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Up-and-coming Americana act The Black Lillies has a powerful and evolving live act that packs in the crowds. Catch them Saturday in Daleville.
The Black Lillies photo courtesy David McClister
Thursday, July 18, 2013
In five years, Knoxville, Tenn., band The Black Lillies has become a force in the Americana world — a band with no record label that can still debut an album in the Billboard top 50 while touring enough to build crowds from coast to coast.
On its recent road trips, the act has been talking up its Saturday night show at Daleville Town Center Music Pavilion, bandleader/songwriter Cruz Contreras said.
“We’re spreading the word on this show specifically,” Contreras said. “If we’re within 500 miles of Roanoke, we’re telling everybody.”
And it wouldn’t be a surprise if folks come a long way to Daleville for the show. The Black Lillies’ powerful and evolving live act is the sort that puts people in the mind to travel.
It starts with the recorded music. The band’s third album, “Runaway Freeway Blues,” peaked at No. 43 on the Billboard country albums chart without any major label support. Contreras credits fans who pre-ordered the disc. Since then, it has been a fixture in the Americana Music Association radio chart top 10 and the Roots Music Report’s top 5 in radio airplay.
Other acts on those charts include Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Jason Isbell, Mavis Staples and Patty Griffin.
“It’s been an honor to have the record land in that type of company,” he said. “Every year, the Americana charts become, I think, a bigger deal. ... That means that it’s getting airplay nationwide. That helps us when we’re touring around and helps our entire cause.”
Then audiences hear the live performance.
Contreras, who sings and plays guitar, mandolin and piano, is the guy who started the band. But with longtime guitarist/pedal steel player Tom Pryor and singer Trisha Gene Brady onstage, too, melodies and harmonies come via a three-headed beast. Bassist Robert Richards and new drummer Bowman Townsend — whose maternal grandparents live in the Roanoke Valley — hold down the bottom end.
Those who have heard the album before catching a live show are often happily surprised.
“I always try to keep tabs on the progression of the live show and then the progression of the recordings,” Contreras said. “I always see it as a race. Sometimes your forte is the record. Sometimes it’s the live show. If you spend time in the studio, you learn some new tricks, some new skills, and then you apply that to your live show. And then your live show becomes better, and then it’s time to get back into the studio.
“We played in Buffalo last night, and of course, after the show, I get the comments: ‘We heard your record and we really enjoyed it, but we had no idea that this was what we were going to experience when we came to the live show.’
“I’m already thinking ahead to the next recording. It is difficult to capture a high-quality recording and the energy and musicianship that you do live, but I think we owe it to ourselves and our fans to capture that if we can.”
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