The Black Lillies, playing Thursday in Olympia, recently made Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 10 new country artists you need to know.
Andrew Leahy summed up the Lillies’ sound as “genre-mashing roots music with an Appalachian anchor.”
But before the venerable music magazine boosted the Knoxville, Tenn., band to national renown, Paul Knox of Olympia discovered the Lillies in a club in Portland.
“My wife and I were in Portland, and this one show we wanted to see was sold out, so we went down the street to the White Eagle Saloon,” said Knox, who is executive director of the United Way of Thurston County. That’s where The Black Lillies were playing.
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“In between sets, we talked to them,” he said. “We liked them immediately. We bought a CD, and they were even better on the CD. We were blown away.
“Their music is wonderful.”
Knox invited the band to play some backyard shows at his Olympia home, and people loved the music. That’s how the band came to be headlining a benefit concert at Olympia’s Capitol Theater for the United Way next week.
“This is the first ever in my experience that we’re doing a fundraising concert,” Knox said. “We’re hoping to get people out to hear about United Way who might not be as familiar with it.”
But he’s also excited about sharing The Black Lillies’ talent with more people in Olympia. “It’s going to be a great show first and a benefit second,” he said. “People should go to hear the music.”
Knox encountered the band on its first national tour back in 2009, at an almost empty show.
“We had two tables there, one being a group of young guys that put on the Pickathon Music Festival in Portland, and other being Paul and his wife,” said Cruz Contreras, the band’s frontman.
“I’ve always tried to take the approach that even if you’re not playing for very many people, you never know who you are playing for,” Contreras said.
In the time since, the Lillies have built their fan base both here and beyond. “No independent band has played the Grand Ole Opry more often than The Black Lillies,” Leahy wrote in Rolling Stone.
The band also has made the top 100 on the Billboard charts, had tracks among Country Music Television’s most requested videos, played country and jazz music festivals, and been featured on several TV specials.
And Contreras and company have done all that without a record label.
With national media taking notice, it’s a likely bet that things can only get bigger.
Knox, for his part, is feeling pretty smart.
“In two years, they’ll be bigger,” he said. “We’ll all be glad to have seen them in that space (at the Capitol Theater). That’s my prediction.
“You heard it here first.”