Remembering Lance Tilton, The Inspiration Behind Zac Brown Band’s Lance’s Song

In a time where mainstream music seems to rule the airwaves, it is hard to find musicians who stay true to themselves.  The Zac Brown Band are one of the few music acts who do just that, but have found commercial success along with their honest approach.  And through their incredible talent and beautiful songwriting, fans were introduced to a song entitled “Lance’s Song” off their latest album, “Uncaged”.  I had written a review, back in July of 2012, on this blog about that album (see in which I discussed each track individually. In my post, I had written:

9. Lance’s Song

I need to learn the real meaning behind this song, but it is clearly dedicated to a musician who has passed away. The lyrics tell a story about a man who obviously lived his life engulfed in music, but apparently was not given the credit and respect he deserved until he passed away. Zac sings, with love and pain in his voice: “But they don’t know what they got, until its gone, like it or not. You live on life, you try to do what’s right, we’re all here a-waiting for our silver invitation to the big band in the sky”. It is a beautiful dedication to someone the ZBB obviously admired.

After seeing my blog, Troy Tilton, the brother of Lance Tilton, and the subject of ZBB’s “Lance’s Song”, reached out to me.  Troy has truly done a service to his brother’s memory as he has discussed many facets of his life, music career, and tragic passing.  With Troy’s permission, I have created this article so that Zac Brown Band fans and the entire music world can discover who Lance Tilton was and the true story behind the lyrics in Lance’s Song.

Troy explained to me that his brother, Lance, was a self taught drummer who started playing drums when he was about six years old. Lance was well known, in the Atlanta, Georgia area, as a skilled drummer who sat in with numerous bands in countless live sets.  Lance’s relationship to Zac Brown and the ZBB was through his friendship with fiddler, Jimmy De Martini. Before Jimmy had joined ZBB, he was in a tribute band with Lance called Dave Mathews Cover Band better known as DMCB.  When DMCB broke up, Jimmy began playing in ZBB and Lance formed a band called Jade Hollow with the former bass player of DMCB, Jon Morrison.  Lance free-lanced for several Atlanta based bands and, at one point, was a temporary fill-in drummer for some of the shows that Zac played.

In speaking with Troy and reading various other website’s articles in which have discussed “Lance’s Song”, it is evident that no one has taken the time to really learn about Lance or the true meaning behind the lyrics that Zac and Nic wrote.  In an effort to clarify the song and help fans understand what the true story is, Troy has stated to me, “I believe what gives Lance’s Song an air of mystery is that the lyrics never really explain the circumstances around Lances death. Lance and Jon Morrison, on Cinco De Mayo (in) 2010, accepted a small gig in Chattanooga, Tennessee. After the show, around 2:00 a.m., Lance and John decided to drive back to Atlanta (approximately a two hour drive). While driving through Dalton, Georgia, Lance fell asleep behind the wheel, drove off the road and into a tree, instantly killing Lance and seriously injuring Jon.
At one point in the song, Zac sings:
“Rollin down the windows
Trying hard to fight the sleep
Money’s never much for a band in Tennessee
Another night of playing
To a crowd with no ears
Wanna hear the songs they know
And fill their bellies full of beer”
Troy interpreted those lyrics for me: “the gig John and Lance played in Chattanooga was small and didn’t pay much (money).   It didn’t make sense to them to pay for a hotel that night and that is why they decided to drive home.”
As you can see from the picture above, Lance is playing the drums with Zac Brown and Jimmy De Martini. “Lances Song” was co-written by Zac Brown and Nic Cowan, a musician on Zac’s Label, “Southern Ground”. Occasionaly, Lance played drums in Nic Cowan’s band at local shows. The photos you see on this post are found on Lance’s webpage (, including those with Zac, the Band, Willie Nelson and numerous other artists.

From listening to “Lance’s Song” countless times, researching who Lance Tilton was, and my conversations with his brother Troy, it truly is apparent that Lance lived his life engulfed in music, with honesty in his craft.  He had played the drums with a plethora of talent in his life and inspired one of the great bands in music today to create a beautiful dedication to him.  I hope this article finally allows the truth about the song to come to the forefront and allows people to discover who Zac got his inspiration from.

