Blackberry Smoke, JJ Grey and Mofro, Texas Gentlemen
Writer/Photographer: Bob Adamek
At the end of the beautiful outdoor walking mall in Charlottesville Virginia, sits the Sprint Pavillion, a venue that routinely plays host to national touring bands. On a typically beautiful Virginia night, warm and humid, three well musically-linked bands rolled in and made for a very memorable evening.
The Texas Gentlemen, hailing from Dallas, TX opened the night showing off tight vocals, fabulous musicianship and first-rate songwriting. They played Dream Along and Habbie Doobie from their debut full-length album TX Jelly before a show stopping mash-up of covers starting with the Link Wray classic Rumble morphing into their take on the Johnny Kid and the Pirates version of Shakin’ All Over. The band’s two keyboard players picked up guitars, joining the two guitar players for a four guitar fronted, gritty rock-n-roll closer, that left a crowd loaded for the night’s headliners, screaming for more Texas Gentlemen.
Up next was the southern soul of JJ Grey and Mofro. The Pavilion suddenly seemed to grow to twice its size as a large crowd sank into the stories and impassioned voice of JJ Grey. JJ and his band have taken to wearing suits, harkening back to the time of those wonderful soul reviews of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and the like. Grey augments songs whose lyrics are already dripping with southern, swampy memories, by telling the personal stories that influenced him in the writing. His band couldn’t realize these songs any better, engulfing them in deep, sultry groves, giving every measure over to the needs of the song.
The crowd spent most of the set singing along to well worn Mofro classics like Lochloosa and JJ’s take on the Wilson Pickett version of Hey Jude. And for good measure the band showed just how gritty and funky they can be by closing with On Fire.
Blackberry Smoke crushed their set with a mix of originals and their translation of a wide variety of covers, showing their influences were expansive well beyond southern rock. During the set they touched on Jimi Hendrix’ Third Stone From The Sun during a guitar solo before dropping into the Grateful Dead’s Fire on the Mountain and the Beatles Come Together.
A highlight of Blackberry Smoke’s set was their song Ain’t Got The Blues, in which the band stopped singing for long parts of the song, because the crowd had them covered. The highlight of the night came when JJ Grey and Mofro joined them for a fabulous version of Elvis Presley’s first hit That’s All Right.