photo by Alisa B. Cherry

The Tedeschi Trucks Band has rightfully achieved a reputation as one of today’s most diverse and dynamic musical ensembles, a major reason why they’re a consistent festival favorite. The fact that they operate as a sprawling 12 piece big band offers evidence not only of their ambition, but also the fact their extraordinary integration of rock, roots, jazz, jam, blues, and soul has all the elements needed. The group’s ability to find a focus on such cornerstones and precedents as the Dead, the Allman Brothers and a fair amount of fusion bands—all while remaining true to their own template—is also a testament to their own invention and ability.

While many of the selections included in the two sets they performed over the span of three hours were given to meandering instrumental excursions and the dueling leads shared by guitarist Derek Trucks, the band’s three piece horn section—Kebbi Williams (sax), Ephraim Owens (trumpet) and Elizabeth Lea (Trombone)—and newly recruited keyboard player keyboard Gabe Dixon, several songs banked on a familiarity factor. That was especially true when it came to their covers of such classics as “The Letter,” “Bird on a Wire,” Dr. John’s ju-ju chant “Walk on Gilded Splinters,” and the second song of the extended encore, “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” a song immortalized by both Ray Charles and Joe Cocker.

Indeed, it was singer and guitarist Susan Tedeschi who provided the focal point for most of the show, her emotive vocals eliciting the appreciative approval of the audience throughout. Trucks himself mostly stood in the background, content to play the role of support player when his stinging riffs weren’t taking center stage. To their credit however, the two band leaders were gracious in giving the other members of the group—which also included dual drummers Tyler Greenwell and J.J. Johnson, current bassist Brandon Boone and backing vocalists Mike Mattison, Mark Rivers and Alecia Chakour — ample opportunity to shine as well. They were especially generous in the vocals department, allowing Mattison, Chakour, Rivers and Dixon at least one number to sing solo, and in the case of Mattison and Chakour, several more selections as well. Surprisingly, there were few offerings from the group’s upcoming album Signs.

The sold-out crowd at Knoxville’s historic showplace, the Tennessee Theatre, was mesmerized from the get-go by the band’s distinctive dynamic and exceptional versatility. Trucks in particular comes by that naturally, having served in the Allman Brothers Band, Eric Clapton’s band and with countless others who have enlisted him as support. Nevertheless, the band that bears his name finds him in the role of a team player and an essential element under their bigger umbrella. It’s a nod to their collective commitment that in a group of 12 players, no one steals the spotlight and together, they operate as a viable whole.

Then again, this is a band whose credence comes from working the road, and it’s that circumstance which makes them the well-honed ensemble they are. As the title of that new album suggests, all the signs of that success are clearly illuminated in concert.