-acoustic set at the Castle Theatre on Friday night.

Blackberry Smoke frontman Charlie Starr rolls through Bloomington on Friday, for a one-night-only appearance at the Castle Theatre. The band was the first making music under an indie label to top Billboard's country charts for their distinctive Atlanta-bred, Southern Rock sound.

At 49, Starr is hardly slowing down; he and bandmate Benji Shanks are on the road this month for an acoustic tour ahead of the Feb. 16 release of Blackberry Smoke’s eighth studio album, “Be Right Here.”

And after nearly 25 years on the road, Starr said he looks to none other than Mick Jagger for the secret to longevity.

“He said, ‘We make people dance,’” Starr said in an interview with WGLT. “I thought, that’s true! I don’t want to go listen to music that doesn’t make me move in some way.”

The band’s three new singles from “Be Right Here” fall right in line with the idea. “Little Bit Crazy,” released in October, opens with a cappella harmony from longtime collaborators The Black Bettys, a twin sister, Gospel-infused duo—but “Little Bit Crazy” is not a Gospel song, by any stretch of the imagination.

“It’s a song about a girl,” Starr said. “Most songs are about either pissed off people or guys and girls.”

“Dig a Hole,” out since August, covers the former.

“There’s so much to fight about these days,” Starr said. “People never let you down on social media—they just fight constantly. That’s normal for that medium. John Mellencamp, years ago, said, 'Man, it is really unnatural to be able to hear this many voices at the same time.'”

“It’s a quit wasting time song, really—that’s the punchline,” Starr said of "Dig a Hole."

“Eventually, for all of us, they’re going to dig a hole. Are you going to waste time worrying about if you are pleasing people? Or are you going to do what feels right in your heart?”

Starr doesn’t waste too much time thinking about the over-arching themes to each album, letting others tell him what they mean. He’s been told “Be Right Here” has a “more positive vibe” than 2021’s “You Hear Georgia,” with luck as its undertone.

“Life and luck,” he said. “I’ll take that.”

Like most songs he writes, Starr talks about “Hammer and the Nail,” released in November, in the third person.

“The idea of the hammer and the nail is not new,” he said. “This guy, he’s talking about how he is destined to be the nail from repeating a pattern—which sometimes we do with our parents, and their parents, and so on. But at the end of the chorus, it’s like, hey, I might be the nail, but I’m tough as nails.”

Born into a musical family in Lanett, Alabama, Starr’s writing frequently references lessons gleaned from a devoutly Baptist father. But he won’t commit to the idea that songs like “Hammer and the Nail” are autobiographical. Not directly, anyway.

“I guess you write about what you know,” he said.

With the full album still a month away, this acoustic tour—which has been sold out at the Castle for weeks—is not just a chance to hear the new singles. New and old fans alike get to experience selections from Blackberry Smoke’s quarter-century of music making in a whole new way. Shanks and Starr perform stripped down versions from the catalog, with a few of their favorite guitars, just feet away from the front row.

“I love to play music and I can’t stop,” Starr said. “As long as that music makes people happy—I know that’s about as corny as it can sound—but it’s important that people are there to enjoy it. This is a different look at the music.”

Charlie Starr and Benji Shanks, with opener Melanie MacLaren, play Friday at 7 p.m. at the Castle Theatre. The show is sold out, with no wait list.

Blackberry Smoke's latest LP, “Be Right Here,” is available for pre-sale online at blackberrysmoke.com. The album drops Feb. 16.

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter at WGLT. You can reach Lauren at lewarne@ilstu.edu.
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