East Tennessee's Own Cruz Contreras takes the Tennessee Shines stage for a special solo show, previewing the release of The Black Lillies' new record "Stranger To Me", out 9/28/18.
Dreams wafted into and behind the wheel of a truck driven by Knoxville’s Cruz Contreras circa 2008.
Only thing, he didn’t sing – not yet anyway. He’d helped lead Robinella and the C.C. String Band to the doorstep of country stardom. Divorce ended that.
From the cab of his truck, Contreras formed The Black Lillies in 2009. Their ever-blooming trail continues its route when they appear on Sunday, April 29 in Big Stone Gap at the Goodloe Center at Mountain Empire Community College. It’s a benefit for the Sue Ella Boatright-Wells Mountain Music School Memorial Scholarship.
“I’m well, in Des Moines, Iowa, and headed to Kansas City, Missouri, for a show tonight,” said Contreras by phone last week. “As much as things change, there’s no substitute for playing live shows.”
Next year marks 10 years of The Black Lillies.
“Whew, you are the first person that officially pointed that out,” Contreras, 41, said. “I haven’t wrapped my head around that yet. We’re in year nine, looking to 10. I’m proud of that.”
A decade on the roads playing one-night stands, the well-seasoned Black Lillies turn the lights on and off in city after city across the nation. Experiences? Plentiful.
“I saw the Eagles a few weeks ago in Nashville, and I was screaming like a little girl,” Contreras said. “When you’re on stage, you’re doing something important.”
En route to dreams realized, Contreras founded The Black Lillies in a cloud of diesel fumes. He didn’t even sing back then. So, he sang along with and learned from country songs by the likes of Del Reeves and Buck Owens while driving his work truck. Those were the days when The Black Lillies were but a seed in his mind.
Today, The Black Lillies play coast to coast.
“Night and day difference,” Contreras said. “I didn’t even sing. Didn’t write any songs. Now we’re on album number five. You live and learn.”
Chameleonic shifts in style and personnel accompanied the longtime Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion favorite from album one and to their forthcoming release. They started as a band that leaned country. They’ve since gravitated to more of a rock style.
“Stay focused, stay hungry,” Contreras said. “I’ve always looked at this as a long-term band. I like the Willie Nelson model of music – family oriented.”
Pre-orders are now being taken online via PledgeMusic (www.pledgemusic.com/projects/theblacklillies2) for The Black Lillies new album. Due in September, the band’s fifth LP signals its most radical of stylistic alterations.
“Drastically,” Contreras said. “It’s recorded. We’re mixing and mastering it this month. It’s significantly different than anything we’re done before. It’s a rocker. There’s a psychedelic country thing, but it rocks. It’s the most Black Lillies Black Lillies record we’ve ever done.”
As the world turns and the wheel goes around, music evolves along the contours of taste. Like a curve in the road, The Black Lillies navigate their highway with eyes and musical minds wide open and ready for their next big revelation.
“I feel a sense of change and turnover with this 10-year thing,” Contreras said. “Whew, tomorrow. I’m not 30 anymore.”
Tennessee Shines Radio Show is performed for a live audience every Wednesday at 7pm at Boyd's Jig & Reel musical pub in Knoxville's historic Old City. The show is broadcast live on WDVX FM and WDVX.com.Tickets are $7 plus applicable fees in advance, available at http://jigandreel.ticketleap.com/ or $10 at the door starting at 6pm.