The friendly, unpretentious dispositions of The Black Lillies’ members mirror their honest songwriting and lively stage show. The Tennessee-based country troubadours aren’t here to be rock stars, they’re here to play their asses off and with sets on both Thursday and Friday at the High Sierra Music Festival, the group made sure to do just that.
They were also able to see other performances and take in the inherent sense of freedom the festival bestows on musicians and festival goers alike. “There’s so much joy here” Brady said. “It’s a very deep-rooted kind of happiness.” The sentiment was shared by all six members of the band as they shared their favorite acts from the festival and their feelings toward it. “It’s a free license to just make any kind of music you want,” drummer Bowman Townsend said of the event and the free flowing attitude of the performers.
Since 2009, The Black Lillies have played up to 200 shows a year and with a festival-heavy summer schedule ahead of them, they show no signs of slowing down. This tour will feature fan favorites like “Smokestack Lady” and “Same Mistakes” as well as songs off of their new album “Hard To Please,” due out Oct. 2.
The six-piece Americana group has undergone a handful of lineup changes recently but, due to a busy touring schedule, already have a palpable chemistry that outlines their performance. Featuring bassist Sam Quinn and guitarists Jonathan Keeney and Mike Seal, the Black Lillies’ songs are in good hands as all three are working musicians in Knoxville’s musically rich scene. Their High Sierra sets were freewheeling, with a looseness that never seemed out of control. Lead singer and songwriter Cruz Contreras allowed the songs to breathe without becoming self-indulgent, a fine line that’s intricacies are only understood through years of leading a band.
However, Contreras’ penchant for letting the chips fall where they may isn’t just confined to the stage. When asked about the writing process for their new album, he said that he booked studio time even though he “didn’t really have any material completed.” In fact, if it wasn’t for a bout of extreme weather, the songs may not have been ready in time. “Luckily, we had a snowstorm hit us,” Contreras said. “We had to be inside for about two weeks and Bowman and Sam and I got together and just worked it out. It was the most condensed time we’ve ever used to write songs for an album.”
Like 2011’s “100 Miles of Wreckage” and 2013’s “Runaway Freeway Blues,” “Hard to Please” will be an amalgam of country, rockabilly and folk. Contreras and Co. credit their home state for their diverse musical tastes. “Coming up in Tennessee is huge for us,” Contreras says, “because there’s not one dominant sound in the state.” From gospel, blues, and soul to country, jazz and bluegrass Tennessee’s rich musical history and culture have provided the members of the Black Lillies to build a sound from a series of local influences and peers.
It’s a long way back to Knoxville but the members of the Black Lillies will get there by doing what they’ve done for years: have a good time and play their asses off.