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Published: 2017/02/09
by Dean Budnick

Blackberry Smoke: The Quick and The Dead with Bob Weir

Back in September 2013, Blackberry Smoke joined Bob Weir over two days of performances at his TRI Studios. The highlights of that collaboration have just been released on the new DVD _ Blackberry Smoke with Bob Weir_: An Evening at TRI. In the following conversation, Blackberry Smoke frontman Charlie Starr reflects on his collaboration with Weir and the experience as a whole.

While Starr never saw the Grateful Dead perform, he’s listened to their music throughout his life. When he saw Dead & Company perform last year, “They would play a particular song and I would think about how many times I’d listened to that song, in my car, or in my house, and then how important it was to my very being.”

The DVD was directed by Justin Kreutzmann, who originally filmed the performances. Starr notes that Kreutzmann took an active hand throughout the process and that “his role was huge.” He elaborates, by way of example, “we had played ‘Willin’’ in a little soundcheck type situation, and he came and said, ‘That is my favorite song of all time. Please play it again and let’s film it.’ I love Justin, he’s great. I think we all were pretty much sympatico.”

Blackberry Smoke is currently on the road, supporting the group’s latest studio album, Like an Arrow.

How did you originally come to play at TRI with Bob?

We share some mutual friends, and so the introduction was made. Bill Kreutzmann’s son Justin was working there at TRI studios as well and we knew him through Skynyrd, so it was a funny little aligning of the planets. Bob was into it, so we set up the date, and we contacted Bob a bit later to talk about a setlist.

I don’t know if anyone was sure about what might happen, if we would just jam or if we would hit it off. Nobody was making assumptions. But everybody was so gracious and Bob was so cool. It was an incredible experience. As it turns out, nothing was off-limits, which, that was great. We got there in the morning and we set up in that amazing studio and we played music all day, for like 12 hours. Then we stayed another day and went in and did it again and played more songs and more of our material.

Initially when we spoke, he told us about his love for the Allman Brothers and for Southern music and that kind of thing. He said he always enjoyed playing shows with the Brothers back in the early 70’s, and we talked about some of that—Watkins Glen and RFK stadium. He told us, “I always loved it when Dickey would get up and play with the Dead” and when Jerry and Bill Kreutzmann got up and jammed with the Brothers. He also talked about Jerry’s love for Duane Allman, in particular. Then we put together a loose little setlist.

Looking back on it now, what’s your take away?

It was just an incredible experience. And to look at it after the fact, and to go back through it now, wow, what a great thing we have here. Our experience with Bob Weir, saved forever, thanks to incredible technology.

It was such an enlightening experience. I’m a huge Dead fan of course. And listening to Steve Parish and Bob tell stories…There was one segment when we all sat on a couch, and Bob sat behind his desk and it was sort of the interview portion of the experience, and they told stories and jokes and reminisced about Dead experiences and I was blown away. I think about that whole counterculture movement and they spearheaded so much of that stuff. They were right there at the forefront. Here we are sitting with them, and I was like, “You were ahead of it all and you can still tell these stories with a grin on your face and such positivity. You guys are the guys.”

You mention the countercultural element and I think to some degree these days that element is a little lost on listeners.

I never saw a Dead show. My wife did, she went to 38 shows one year when she was going to the University of Georgia. She took off on the road with the Dead with some friends. We went to see Dead & Company last year, which was fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but she said to me, “Musically, obviously, it’s great, but it’s just so much different.” And she told me, “I can’t explain what it was like that summer. You can’t describe it to someone and have it be accurate, you really had to be there.”

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