LYRICS TO “Lance’s Song”
Doing what you love has a high price to pay
Some put on a suit, but he ran the other way
Drums drown out the yuppies
And the one’s who couldn’t dream
Cause the freedom music gave him was worth more than anything

They don’t know
What they got
Until it’s gone
Like it or not
You live on love
You try to do what’s right
We’re all here waiting for our silver invitation
To our big band in the sky

Rollin down the windows
Trying hard to fight the sleep
Money’s never much for a band in Tennessee
Another night of plain’
To a crowd with no ears
Wanna hear the songs they know
And fill their bellies full of beer

But they don’t know
What they got
Until it’s gone
Like it or not
You live on love
You try to do what’s right
We’re all here waiting for our silver invitation
To our big band in the sky

And when he closed his eyes
Fell into a dream that never dies
And when the thunder comes
You can hear his kick drum in the sky
Feel the rain
Fall from our eyes

Cause we don’t know
What we got
Until it’s gone
Like it or not
You live on love
You try to do what’s right
For him there’s no more waiting
Got his silver invitation
To do a little playing
For the big band in the sky

ZBB Live Video Performance of “Lance Song”

The Full Zac Brown Band Experience at Mohegan Sun

Zac Brown Band
September 1, 2012
Mohegan Sun Arena
Uncasville, Connecticut

On Saturday, September 1, 2012, I had the privilege of having the full Zac Brown Band experience: access to the Eat & Greet, a Pit Pass, and an up close and personal look into the most talented group of musicians country music has to offer.  It started off with an orange wristband and a brief wait in the lobby the Mohegan Sun Arena.  I’ve had several meet and greets with other artists in numerous different rooms within the Arena, but this Eat & Greet experience was deep into the halls of the Arena.  We walked into a large room where several of the Band’s trucks were and saw several tables set in the form of an inside picnic. 

Each of the Band members was at the entrance ready to greet each of the lucky fans with wristband.  After shaking hands with each of them, I spotted Chef Rusty Hamlin, the Band’s head road Chef.  I had tweeted him earlier in the day and he was happy (and extremely excited) to show me each of the dishes he had prepared for us.  He explained he got all of the ingredients at a local farm, Holmberg Orchards.  He then told us to head to the bar because there was an open bar with Jack Daniels and Landshark. 

Zac Brown then gave a short speech and handed the microphone to Chef Rusty who spoke about the various food options, which included ratatouille, sweet potatoes with pecans, coleslaw, beef, pork, cornbread fritters, and more.  It was truly incredible food with an insane amount of flavors and freshness.  On top of that, each of the members moved about the tables and spent time speaking with the fans.  The access to the band, the open bar, and the amazing food made the Eat & Greet a truly remarkable experience.

I spoke to Zac about the type of guitar strings he likes to play with.  I had noticed he uses nylon strings and wanted to know why.  He spent a good deal of time really explaining it to me.  He said he grew up playing classical music and learned on those strings.  And for the style he plays, with such intensity, it is easier on his finger tips.  I also asked Clay Cook if he was going to be singing any songs that night and he said that the Band does not make up the setlist until right before they go on stage because they “want to play songs they feel like playing on that particular night”.  That explains why their setlists are completely different each night (much unlike most of the country music world who basically play the same songs each night).

I then made my way down to the Pit area as the opening act, Levi Lowery, was finishing his set.  A giant white sheet/screen covered the stage as a countdown was on to the main event.  The sheet flew up and the band wasted no time as the opening guitar intro to the title cut of their new album “Uncaged” was up first.  The stage was an enormous set, with moving cranes and lights, three huge projection screens, and the band members stationed as a cohesive unit.  When the second song played was “Toes”, we knew that the setlist that night was going to be amazing. 

Throughout the set, it was very apparent that each member of the Band is a vital and unique part.  Of course, Zac is the leader.  But, each member is unbelievably talented in their own right.  Songs like “The Wind” and “Who Knows”, which the latter of which became a fourteen minute jam out, really showcase the diversity and skill.  Each member gets their own time in the spotlight playing their respective instruments. 

I was on the left side of center, right alongside the fiddler, Jimmy De Martini, who I have often referred to as the most talented musician in country music.  If anyone wants to argue with me, bring it.  He absolutely blew my mind as well as everyone standing around me.  When he would rip into a fiddle solo, whether it was on “Devil Went Down To Georgia”, “Free” or “Sic Em On A Chicken”, mouths dropped.  He is worth the price of admission in of itself. 

