Zac Brown Band Lights Up Nashville

Zac Brown Band
w/ Nic Cowan, Sonia Leigh,
Sarah Dugas, and Arnold McCuller
December 30, 2011

Bridgestone Arena
Nashville, TN

I attended the Zac Brown Band concert in Nashville, TN this past week.  It was my first time and first night in Nashville and everyone seemed to be just as excited as I was.  Honky Tonk Row aka Broadway was jumping with people for hours before the show and you could feel the energy oozing up and down the block.  Bridgestone Arena is a massive building, as far as Arenas are concerned, and the inside appeared to be very clean and well thought out.  I made my way down to the floor level where the show had a General Admission Pit. 

I walked into sounds of the initial opening act, Sarah Dugas and was a bit confused about what I heard. She at first was not singing in English, then proceeded to belt out sounds, not words, in a high octave that made myself and others around me cringe. I was happy only to hear a few songs by her and will certainly pass on her in the future. To my surprise, Mac McAnally, the Grammy and CMA Award Winner, was in crowd next to me.  I spoke to him for a few minutes and, at one point, he stated “well you are in for a great show, the guys are really talented”.  He was humble, gracious, and allowed a few fans to take pictures with him right there on the floor. 

The next two opening acts up’d the ante from the rocky start and the night finally was on its way.  Nic Cowan performed his funky Country/Americana songs: “Hard-Headed”, “Woke Up This Morning”, and “Cut It Loose” and he had the crowd dancing throughout.  I have really enjoyed Nic’s music and was hoping for a longer set than just four songs, but he did perform a new single that has a lot of promise.  Sonia Leigh was next and she came out with high energy right away.  She is a very unorthodox female singer who is way more Americana than Country, but it works for her.  “Money” and “Bar” are catchy songs and she has a passion for her songs.  I do not think she will ever be a regular on country radio, but her fans could care less. 

It was finally time for the main event and the extravagant stage illuminated with stars, lights and lazers and the Zac Brown Band jumped into their newest #1 smash hit, “Keep Me In Mind” and never looked back.  I have seen ZBB over seven times and they keep getting better and better.  No setlist has ever been the same and each show has new surprises. 

I was half expecting Alan Jackson to show up for “As She’s Walking Away” since we were in Nashville, but when he didn’t it did not bother me all that much.  Especially since they followed up those first two #1’s with their rendition of Charlie Daniel’s “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”.  Excuse me for saying this, and I may get hate mail for it, but I think Zac and the boys’ version is better than the original.  Jimmy De Martini is an absolute master with the fiddle.  That, and the intensity and skill the other members of the band play their instruments with make that song a must at each ZBB show. 

For the first time since I have seen them live, Zac added two new band members to the stage.  One  was a saxophonist that resembled Justin Bieber and another was a bongo player who later on had a “drum-off” with ZBB’s Chris Fryar.  Both were highly skilled and really added a new flavor to the already overly talented Zac Brown Band. 

The setlist flowed perfectly with #1 hits and deeper cuts off the Band’s two albums in which all the fans in the sold out arena seemed to know word for word.  There were several songs that were meshed with other classics, such as “Free” mashed with “Into the Mystic” and “Where The Boat Leaves From” and some Bob Marley classics.  One highlight was when “Isn’t She Lovely” was mashed up with John Mayer’s “Neon”.  If I thought Jimmy De Martini was amazing on their earlier Charlie Daniels rendition, he showcased his ridiculous talent even more on a spellbinding fiddle solo on “Neon”. 

Zac brought out Sarah Dugas along with soul/R&B singer, Arnold McCullen for a cover of “Use Me”.  ZBB let Arnold and Sarah handle the vocals and Zac really seemed to be enjoying himself during the funky song.  This song was suprisingly followed up by a cover of hip-hop group Outkast’s “So Fresh and So Clean”.  That is the real beauty of the Zac Brown Band, their range of songs are unlike anyone in the business.  I have seen them cover songs from Pink Floyd, Outkast, Sir Mix A Lot, to Tom Petty, Alabama, and Rage Against the Machine. 

The stage for this tour was much more extravagant than the recent tours.  It had rotating and moving spotlights as well interactive screens that changed colors and showcased live images of each of the Band members. 

The Encore began with the drum-off that I spoke of earlier and was followed up with a masterful version of “Can’t You See” with Band member, Clay Cook, on vocals.  He too has a wonderful voice and really put his all into this song.  The whole crowd responded with applause and their voices back. 

The Nashville crowd exploded during the next few songs.  First was “Colder Weather”, arguably the Band’s most successful single, to date.  Bridgestone Arena sang along to the song word for word and Zac’s voice was never better.  I heard reports that Zac was sick during the show and needed an emergency shot of antibotics before the concert.  I would have never known unless for those reports because, to me, his voice was as clear and strong as ever. 

Lastly was a mashup of “America. The Beautiful” with “Chicken Fried”.  The two songs flow so well together and the whole crowd went crazy during the chorus of the latter.  Zac and the boys ended the song with a jam-out in which each member had a short solo.  Zac finished and stated to the crowd in a loud, booming and passionate voice: “I know a lot of you have seen us at Awards shows lately and we have come up empty handed. But we do not judge our success by those Awards, it is by this right here – you the fans! And as long as you guys keep coming out and filling up these Arenas for our shows, I guarantee we will be here in 20 years still doing this for you. So thank you Nashville!”. It was powerful and obviously truthful statement in which Zac really exclaimed with passion. 

The show was incredible and everyone walked away completely entertained and extremely satisfied.  As the Nashville crowd walked out of the Arena and right onto Honky Tonk Row, they knew that in twenty years they would indeed be seeing Zac and the boys again, because this Band is not going anywhere but the top. 

1. Keep Me In Mind
2. As She’s Walking Away
3. Devil Went Down To Georgia
4. Free
5. Into The Mystic
6. Where The Boat Leaves From
7. Islands In The Stream
8. Jolene
9. Highway 20 Ride
10. Not Okay
11. Who Knows
12. Knee Deep
13. Whiskey’s Gone
14. Use Me (with Sarah Dugas and Arnold McCullen)
15. So Fresh and So Clean
16. Sic Em On A Chicken
17. Isn’t She Lovely
18. Neon
19. Make This Day (with Mastiff)


20. Drum Solo’s by Chris Fryar
21. Can’t You See with vocals by Clay Cook
22. Colder Weather
23. America The Beautiful
24. Chicken Fried