Zac Brown Band brings their Welcome Home Tour to Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion for four straight Memorial Day Weekend shows, May 26-29. After headlining shows for nearly six years now, their popularity is at an all-time high. I first experienced a ZBB show twice in the summer of 2011, seeing them open for Kenny Chesney. While seeing a band in broad daylight as thousands of fans are still outside tailgating while thousands of others are just filing in isn’t ideal, ZBB stole the show both nights, outperforming Chesney and sending a clear message that they were no longer an opener, and were ready to strike out on their own. The following year, they released their third album, Uncaged, and began touring as a headliner. When I caught them in November 2012 in New Jersey’s now-defunct Izod Center – the only time I’ve ever seen them indoors – I was officially hooked. After three more shows in 2013, and a bunch more in 2014 through 2016, I passed the 20 -show mark more quickly than I’d care to admit. But what keeps me coming back to ZBB shows is similar to what keeps me attending Springsteen shows: a full band where each member is extremely talented; a genre-bending range that makes you feel as if you’ve just witnessed a country show, a Southern rock show, a reggae show, and much more for the price of one ticket; varied setlists with interesting covers; and a frontman who can match the crowd’s energy night after night.
My two favorite ZBB memories came within a week of each other. In 2014, through a family friend, I was able to attend ZBB’s pre-show “Eat and Greet,” in which the entire band mingles with a few dozen VIP guests and actually serves them a buffet-style gourmet meal prepared by Zac’s longtime chef, Rusty Hamlin. While I went down the line of band members and thanked them for a scoop from each trey, I asked Wyatt Durette, Zac’s songwriting collaborator, if “Where the Boat Leaves From” was in the setlist that night. He told me he didn’t believe so, and I didn’t give it much further thought. Then midway through the show, I heard the familiar drumbeat that starts “Where the Boat Leaves From,” and then Zac said “This is by special request from the Eat and Greet.” Just a couple hours after chatting with Zac and the rest of the band, my offhand, half-serious request had actually caused them to call an audible on their setlist! I’ve searched for a YouTube clip corroborating this story with no luck, so you’ll have to take my word for it – if not, my parents stand as witnesses.
The following weekend, I saw ZBB play two shows at Fenway Park. Their rise to stardom had taken them from those guys who sing “Chicken Fried” in 2008 to a well-oiled machine selling out baseball stadiums six years later. Clearly honored to be playing such a storied venue, ZBB played 63 songs that weekend, with only a handful of repeats. Afterward, Zac called the Fenway shows the “best nights in our career,” and it’s tough to disagree. In the two years since, they’ve returned to Fenway for five more shows, with special guests including Steven Tyler, Ken Casey, and the Doobie Brothers. While all have been special, the band has slightly tightened its setlist with the addition of opening acts such as Drake White and a horn section, with shows typically in the range of “only” 25 or so songs. The magic of Fenway in 2014 hasn’t been surpassed, but they still come close to matching it, and will hopefully do so next weekend in New Hampshire.
To wrap things up, in the tradition of my gracious blog host, Mr. Matt Flynn, I present my top five Zac Brown Band songs:
5) The Wind: This is a song where the band shows off its versatility, playing a toe-tapping bluegrass song where nearly each band member takes a solo packed into just 2:57.
4) Free: A beautiful love song from their debut album, this song is a concert highlight because it includes a fantastic violin intro from Jimmy DeMartini and a cover of “Into the Mystic” midway through. The two songs fit together so seamlessly that it now sounds strange to hear the album version of “Free” without it.
3) Goodbye In Her Eyes: By their third album, ZBB had perfected the four part harmony, which is now perhaps their greatest asset. This song’s slow buildup is worth your patience, as the musical explosion upon “I know you got somebody new now” is chill-inducing.
2) Colder Weather: Their most intense concert sing-along is always the emotional highlight of their shows, and is simply one of the best country songs ever recorded.
1) Sweet Annie: If I only had five minutes to get someone hooked on ZBB, this song would be my sales pitch. It highlights everything to love about the band: phenomenal writing, vocals, instrumentation, and harmony, and an uncanny ability to slide between mellow and rock vibes.
Thanks for having me, Matt, and I hope to see you all in New Hampshire next weekend for a cold beer on a Friday…or Saturday…or Sunday…or Monday night!