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A Concert in the Sky

“We have this fictional bar that we want to open up as a band, and we keep a running list of new cocktails and bar rules,” says Will Horton, frontman for The Black Cadillacs. “We’d do a 64-ounce beer and clergy can always drink for free!”

The rest of the Cadillacs, a five-piece, soulful indie rock band from Knoxville, Tennessee, excitedly chime in with other ideas over their morning beverages at Dallas Love Field airport. The atmosphere is incredibly loose, almost as if the band isn’t about to play a full acoustic set at 35,000 feet aboard a 737 Southwest Airlines flight.

A little liquid courage at 10:30 a.m. is necessary though, as they prepare for their performance as part of an innovative series of shows that Southwest Airlines has dubbed “Live at 35”: an artist drops a surprise in-flight performance aboard a lucky Southwest flight.
The Black Cadillacs, in this case, have made the trek from their home base of Knoxville to play a couple new tracks on the way to Memphis, where a show at BB King’s Blues Club on legendary Beale Street awaits them.

With morning beverages polished off, the band moves assuredly to load their gear onto the massive airliner. The flight’s gregarious crew lets the plane’s passengers know the show that they are in for (as well as a note about expected turbulence), to a few smatterings of applause. Just another wrinkle in this interesting flight. The band settles in and jostles around the front of the plane, attempting to squeeze all five members, two guitars, and a snare drum in front of the cockpit.

A Concert in the Sky

Horton hops on the overhead microphone introducing the band and they launch into new track “Fracture” (that the band recorded in Memphis last year on a trip in search of a little inspiration), immediately grabbing everyone’s attention with its insanely catchy, handclap-accompanied hook. Each seat seems to have a phone raised, taking video of the performance while towards the back of the plane, someone even whoops and hollers during the song’s climactic breakdown.

Whatever nerves may have existed for the guys are certainly gone at this point, as the band plays one more song, “Methodrone”, to nearly unanimous applause and cheers from the plane. Turbulence starts to pick up just before the descent into The Home of Rock ‘N’ Roll, Memphis, and the mood is jubilant.

With the skies conquered, the band has a bit of downtime before they play their set at BB King’s that evening. First up though, they get asked to play the set again in the terminal, for which they are more than game to do. 

A Concert in the Sky

“Is that the Zac Brown Band?” one passerby asks as the band once again launches into “Fracture”‘s inescapable groove. 

The evening brings a free show at BB King’s on hustling and bustling Beale Street. The iconic bluesman’s venue/restaurant is tucked right at the top of the street, which is closed off as tourists and locals peruse parked, primped hot rods and listen to local cover bands up and down the street. The vibe is convivial. Memphis is an incredibly friendly town. 

A Concert in the Sky

The Black Cadillacs don’t exactly offer up “Mustang Sally” covers, but they absolutely tear into their set for a packed house. The band is a totally different beast plugged in, using the added power to their advantage with searing guitar solos and an incredibly locked in rhythm section. Coupled with Horton’s howl, they seem to have everyone in the place stepping back from plates of ribs to clap and yelp along. 

“I was guessing people might not have been ready for our indie rock or whatever when they are enjoying brisket,” guitarist John Phillips says after the band’s raucous performance. “But that was great, this crowd was amazing.” Memphis lives up to its reputation, it seems: for the place where rock and blues were born, the city and its people know good music.

A Concert in the Sky

After a whirlwind day of airplane performances and winning over a crowd of eager Memphis fans, the band is finally able to relax and settle back into the place they were that morning, joking around over drinks. Loose again, they return their thoughts to the fictional bar and all those clergymen, patiently waiting for their free beverage and perhaps a impromptu performance from The Black Cadillacs.