By Ossie Bladine • Editor • 

Appalachia born, upward bound

Extensive touring in a van has helped The Black Lillies become a band to watch.
Extensive touring in a van has helped The Black Lillies become a band to watch.

Since forming in 2009, Knoxville-based The Black Lillies have earned a fan base through rigorous touring, an independent nature and a soulful brand of Americana steeped in traditional country accentuated with contemporary flare.

Forty- and 50-day circuits — in a van — are the norm for the quintet. They are currently on McMenamins Great Northwest Music Tour, and take the stage Saturday in Mattie’s Room of Hotel Oregon. Traveling to support their third studio album, “Runaway Freeway Blues,” released in late March, they have more than 50 bookings in the next 100 days.

Those gigs include the Grand Ole Opry, where the Lillies have played more than 20 times — more than any other independent band — and the Rochester (N.Y.) International Jazz Festival.

The album was written and recorded last year among 200-odd shows, and life on the road has had an obvious influence. “I set out from Eastern Kentucky / Said farewell to family and home / Then I headed west to seek my fortune / Figured I could make it alone,” sing Cruz Contreras and Trisha Brady in harmony on “Gold and Roses.”

A video for “The Fall,” the first song on the album, premiered Tuesday on Entertainment Weekly’s and CMT.

The band formed after Contreras and Brady sat together around many campfires in Knoxville, singing old-school Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Carter Family and gospel songs, they told Vanity Fair in a feature earlier this year. Brady also explained how she wants to be a female version of Jimmy Martin. “There’s something about a real true mountain voice.”

Multi-instrumentalist Tom Pryor, bass player Robert Richards and drummer Jamie Cook also took part in those campfire sessions. The Black Lillies sound has become accessible to both country crowds and the indie roots movement. In fact, the band’s stubbornness in remaining independent from a major label may allow it to become a welcome bridge between the two camps.

Banjo, pedal steel, jazz blues piano and more carry “Runaway Freeway Blues,” instrumentally. Altogether, The Black Lillies sound like a piece of Appalachia rolling through American highways and byways, gathering sounds, stories and lessons along the way.

The opportunity to catch an upward bound band like this in a free, small-venue show is one not to miss. As praise and recognition continue to fly The Black Lillies’ way, these bandmates won’t have to tour out of a van for long.

Music starts at 7 p.m. at McMenamins. For more on the band, visit

Contact Ossie Bladine at

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