Why Zac Brown Band are a ‘Must-See’ Live act
By Hannah Compton
Loud, fun, buzzing, electrifying, mesmerising are just a few words to describe a Zac Brown Band show. As a live music junkie, I try to go to as many gigs as possible – and not just in the Country genre – so it is incredibly hard to decide who my favourite live artist is; however, Zac Brown Band definitely make the list.
I have seen Zac Brown Band live a few times – firstly at the CMA Festival in 2010, although, because it was a festival, they were only on for a short time. Despite the time slot, it was that performance which made me a fan of their music and gave me the desire to see them again, because they delivered a side to Country music I had never seen before. They caught my attention right away, especially with the song Free, which has a very breathtakingly stunning violin intro, which filled the stadium in such a way that left everyone silent.
The following year (2011) – Zac Brown Band had their first UK Headline show at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire. Whilst it was a great show, it was so crowded that I could barely see a thing.
Fast forward to Country 2 Country Festival at London’s 02 Arena in March, 2014, where they headlined the Saturday night. I have read a few reviews of their performance there and pretty much disagree with most of them. Again, I had viewing issues being fairly short, but did my best to make the most of the view I did get. What was disappointing was the number of people who left during their set, I was both shocked and disgusted – reading the reason for this afterwards, and in fact I have to say I was rather stunned. Many people left during what I would call the ‘instrumental’ part of their set. They probably jammed for around twenty minutes, which people found boring and wasting of stage time. Personally, I think if you want to hear a band such as this play song after song, exactly the same as the studio version, then go home and listen to their CD. What people do not seem to realise is that it is the Zac Brown Band, not Zac Brown. Within this band you have seven other highly talented musicians, so why would they not want to showcase that? Much like a Big Band or an orchestra – recorded music does not do them justice and the live performance delivers an entirely different experience.
Zac Brown Band hasn’t always had such a large number of members though. In the beginning, I believe there were only five members? They have added more along the way, with Matt Mangano being the most recent. The more members they have added, the better they have become.
The number of musical instruments played during one of their concerts and their talent is mind blowing. As these artists all play multiple instruments, it would be criminal for Zac not show his band off – not to mention the chemistry and friendship on stage which makes the show all the more enjoyable. There is something going on at every angle of the stage. Without all these musicians, the general sound and style of their music would not translate so well in a live performance; it would be very washed down and would be just a gig. You see, what Zac Brown Band put on is more than just a concert – it’s a show.
The band’s set up on stage is always widely spread with raised staging at the back for percussion and drums, which is nice, as usually the drummer is pretty much hidden by the frontman. I have to say that Daniel De Los Reyes (Percussion) is my favourite member as he always has the biggest smile on his face and plays from the heart and really puts his entire body and soul into his performance. Daniel is a man who is very grateful for his success and probably the most active on social media out of the whole band – it is always a delight to see his social media updates of every show and what the fans mean to him.
So now let me introduce you to the entire band
Zac Brown – Lead vocals/Guitar
Jimmy De Martini – Fiddle/Vocals
John Driskell Hopkins – Bass Guitar/Guitar/Baritone Guitar/Banjo/Ukulele/Upright Bass/Vocals
Coy Bowels – Guitar/Keyboard
Chris Fryar – Drums
Clay Cook – Guitar/Keyboards/Mandolin/Steel Guitar/Vocals
Matt Mangano – Bass Guitar
Daniel De Los Reyes – Percussion
More recently, I have seen Zac Brown Band at Wembley Arena in London and a small -acoustic set held especially for BBC Radio 2 (hosted by Bob Harris.)
The Radio 2 show was only for an audience of approximately 50 people. Sadly, tall people blocked the view – again. It has got to the point now where I am pretty sure a bus load of the world’s tallest people turn up in front of me at every gig I go to. If only there was a rule that people have to stand in height order- oh, how great that would be! Ha! I may not have had the best view, but the sound acoustically was flawless. Talking between songs with Bob Harris (host), we got to hear the stories behind some songs and were able to be part of something very special and memorable. There wasn’t even a stage, just a room with an acoustic set-up with everyone gathered around.
The following night was the Wembley Arena show. Heavily pregnant, I found the strength to attend and was glad I did. We managed to score front row tickets, which was great – and about time too!! Finally all those times of watching the back of people’s heads had paid off.
The show was phenomenal from beginning to end. I have never seen a crowd more enthusiastic and wild. I always knew true music and true ZBB fans would come through in the end and, boy, did the audience cheer through the jamming segment – it was emotional to see it happen.
