Before the doors of the Kent Stage theater opened, a long line of concertgoers waiting to get in wrapped around the building and down the block. All 642 seats were sold out, plus additional chairs around the perimeter. Blackberry Smoke and Ida Mae would have to start their sets 45 minutes later than scheduled, to let everyone get through security and to their seats.
It was clear that more than a handful of attendees had been hitting the St. Patrick’s Day sauce long before showtime, but nobody seemed to misbehave tonight beyond the occasional raising of voices. That being said, maybe it was for the best that the Break it Down tour is, as the name implies, mellow, stripped-down and acoustic.
Having successfully filled the entire theater with the smell of burning Nag Champa incense sticks, on a stage adorned with tie-dyed mandala tapestries and fractal rugs, Blackberry Smoke went on around 9:15.
“Hope you enjoy our living room,” greeted Charlie Starr. “If you feel like dancing, that’s perfectly okay.”
The Atlanta southern blues and country rock band lives up to the authenticity of the sound, with a down-home Muscle Shoals feel. The core lineup is comprised of five stellar musicians: Starr (lead vocals, guitar), Paul Jackson (guitar, vocals), Brandon Still (keys), Richard Turner (bass, vocals) and his brother Brit Turner (drums, complete with a suitcase bass featuring a postcard illustration of a peach and Cherokee Rose that reads, “Greetings From Tropical Georgia”).
Starr took full advantage of the subdued atmosphere, telling stories and jokes between songs, and even stopping during Lay it all on Me to emphasize the lyrics. “We call that a tryst,” he affirmed.
Starr also took a moment to pay tribute to some fallen heroes, including Dick Dale’s passing that very day. Starr said he saw Dale play, “It was the loudest guitar I’d ever heard.” He then attempted to play a bit of Miserlou. “I can’t do it,” he confessed. Then, a moment later, “This one’s for Tom Petty,” he said, as the band launched into a great cover of Listen to Her Heart.
Then, after a spirited performance of Believe You Me, Starr proclaimed, “Alright, gettin’ funky on a Sunday! The fact that it’s Sunday has stopped no one this St. Patrick’s Day.”
And that was the truth. Shoulder-to-shoulder lines for beers and bathrooms congested the entire lobby. The wait for either took 30 minutes. Certainly no time to do both without missing a good chunk of the set. But people managed somehow, because by the end of the night I’d seen grown men in their 60s fall flat on their faces trying to get up to do one or the other.
Before Blackberry Smoke took the stage, British Blue-eyed Soul / Acoustic Americana duo Ida Mae warmed it up. On indefinite hiatus from blues-rock band Kill it Kid, guitarist/vocalist Chris Turpin plays fantastic slide guitar on a silver resonator and boot-stomps punctuations, while his wife Steph sings along and plays percussion.
Chris and Steph met while studying in Bath, England when they were about 18. “We started playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band together and got signed a year later, and have been touring together ever since,” said Steph.
Songs like My Girl is a Heartbreak, Reaching and Feel Them Getting Closer showcase Turpin’s strong, soulful vocals, while If You Don’t Love Me highlights the softer side Steph’s voice is taking. The dynamic works like a throatier Jonny Lang with a more muted Joss Stone.
The husband and wife team moved from the UK to Nashville only eight months ago, but this wasn’t Ida Mae’s first time playing Ohio. During their first week in the states last August, they played a rib burn off in Maumee, sharing the bill with Michael McDonald. They called it, “The most American thing we’ve ever done.”
Ida Mae takes their name from the old blues track by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. “It’s the first song we learnt to sing together,” said Chris.
Between songs on this St Paddy’s Day evening, Chris declared that he and Steph are of Irish descent; then remarked, “But there’s no whiskey at the concession stand! What’s up with that? Oh it’s okay, we have Jameson in the back. Come see us at the merch table after the show and maybe we’ll share.”
When Blackberry Smoke asked Ida Mae to join them on this tour, they jumped at the chance. “We were touring with The Marcus King Band last November and December, and Charlie sat in on one of the shows in Atlanta. He saw our set, and very kindly we were invited to join the guys on this tour,” said Steph. “What was a little crazy is that we had our own headline show in London UK the day before the first show in Lexington KY! We finished our show in London, boarded a plane at 4am, flew to JFK, drove to LaGuardia, flew to Louisville, then drove to Lexington and arrived 10 minutes before doors! We still can’t quite believe we made it, to be honest!”
Ida Mae’s debut album, Chasing Lights, drops June 7. It was recorded by Ethan Johns and features Dweezil Zappa. Dweezil had initially reached out to Chris online, inviting him to play a guitar solo on Frank’s Cosmik Debris during a performance of Zappa Plays Zappa at The Royal Festival Hall in London. “We both joined him on stage and he was so kind and supportive of everything we were doing,” said Steph. “We asked him to do a guest solo on the record, and he did an insanely cool solo on one of our tracks called Boom Boom Boom“.
Upcoming dates for this tour include Wabash, IN; Bloomington and Waukegan, IL; Evansville, IN; Rocky Mount, VA; Englewood, NJ; Ithaca, NY; Easton, PA; and New York, NY.
All photos by Cleveland music photographer Mara Robinson.
Prints, wall art, canvas, velvet and metal prints available at www.MaraRobinson.com.