What the heck was a band with as much critical and popular acclaim as the Drive-By Truckers doing opening for another band, even if it is rock 'n' roll royalty Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers?

The answer might just boil down to chief truckers Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley -- who formed what became Drive-By Truckers in 1996 -- being fans themselves. Although many bands wait for the day when their popularity is such that they don't need to serve as openers, the pairing with Tom Petty was too cool to pass up, Hood said.

"It was super-cool. We are all huge fans, and every one of us is a lifelong Tom Petty fan," he said. "I haven't told this story since we were offered this gig, but in the first band we formed in high school, we played 'Breakdown.' That was the name of my first band. That was in 1979, and 31 years later, it is so cool I got to open for him. We are the kings of persistence."

Since Hood and Cooley formed the band in 1996, they've consistently reached out to fans through grass-roots efforts and an early online presence. No matter what bumps they encountered, the band stayed true to its three-guitar lineup, producing its version of Southern rock -- also sometimes called alt-country likely because of the pedal steel in many of the songs -- that is a true signature sound.

If you go Drive-By Truckers Where: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW When: 8 p.m. Friday Info: Sold-out at press time; 930.com

The band's last album, "The Big To-Do," was a critical and popular success, debuting at No. 22 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart and No. 1 on the indie chart. Although the band was successful before, the March release was something of a tipping point for the group, with sold-out shows nationwide and anticipation for its next release. "Go Go Boots" will be finished around Labor Day and likely be released late this year or early next year, Hood said.

The songs for the album were written at the same time as the songs on "The Big To-Do" but hark back to the sound of the band's 2008 release, "Brighter Than Creation's Dark."

" 'The Big To-Do' is a fun rock show record. The [next album] lets us do something a bit darker and tell stories that don't necessarily have happy endings," Hood said. "I wanted it to still feel cathartic [as the sounds of the two records are mixed in sets]. I think we succeeded."