Blackberry Smoke may be one of the most iconic Southern rock bands touring the world to come from Atlanta. The imitable quintet unapologetically redefines the notion of rock-star lifestyle, with family and charity being front and center. The group recently returned from a European tour that promoted their latest album, Find a Light, which continues the effort to stir up a new rock ‘n’ roll-infused sonic stew, all without sacrificing the Southern charm we know and love.
ArtsATL recently caught up with drummer Brit Turner to chat about the new album, the upcoming Annual Brothers and Sisters Holiday Homecoming this Friday night at the Tabernacle and personal ties behind the band having raised more than $200,000 for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Turner’s daughter, Lana, was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma at age 3. Now 11, Lana lives a cancer-free and healthy life, but her diagnosis left a lasting impact on Turner and the band that set into motion raising funds each year for CHOA with the help of fans.
ArtsATL: Why the drums for you?
Brit Turner: Honestly, I have no idea. I saw them, and I was interested for some reason. I was in the fifth grade and wanted to drum. No real light bulb or cool story, just a kid that saw something loud and shiny. Drummers have two jobs: Keep the beat and keep the peace. Oh, and keep the eye rolling to a minimum. No cape necessary.
ArtsATL: Describe what it feels like to play alongside your brother, Richard [bass/vocals], in BlackBerry Smoke.
Turner: We are family. My mother and father always said for us to stick together, and it just feels natural.
ArtsATL: What is your favorite thing about Blackberry Smoke’s latest album, Find a Light?
Turner: I think of each album as a moment in time. I don’t like any album better than the other, in that I love them all. As a band, we had a great time recording this record and used what we’ve learned in the past to make it happen. It was a very comfortable time in the studio. The record has a variety of songs that tell stories people can relate to. We try and record songs that we all like and that’s good enough for us. If the fans like them, then that’s a plus. That’s what keeps us in a job.
ArtsATL: This Friday, Blackberry Smoke will take the stage at the Tabernacle for the Annual Brothers and Sisters Holiday Homecoming Show. Are you excited to come home?
Turner: The show at the Tabernacle in Atlanta has become our homecoming and is special to us for many reasons. One reason is that we get to sleep in our own beds afterwards. Another is that we get to perform for lots of friends, family and fans from all over the globe in our hometown.
ArtsATL: I understand the band raises money for children’s cancer research through this show. Why did Blackberry Smoke choose the cancer research center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta?
Turner: My daughter was very sick and was treated at CHOA. While staying at the hospital, my wife and I watched families come and go. We watched many children die, and those unforgettable moments shattered us both deeply. No matter what horrible situation is thrown at you, someone always has it worse. As a band, we have always performed at charity shows and try to lend a hand anytime we were able to. But it wasn’t until Lana was diagnosed that I felt it from the other side. This was the first time I felt like I was completely helpless and that I couldn’t provide — I didn’t know what to do. At the time that this happened, Blackberry Smoke was on tour in Europe. I left the tour and returned to Atlanta. Word traveled pretty quickly to our fans that something was terribly wrong. We had been touring for a while and met many of our musical idols. Many of those artists took time to show amazing support to our family. Other bands and fans lifted us up through the entire treatment. I know that sounds cliché, but I honestly can’t even put into words how this made us feel. The support from everyone helped us so much. People sent cards, coloring books, teddy bears and many other items to the hospital.
ArtsATL: Can you explain how the donation process began for the band?
Turner: At that point, a close friend named Chris Kappy suggested that I start a fund for Lana’s medical bills. I was hesitant to start the fund for many reasons, but Kappy explained that we had no idea how long we’d be in and out of the CHOA, and if we ended up not needing all the money for medical bills, we could donate the funds to the hospital. Once the donation fund was set up, people were very generous. Fast forward, and our insurance held out while Lana got better, and we were able to donate the money to CHOA.
ArtsATL: A few thoughts from this experience?
Turner: I got to know many people during our time at the hospital that would bring gifts to the kids. They would bring art supplies and anything to help these kids try and smile through their treatment. People would bring gas cards, food, magazines, toys and more — anything to help. I realized that it was the simple, tiny things that can help people get through the day in these situations. Along with many prayers, the doctors and nurses at CHOA helped our daughter beat the odds that so many others didn’t beat. Today, she’s doing amazing and truly living life. I learned a lot from this experience. Life is 10 percent what is thrown at you and 90 percent how you are able to react. A lot of people are responsible for helping us react. They continue to help by purchasing Blackberry Smoke meet and greets. We use that money to donate to neuroblastoma research through CHOA. As a band, we don’t want a pat on the back or even an article thanking us. It is our fans that donate this money, and we are just lucky to be a part of the donation process.
ArtsATL: Blackberry Smoke does so much in the way of charitable contributions all year, every year. Do you feel it is your calling to give back to the community?
Turner: I think everyone has a calling to give back to the community. It’s whether or not the community answers. There is a great book called The Go-Giver that explains how we have it all wrong as a society. Understandably, we are always worried about working to get money and pay bills. And that unless we’re wealthy, giving to charity isn’t possible. But actually, investing your time in others is a way to give. The books explains how giving has little or nothing to do with money and that it is also important to learn how to receive. It’s a cycle, and there is an art to it all.