Blackberry Smoke with special guests Duane Betts & Palmetto Motel-The Capitol Theatre – Port Chester, NY

Blackberry Smoke with special guests Duane Betts & Palmetto Motel

The Capitol Theatre – Port Chester, NY – March 22, 2024

Review & Photos – Rebecca Wolf

March 22nd at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY was four months since the late Brit Turner, drummer and co-founding member of the Southern rock band Blackberry Smoke, performed on stage with the band. It was also less than three weeks since Turner’s passing on March 3rd, at age 57, from glioblastoma. Turner was diagnosed with this aggressive brain cancer in Fall 2022 and underwent surgery in November 2022 to remove the tumor. No one would’ve faulted Turner at that moment if he opted to end his touring days to spend time with family and friends. The thing is, beyond his beloved wife and daughter, the members of Blackberry Smoke are Turner’s family, with brother Richard Turner, on bass and backing vocals, Charlie Starr, on lead vocals and guitar and Paul Jackson, on guitar and backing vocals. It’s these four who together formed Blackberry Smoke in 2000. In 2009, the band expanded to include Brandon Still on keyboards, and in 2018 Benji Shanks joined on guitar and mandolin and Preston Holcomb on percussion. Although Starr’s been the frontman of the band, it’s Brit Turner who’s been the centerpiece of Blackberry Smoke… the heart of the band. I supposed that’s not surprising considering all who knew Turner, even those who only encountered him briefly, marveled at his  incredible kind and giving nature.

The fact that Turner returned to touring a few weeks after brain surgery and continued to play for the next year, with only sporadic medical absences, is a testament to his love for the band and their music, his passion for performing, and his undeniable strength. Turner made his final performance at the Coca-Cola Roxy on November 24, 2023, in the band’s hometown of Atlanta. On this evening, his daughter Lana, herself a cancer survivor, joined the band’s back-up singers, The Black Bettys, during “Little Bit Crazy.” It was in 2009, at 3 years old, that Lana was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma. After two years of treatment she was declared in remission and remains well today. Blackberry Smoke, who began fundraising for Lana during treatment, has continued to raise money for childhood cancer through the Lana Turner Foundation, with proceeds from their Meet and Greets going towards the foundation.

It’s in memory and honor of Brit Turner that Blackberry Smoke is moving forward and continuing the dream they created together, with all of their hard work and dedication, none more so than Turner. Turner would want nothing less for his bandmates and the band. It’s fitting that Blackberry Smoke’s latest album, Be Right There, their last recording with Turner, was released in February, shortly before Turner’s passing, and received high praise from critics. Blackberry Smoke postponed several dates on their nationwide tour after Turner’s passing, before resuming on March 14th in Iowa. A week later they arrived on the East Coast to the thrill of NY fans. 

The excitement at The Capitol Theatre was magnified that evening by the excellence of the opening band. This was not a performance by a little-known musical group but rather by Duane Betts & Palmetto Motel. Some might not be familiar with Betts’ band Palmetto Motel, formed in 2023, or Betts’ first full length solo debut album Wild & Precious Life, released July 2023. However, most lovers of Southern rock are quite familiar with this phenomenal guitarist and singer-songwriter, a co-founding member of The Allman Betts Band, a guitarist and singer for his legendary father’s band, Dickey Betts & Great Southern, as well as several other groups. Wild & Precious Life has been an opportunity for Betts to share his roots and his personal Southern rock stories, a chance to tell tales with his meaningful lyrics, emotion-filled vocals and stellar guitar skills. While Betts has long been known as a guitar whiz, he’s developed a voice that’s easily identifiable, a unique tone that infuses hints of folk, blues and country and adds depth to his musical story-telling. Both hearing and watching Betts performing is always a thrill. Bandmates currently touring with Duane Betts & Palmetto Motel, include slide guitarist Johnny Stachela (who also recorded the album), bassist Pedro Arevalo and drummer Cody Dickinson.

While audience members continued to filter into the theater, enthusiastic fans congregated at the front of the house, eager for the hours of Southern rock and roll that lay ahead. As the lights dimmed a hush momentarily fell over the crowd, before turning to cheers and applause as Betts and his bandmates emerged onstage. Opening the evening with the upbeat, dynamic number “Saints to Sinners,” the energy and spirit of the audience was immediately heightened. Betts & Palmetto Motel did not disappoint during their seven song set, which included five numbers from Wild & Precious Life. Throughout the set Betts showcased his speed and dexterity on the guitar, racing his fingers up and down the fretboard as he played extended solos and jammed with Stachela. Stachela was also at peak form, displaying fiery skills on the slide guitar, while Arevalo on bass added depth and dimension to the Southern rock sound, and Dickinson on drums infused the music with a fury of rhythmic beats. 