The Wembley show was over 2 hours and a very long, satisfying set list. The only other songs I would have liked to have seen on the set list would have been Quiet Your Mind and Highway 20 Ride.
Other than their headline shows – Zac Brown Band also put on one of the best fan club shows there are at the CMA Music Festival. If you have never been to the CMA festival, (which is held in Nashville, Tennessee), then fan club parties may not be something you are familiar with. During the Festival, and often days leading up to it, some artists hold a fan club party to give something back to the fans. Well, their fan club (otherwise known as Zamily) hold a Zamily Reunion on the day that they play the Festival’s main stage. I have been fortunate to go to this before (2014) and can honestly say it was one of the highlights of my entire trip. A lot of fan club parties offer, food, gifts, performance and, on occasion, a ‘meet and greet’ to a limited number of fans – but the Zamily Reunion always go that one step further.
Zamily Reunion differs every year – keeping Zamily members in suspense. Held usually at The Limelight, just behind the Nissan Stadium, it’s only open to around 250 fans, so tickets are like gold dust. You have to be a Zamily member, which can look expensive but it is worth it. On top of the fan club fee you pay for your Zamily Reunion ticket, which is around $30 – again, it is worth it. With this fan club party you get an intimate performance of, on average, 6 to 8 songs and usually not ones they tend to play at gigs. Sometimes there are even special guests – we had Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi the year I went.
There is also a hot buffet made by none other than the band’s chef and ‘eat and greet’ chef – Chef Rusty. The food is amazing! So worth it! We were also treated with a limited, numbered signed poster which I still treasure to this day. As if that was not enough, we even all got to have a photo with the band. Other treats were a raffle, where my husband and I won two items.
Not your typical Country Band – Zac Brown Band have dabbled in other genres and gained the interest and respect of many other known artists such as Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), with whom they recorded a live CD/DVD called The Grohl Sessions, with original material not featured on any of their other albums. They have also collaborated with artists such as Alan Jackson, Jimmy Buffet and, more recently, Chris Cornell (Soundgarden), who is featured on the alternative metal song Heavy Is The Head, from their current album Jekyll and Hyde.
Jekyll and Hyde is probably the album with the most songs that cross genres such as Country, Pop, Dance, Rock, Metal, Reggae, Jazz and Blues. Admittedly, the first time I heard this album, it came as a bit of a shock! With the somewhat ‘dance’ track Beautiful Drug being the opening track, I was worried the rest of the album would fail to deliver the country, bluesy, rock sound that they are so well known for. As I was not expecting the vast number of genres, I was originally left a tad confused – though after a few listens, I have come to love the album and there really are a lot of great tracks on there with many that fit their original style.
Whilst I am unsure if their current musical direction is an idea of theirs or that of a label, it does seem to work – I would say that they are one of very few country acts that get away with experimenting musically. Had this been any other country act, I am not sure I would be so quick to jump to their defence. Take The Band Perry for example, much like Zac Brown Band they are known for their Country roots and honest lyrics, but have gone in a very pop direction which, so far, is not really working.
In regard to their other albums, my favourites rank in order of release. The Foundation (1st album) was so unique to its genre at the time and enabled Zac Brown Band to be known for their individual style – and has some of the best songs they ever released such as:
Highway 20 Ride
You Get What You Give – another fantastic album with best songs being:
Quiet Your Mind
Keep Me In Mind
Uncaged – their third release with best tracks being:
Jump Right In
Goodbye In Her Eyes
Jekyll + Hyde
Heavy Is The Head
Tomorrow Never Comes (Acoustic)
I’ll Be Your Man ( song for a daughter)
If you don’t know Zac Brown Band’s music then I really recommend giving them a listen, check out some of the videos I have posted of some of my favourite tracks.
I, for one, cannot wait for them to return to the UK. No two shows are the same and you will always be in for a treat.
Wembley Set list
Keep Me In Mind
Day For The Dead
Goodbye In Her Eyes
Under The Bridge
(Red Hot Chili Peppers cover)
I’ll Be Your Man (Song for a Daughter)
Loving You Easy
Free / Into The Mystic
Tomorrow Never Comes
Locked Out Of Heaven
(Bruno Mars cover)
Jump Right In
Heavy Is The Head
(Led Zeppelin cover)
The Devil Went Down To Georgia
(The Charlie Daniels Band cover)