The Black Lillies, a Knoxville-based band, released its fourth and most successful album, “Hard to Please,” in October 2015.
Since then, the band has seen its grassroots appeal spread to an ever-widening audience, with many drawn to its “soulful mix of upbeat Americana and tender ballads,” as one critic described it.
The six-member group will be the featured band at Rochester Civic Theatre’s Americana Showcase on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
The band has garnered three first-round Grammy Award nominations, has plans for a European concert tour, and has played multiple times at the Grand Ole Opry.
We talked to the band’s founding frontman and songwriter, Cruz Contreras, during a brief break from its demanding 200-concerts-a-year schedule.
507: How has your most album, “Hard to Please,” been received so far?
Contreras: I think it has brought us the most notoriety at this point. Every time you make a new record, you’re hoping to build on it. There’s always a chance that you put out a clunker. But I think our fans were certainly pleased, and we made a lot of new fans through it.
507: How do you describe your music?
Contreras: The other day, someone referred to it as “cosmic Appalachia.” It’s pretty cool. Can I steal that? At the same time, I’ve spent most of my life trying to evade labels. So does that cover it all? No. But it covers a pretty big part of it. A lot of times, I’ll reference country, rock and soul.
507: You play 200 a gigs a year. That sounds like a grinding pace. Are audiences the same or different depending on your venue?
Contreras: Very different. Everywhere we travel, I’m very aware of what type of audience we’re going to play to. We’re from Knoxville, east Tennessee. It’s more of a mountain culture. It’s more like, move the chairs out of the way, drink some moonshine and let’s dance. There are some places where people are very reserved. And I know if they’re not dancing and smiling or even moving or blinking, they’re actually having a good time. People are just different everywhere.
507: What’s it like to play at the Grand Ole Opry?
Contreras: For country music fans and our families and where we’re from, it’s really the biggest call you can get, the biggest stage. When you tell your parents and your friends and family we’re going to the Opry, it feels like you made it. It’s probably the most important stage we’ve been on.
507: Your band has grown over the years, to six members. What’s it like to travel with such a big band?
Contreras: It is probably an example of pushing things to the limit a little bit. Having a band and touring means more beds in hotels, more paychecks, more personalities and more complications. When I first started the band, I didn’t really think of that sort of stuff. It was just like, “Hey man, you want to play a gig?” You didn’t really think about, “We’re going to be spending 40 days together. How’s that going to work?”