He likes his chicken fried, his cold beverages on Friday nights, pairs of jeans that fit just right, the radio up, and, oh yeah, baseball, too.
Particularly Atlanta Braves baseball.
Sit down with lead singer and guitarist Zac Brown of the Atlanta-based country music phenomenon known as the Zac Brown Band and you find out that while growing up in Dahlonega, Ga., as one of 12 children, he found time to take in plenty of Braves games on TV.
“My whole life, it’s been the Braves,” Brown said while relaxing backstage at the recent Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. “I just grew up going to hometown games since Bob Horner was hitting four homers in a game back in the day. It was very cool in the 1990s. Pretty much every night we were watching baseball.”
It’s pretty cool now for the Zac Brown Band, too.
“Chicken Fried,” the radio-friendly, downhome paean to wholesome Southern living, became a radio senstation after being re-released In October 2008. It shot to No. 1 on the country charts the following month and led to the major-label release of the album <i>The Foundation</i>, which also produced the No. 1 hit “Whatever It Is.”
Since then, the Zac Brown Band, which also includes bassist and vocalist John Driskell Hopkins, fiddle player and vocalist Jimmy DeMartini, guitarist and organist Coy Bowles, drummer Chris Fryar and multi-instrumentalist and singer Clay Cook, has gone from opening for larger country acts to headlining their own shows, including a 90-minute set that closed out the opening night of Bonnaroo 2009.
“It’s great,” Brown says. “We’ve got kind of a grander vision for how we want to set up our headlining tour, and this fall is the first one we’re really heading toward that direction. Being able to play two-hour shows every night, it’s going to be great to really stretch it out and really lay out the different styles that we do. “
The band is as comfortable and capable at performing classic rock, reggae or select cover tunes (they did “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band at Bonnaroo ) as they are at ripping up honky-tonk hits like “Chicken Fried.”
“We’re really excited about the success and excited to really unleash the other styles,” Brown says. “The country [influence] is the only one we’ve really been able to service, so to be able to dig into these other ones and get it out there is really exciting.”
As Bowles explains, the music can’t really be defined by any one genre, which is why an eclectic festival gig like the one at Bonnaroo is a perfect showcase for the band’s surprising repertoire.
“It’s more Southern than it is anything,” Bowles says. “Stylistically, we do so many different things. I never thought about it, really, but this concert might be the first show where we’ve done where the audience that’s listening to us will be able to get the whole grasp of what we’re doing, from the bluegrass stuff to the reggae to the country.
“A lot of times people ask us about being a country band and we say, ‘Well, we’re not really a country band.’ And we’re not knocking country, because we like it, but we don’t want to be limited.”
That’s why the Zac Brown Band has been accepting all kinds of gigs, including a few at baseball stadiums.
The band played at PNC Park in Pittsburgh this season for a Pirates fireworks show and didn’t embarrass themselves while getting through the National Anthem, which they also performed at Comerica Park in Detroit.
While in Pittsburgh, Zac Brown Band fan, Pirates first baseman and former Atlanta Brave Adam LaRoche hung out with them for a little while pregame and Bucs manager John Russell showed the band around the clubhouse.
And while Brown says he misses the days of great Braves like Dale Murphy, he likes the young direction the team’s going in these days.
“They’re still fun to watch,” Brown says. “I’m still going to watch them whenever I can.”
It’s been a busy time since I got back from Bonnaroo 2009, the music festival in Tennessee, but I finally have the time to report on the proceedings.
The ‘Roo always has a baseball influence, from the MLB Road Show batting cages and video games to the big-time fans among the huge, eclectic mix of acts that Bonnaroo attracts every year.
It’s always fun to watch some of the musicians get in the backstage cage and take their hacks. Some of them actually have pretty good swings, and for some of them it’s tough to get that rock-star hair in a batting helmet.
I had a fun and interesting conversation with Ben Bridwell, the lead singer of Band of Horses, one of the great American rock groups of the last 10 years. After seeing BoH a few years ago in Seattle and hearing him publicly wonder on stage why then-manager Mike Hargrove had just up and quit a few days earlier, I knew he was a fan.
At Bonnaroo, Ben was kind enough to meet me in the media area mere minutes before his band played a sterling Sunday sunset set to close out the weekend on the “Which Stage,” which is the second-largest stage on the grounds. I found this decent-quality clip of them playing a sped-up, more countrified version of “Window Blues,” the final track off their last album, “Cease to Begin.”
So Ben told me he’s been a baseball fan since he played Little League and American Legion ball while growing up in South Carolina and that he became a Mariners fan when he moved to Seattle in the late 1990s. He still follows the M’s on MLB.com as much as he can and said he would absolutely love to someday sing the National Anthem at Safeco Field, his favorite ballpark. I told him I’d see if I can pull some strings.
Anyway, watching from the side of the stage as Bridwell and his Horses executed 90 flawless minutes of rock was none other than The Boss, Mr. Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen had headlined the whole festival the previous night, singing his signature baseball-inspired song, “Glory Days,” before closing out a nearly three-hour set with “Dancing In The Dark,” and he and Bridwell exchanged pleasantries, according to this photo, taken from the blog on BoH’s site.
Then, long after Bridwell and the boys had bid adieu to the Which Stage, Bruce resurfaced during Phish’s festival-closing performance and jammed out another version of “Glory Days.” In the immortal words of Robert Hunter, “Tennessee, Tennessee, there ain’t no place I’d rather be/Baby won’t you carry me … back to Tennessee.”
In 2010, of course.