The Band did a three song acoustic set, where they sat down on crates and boxes in the front of catwalk and were joined by Levi Lowrey.  I was not a huge fan of this portion as I’d rather see the Band going all out in their natural element.  But there was also something very genuine about the set.  They gave a bit of insight into what it must be like when they are creating their songs.  Still, the excitement level of the crowd seemed to die down.  But when the opening fiddle notes of “Free” started when the Band returned to the stage, there was no downtime for the rest of the night. 

The Encore began with a ten minute jam out between the Fryar and De Los Reyes.  The bongos and drums were smashed with such intensity that I could feel the vibrations from the floor up into my body.  And with true class and patriotism, the Band finished the night off with “America, The Beatiful” as a pre-lude to their signature song, “Chicken Fried”.  While most of the night was a sing-a-long, the crowd was never louder during the final megahit. 

Zac thanked the crowd and each of the members took a bow.  They exited the stage and never have I ever been so full of satisfaction from a concert experience.  Between the backstage experience and the exhilirating performance, I saw a state of class, intimacy, talent, and perfection, that not many other music acts can match, nor care to put forth.  Zac’s attention to details and his care for his fans help Zac Brown Band stand apart at the forefront of musical entertainment. 


  1. Uncaged
  2. Toes
  3. Not Okay
  4. As She’s Walking Away
  5. No Hurry
  6. The Wind
  7. Can’t You See (Marshall Tucker Band Cover)
  8. Colder Weather
  9. Jump Right In
  10. Keep Me In Mind
  11. Wherever We Break Down (Acoustic Song with Levi Lowrey)
  12. One Day (Acoustic Song)
  13. Sweet Emotion (Acoustic Song – Aerosmith Cover)
  14. Free
  15. Into the Mystic (Van Morrison Cover)
  16. Who Knows
  17. Knee Deep
  18. Sic Em On A Chicken
  19. Sweet Annie
  20. Devil Went Down To Georgia (Charlie Daniels Band Cover)
  21. Drum Solo’s by Chris Fryar & Daniel De Los Reyes (ENCORE)
  22. Whiskey’s Gone (ENCORE)
  23. America The Beautiful (ENCORE)
  24. Chicken Fried (ENCORE)


Jump Right In
Devil Went Down To Georgia

Zac Brown Band: Uncaged – Track by Track Dissection

Zac Brown Band – Uncaged
Track by Track Dissection

I do not want to describe this post as a review.  I have too much respect for the Zac Brown Band to “review” their music.  This blog post is more of a dissection of each of the tracks by a fan who already had great admiration for the talents of each of the Band members.  I must say I had high expectations for this album before I even listened to it – and it surpassed those expectations and more.  Here are my thoughts about each of the tracks as I listened to the album:

1. Jump Right In

The name speaks for itself on the first track of Zac Brown Band’s third album, “Uncaged” as the band jumps right into the hit making music that they have become famous for.  “Jump Right In” starts off with a short yet effective intro highlighted by the infamous Zac Brown guitar picking along with a few whistles and bongos, courtesy of new member Daniel de los Reyes.  But after about ten or so seconds, the whole Band gets involved to create a musical explosion.  The song has the inner linings of the country music jam band that the ZBB are, but with a commercial appeal that could easily make the song yet another #1 on the Country Music Charts.  The song has lyrics that will stick in your head all day long: “…you can jump right in, let music pull in you in, you can jump right in…it’s the Southern Wind, sings again, an idle lullaby“.

2. Uncaged

Uncaged lets the Band showcase their southern rock side as the song includes a multitude of guitar licks, drum bashing, and all out jam outs alongside the powerful Zac Brown voice.  I can easily see this song becoming one of those songs that the Band goes nuts on for about ten minutes in their live shows as the song is more about the musical instruments than the lyrics.  The euphoria of the seven ridiculously talented members showcase why the Band is truly on a different level than any Band in any genre in today’s music.

3. Goodbye In Her Eyes

This song may go on to become the most successful song, commercially, off of this album.  It is an epic story of a man who knows the woman who he loves so much is leaving him and he cannot do anything about it.  The song unfolds with the lyrics painting a vivid picture that could almost be the summation to a sad romantic movie.  Zac is never better as he hits low and high octaves with ease and the Band gets to sing background vocals as a unit, more so than any song I’ve heard from them before.  Furthermore, it is the first song on this album that fans get to hear the immense talent of Jimmy De Martini on the fiddle.  Overall, this song is sad, beautiful, and powerful all at once. 