Additional songs from the album included the blues-laden “Cold Dark World,” the passionate, heartfelt “Stare at the Sun,” and the county-tinged “Colors Fade.” A performance of The Allman Brothers Band’s iconic number “Blue Sky,” originally written and sung by Dickey Betts, brought a rush of excitement from the crowd, as fans of The Allman Brothers rocked along to the beautiful harmonies of all four band members. With the audience’s energy on high, the set ended with a final number from Wild & Precious Life,  the feel-good, foot-tapping “Waiting on a Song.” 

As the time drew closer to Blackberry Smoke’s onstage arrival the general admission floor space at The Capitol Theatre suddenly became densely packed with passionate Blackberry Smoke fans. With only four months since Brit Turner’s last performance with the band, and less than 3 weeks since his passing, it was likely most in attendance were seeing Blackberry Smoke for the first time with a missing part of their heart and soul. As excruciating as it’s been for the band members to lose Turner, it’s been painful on a different level for their diehard fans. Turner was a huge presence onstage, sitting elevated behind his expansive drum kit, with his formidable beard and brimmed hat, and commanding  attention with his powerful drum beats. No one will ever take Brit Turner’s place and it’s certain no one will ever attempt to do so. But, soldiering on is the best way to honor Turner’s legacy and that’s what the band and the fans did at The Capitol Theatre on March 22nd.

The band members walked onstage with the energy and vitality that’s come to be expected of Blackberry Smoke and the crowd reciprocated with equal positivity and enthusiasm. While it was hard to see Kent Aberle behind the drum kit (Aberle’s been filling in since Turner’s departure), there was a level of comfort seeing the band in good spirits and watching them performing in dedication to Brit Turner. The set opened with “Payback’s a Bitch,” from the 2015’s Holding All the Roses, a lyrically, vocally and instrumentally powerful anthem. Watching Charlie Starr perform on lead vocals and guitar is always a thrill, as he immediately took the stage by storm, prancing about with his cheeky grin and a glint in his eyes. Starr’s voice is instantly recognizable, mixing one part country, one part soul, a pinch of blues, and a heaping cup of rock, to create a one-of-a-kind Starr blend. “Six Ways to Sunday,” from 2012’s The Whippoorwill kept spirits in high gear with an upbeat, foot-tapping, bluesy rock vibe. As Starr twirled across the stage, Jackson and Shanks joined forces to jam on their guitars, while Still added a layer of honky-tonk piano. “Good One Comin’ On,” from 2009’s Little Piece of Dixie showcased the band’s country vibe, while “Hammer and the Nail,” from the band’s newest release, had the audience enthusiastically clapping to the beat of Blackberry Smoke’s classic Southern rock sound.

The performance included a wide range of songs from the band’s eight studio albums.  “Hey Delilah,” from 2021’s You Hear Georgia, was a boot-stomping, country rock number, mixed with a sprinkle of funk, while the wailing guitars on album’s title song, along with Starr’s emphatic vocals, explored stereotypes connected to hearing a Georgia accent. “Let it Burn,” from 2016’s Like an Arrow had Jackson, Shanks and Starr getting down and dirty and grooving together on their guitars, while “Run Away from It All,” from 2018’s Find a Light mixed some hard-strumming rock guitar with a dose of Starr’s melodic rock vocals. Additional numbers during the almost 2-hour set included “Sleeping Dogs,” “Crimson Moon,” “One Horse Town,” and “Ain’t Got the Blues,” from The Whippoorwill as well as “Like It Was Yesterday,” “Azalea,” “Whatcha Know Good” and “Little Bit Crazy,” from Be Right There. While the evening was nearing an end, the crowd at The Capitol Theatre, still in high spirits and surely went “a little bit crazy” during this fun, energetic, dance along song. 

Duane Betts and Johnny Stachela returned to the stage to join Blackberry Smoke for an all out rocking performance of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Statesboro Blues,” with Starr’s powerful, aching vocals accompanied by a stageful of incredible, wailing guitars. This night of phenomenally energetic, powerful Southern rock music ended with The Whippoorwill’s “Ain’t Much Left of Me,” a passionate song filled with anger and sadness, with an equal amount of defiance and victory. What an ideal song, the perfect sentiment, for these Blackberry Smoke bandmates. With the very recent passing of the beloved Brit Turner, there’s anger and there’s sadness. But, for this band of musical brothers there’s an immense amount of resilience. It’s in this resilience they will find victory….a victory for Blackberry Smoke and for the legacy of Brit Turner. 

Rest in musical peace Brit!