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Rock fans may not expect a Sunday evening sermon on mental health as they prepare to worship at the temple of rock but An Evening With Black Stone Cherry was all about the unexpected. And the crowd’s reaction to Chris Robertson’s heartfelt plea for understanding and awareness must have warmed this sufferer’s previously troubled heart.

The charismatic singer, in atypically retrospective mood, admitted that he had been ‘the guy holding a gun to his mouth’ and that statement alone hit home. Here was one of the most successful young frontmen in rock – headlining a hotly anticipated acoustic show alongside his very best buddies – admitting to dark days dominated by acute depression.

The message was clear: mental illness can happen to anyone, anywhere and Robertson didn’t hold back. That Black Stone Cherry’s two-part set was one of the most triumphant and optimistic of the year simply proved that there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

And for those who joined the band at the outset of their journey through the UK almost a decade ago this was the most emotional of live shows within the most iconic of venues.

Kentucky’s finest couldn’t have chosen a more evocative platform from which to deliver their December 2016 acoustic sets. Decked out with twinkling fairy lights, the odd crate, three stools and a tiny drum kit, it was almost as if their stage had been transformed, for one night only, into a stripped back barn due north of Nashville. The combination of props and performance created an atmosphere worth savouring and a captivated crowd didn’t waste their chance at what will surely go down as one of this year’s most memorable live music events.

Robertson hasn’t always nailed it as a singer but this was, quite possibly, his finest hour. Passionate yet controlled, his heart-stopping renditions of Things My Father Said, The Rambler and All I’m Dreamin’ Of persuaded the most reluctant of hairs to stand on end and proved that there are few more convincing frontmen on the rock and roll circuit. To see Robertson so at ease made part one of Black Stone Cherry’s brilliant double header all the more special.

Just how comfortable the rest of the band were is up for debate. Constrained by the intimate setting and laid back vibe, Ben Wells, Jon Lawhon and John Fred Young occasionally looked like caged animals craving release. Three of the most energetic men in rock clearly found the prospect of sitting still a most daunting challenge. Young, in particular, looked set to erupt at any moment only to take another deep breath before caressing his cymbals.

Their chance would come.

Part two of An Evening With Black Stone Cherry was all about bringing the noise. A monster backdrop, stunning light show and sparkling mix couldn’t have provided a greater contrast to what went before. Freed from their shackles Young et al went for broke – and then some.

And if Robertson had breathed new life into old favourites with an affecting and emotive acoustic turn then he laid into anthems Soulcreek, Killing Floor and White Trash Millionaire like there was no tomorrow.

Of course there will be a tomorrow for Black Stone Cherry. Many, many tomorrows. And that was Robertson’s point as he pleaded with the masses to take mental illness seriously. Here was an individual who might have ended it all and with it the legacy of this brilliant young band. He came close. But the bond he shared with his Southern Rock brothers and their army of fans proved even closer.

Image By John Burrows