4. The Wind

The first single released to country music is ZBB’s ode to bluegrass music.  The picking and strumming of the guitars as well as the rapid fire fiddle and quick moving vocals create a song that I challenge anyone to not want to at least tap their foot to, if not get up and dance to.  After just a few short weeks it is already in the top 20 on the country charts and moving quickly up from there.  The Band just released a unique, animated music video to the song which can be seen here: 

5. Island Song

For me, this was the absolute stand-out song on the album.  It is a reggae song more than it is a country song.  But for all intensive purposes, Zac may have created a new genre of music with his reggae-country masterpiece.  The lyrics immediately take you to a place “down in the islands, down in the islands”.  Zac’s reggae delivery is that of perfection.  I had heard him sing in this style before at a few of his past shows, but he really nails it in this song.  I found myself daydreaming as he sings about drinking rum at a tiki bar down in the islands.  ZBB has always had a beach themed song on each of their albums, whether it be “Toes”, “Knee Deep” or “Where the Boat Leaves From”, but this track takes that theme to a whole new level. 

6. Sweet Annie

Musically, this song reminds me a lot of “Colder Weather” as it gradually builds from a soft melody to a power ballad.  The lyrics depict a man who has seemingly let everyone down in his life and he is pleading with a woman Annie to not give up on him and to give him another chance.  He starts out defeated, but by the last verse he seems to gain more confidence in himself and makes his plea to let him stay with her.  It is another sad yet beautiful ballad that portrays the pain that love can have on a man. 

7. Natural Disaster

Another very unique song which starts out with a forty second acapella intro singing about a preacher’s daughter when all of the sudden the pace of the song picks up tremendously.  It becomes a rolling country song that has beautiful lyrics about a woman who the man knows may bad for him, but cannot stop himself from loving her.  The vocals pick up in pace as the song goes and creates a very effective song in which both the lyrics and the melody are equally phenomenal: “She’s like rain when she rolls in, but there’s sunshine in her thunder, it makes the loneliest heart wonder if the ride is worth the pain”. 

8. Overnight (Featuring Trombone Shorty)

Simply put, I was not expecting this song when it came on.  It is, in no way, a country song.  It is a flat out R&B song.  That being said, Zac showcases the unbelievable depth of his talent.  His delivery alongside the blues guitar, trumpet and trombone and that are featured in the song make this song, by far and away, the most unique that I have heard from ZBB.  It is smooth, sexy and totally out of the box.  Zac is definitely not afraid to do things his own way and he does not disappoint with his track. 

9. Lance’s Song

I need to learn the real meaning behind this song, but it is clearly dedicated to a musician who has passed away.  The lyrics tell a story about a man who obviously lived his life engulfed in music, but apparently was not given the credit and respect he deserved until he passed away.  Zac sings, with love and pain in his voice:  “But they don’t know what they got, until its gone, like it or not.  You live on life, you try to do what’s right, we’re all here a-waiting for our silver invitation to the big band in the sky”. It is a beautiful dedication to someone the ZBB obviously admired. 

10.  Day That I Die (featuring Amos Lee)

This, for me, was yet another stand-out on the album.  When I first heard this song, I thought to myself that Zac Brown has probably never been more truthful in his songwriting than in this song.  When he states that “I believe that I was born with a song inside of me” and “when I live out my days and to the very end, I hope find they find me in my home with my guitar in my hands” I know he is being competely honest.  While I always give full credit to ZBB as a Band and completely respect each Band Member’s outstanding talents, this song is all about Zac and his dedication to music.  Amos Lee is feautured on the track and his verse echoes what Zac is saying.  Throughout this masterpiece you can hear the honesty that both artists are singing about.  It’s very hard to think about your life, your legacy, and how you spend the last moments of your life.  Zac has figured it out.  I found myself getting goosebumps while listening to his sincerity. 

11. Last But Not Least

A simple song about a man letting his woman know that he loves her and that she is important to him.  Charismatic Clay Cook adds his vocals to the middle verse as he and Zac make it known to the woman they are with that they may have been their last love, but that it is the one that means the most because they will end up wit her.  The song also works well as it was undoubtedly strategically placed as the last song of the album. 

Top Picks: Island Song, Day That I Die, Goodbye In Her Eyes, Jump Right In