ZAC BROWN BAND’S CASTAWAY WITH SOUTHERN GROUND
March 16 – 20, 2018 – Hard Rock Hotel – Riviera Maya, Mexico
Written by Jody Smith (@JoddskiS)
For a third straight year, Zac Brown Band brought its music festival, dubbed Castaway with Southern Ground, to the Hard Rock Hotel in the Riviera Maya, Mexico. One can describe Castaway as 2000+ of your closest friends enjoying nine performances on the main stage plus two sunset shows at an amazing natural lagoon venue. During the day, there was plenty to do for everyone, from foam parties, workouts with members of ZBB, Q&A sessions with the artists, and Chef Rusty Hamlin even put on cooking demo right on the beach. Of course, for the less motivated, you could put your toes in the water and ass in the sand because Castaway truly made life good for the traveling fans.
Everyone came for vacation but the guiding light was the music. Folks from all over the world came together in an amazing location for this reason. The first up was The Record Company (@therecordcomp) in what I feel is was one of the two toughest spots in the lineup, as the leadoff. They delivered and brought some great energy for a non-stop hour & 15 minute set. Next up was Blackberry Smoke, (@blackberrysmoke) who have toured extensively with Zac Brown Band in the past. These guys certainly did not disappoint. If you don’t know their music, just imagine if Chef Rusty took Molly Hatchet, The Allman Brothers & ZBB in his blender, the BBS would pour out. Their 18 song set featured amazing guitar performances which were highlighted by Charlie Starr (not his last performance on the big stage as he showed up with ZBB on Sic ‘em on a Chicken). BBS truly was amazing during their entire set. One of my favorite songs of theirs, One Horse Town, now has a permanent spot on my set lists. The boys finished with a Rolling Stones cover, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, followed by Ain’t Much Left of Me.
Day 2 happened to be St. Patrick’s Day and the color green traveled south of the boarder and from the time the sun came up, there was plenty of energy at Castaway. The resort was covered in green as the day was dubbed Sham Rock n’ Roll. And as 4:30 p.m. arrived, so did the boys from ZBB. Zac came out relaxed in shorts, flip flops, a t-shirt, sunglasses & smile that does not stop for 2 plus hours. Everyone who has been to a Castaway ZBB show, you knew it was going to be different. Zac opened the case very interactive, and laughed while stating, I have been getting pictures sent to me all day with a picture of my face on the asses of a bunch of aussies”. Right in the front suite was five guys from Australia who had specially designed speedos which they wore 24/7 on this trip. This funny moment set the tone for what was about to be a 30 song set list!
The show kicked off with the predictable Castaway, but included many suprises, including Island Song. One of the highlights was My Old Man as Zac was visibly emotional he sang while looking up to the suite. There was a sprinkling of other covers from SOB to 3 Little Birds. But, mostly this set was about ZBB’s own music. There was an amazing version of Who Knows featuring a 14 minute guitar off between Zac & Coy and the finished this amazing set with Jump Right In and Homegrown.
LANCO (@LancoMusic) had the difficult task of following ZBB and I should have had more faith in a group from Nashville. These boys were fun and had great stage presence. They played songs from their first album release, including Greatest Love Story, Hallelujah Nights and Long Live Tonight and mixed in covers like Friends In Low Places and Sweet Caroline. LANCO turned out to be the perfect band for a tough spot in the lineup. Cam (@camcountry) followed LANCO and even though I have not listened to much of her music, hearing her open with her new hit Diane, I could tell you that she has a very powerful, distinct, and soulful voice. Of course, she included her songs Burning House & My Mistake. Cam played to the remaining dedicated St Patrick’s revelers for an hour & a half and no one left was disappointed.
On Sunday the main stage did not fire up until 8:00 p.m. with the Original Wailers. Yet, Coy Bowles (@Coybowles) off ZBB played with his band, the Fellowship, at the Hacienda Lagoon. The stage sits high on a natural rock formation with the gulf behind creating a one of a kind atmosphere. The Wailers (@wailers) had everyone ready to sway and sing along with their favorite Bob Marley tunes. What makes this event, so amazing is the presence of the other acts staying on property and hanging out in the crowd watching the other performers. This night it was members of Blackberry Smoke. The 90 minutes were filled with Buffalo Soldier, I Shot the Sheriff, Stir it Up and, of course, Jamming.
There to close out the night was my most anticipated act, Drake White & The Big Fire (@DrakeWhite). Drake and the band have it all: stage presence, vocals, all the strings, & percussion. These guys played for 90 minutes and its a good thing there is no roof because it would have come down. The boys played everything they had to offer including their most popular The Simple Life, Back to Free, Livin’ the dream, Equator and a great cover of The Beatles, With a Little Help from My Friends. They certainly did not disappoint, as always.
All good things must come to an end and the last night was the power combo of Jake Owen and Zac Brown Band. Jake Owen took the stage and gave a shout out to everyone’s host, ZBB and he knew he had to bring it that night. Jake is quite the entertainer, knows what the crowd wants to hear and does it all. He played a new song, Honkey Tonk, which I enjoyed very much along with old hits like 8 Second Ride. The 90 minute set was filled with all his hits along with John Prine cover, Let’s talk Dirty in Hawaiian. He naturally finished with Barefoot Blue Jean and Beachin’ (straying into a rap snippet of the Fresh Price of Bel Air Theme Song).
Zac Brown Band took the stage at 10 pm and played 29 songs until Castaway officially ended, at 12:35 a.m.! ZBB showed it all off that night, including 15 covers, by my count in all. No crowd interaction tonight as this was serious business. Rocking songs like Day For the Dead and Uncaged got the night started along with covers of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, Charlie Daniels Band’s Devil Went Down to Georgia and Kings of Leon’s Use Somebody. The band’s range is amazing and they did not disappoint with hits like Beautiful Drug and Chicken Fried. The night and trip ended with a great Guns N Roses cover of Paradise City.
Hard Rock is perfect venue and vibe for Castaway. I hope ZBB does not end these amazing trips. Because of it we have new friends, new music, & memories to last a lifetime.
Thank you Zac Brown for brining 2200 people from all over the globe to forget everything going on in the world for four days of joy & friendship.