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.
The evolution of a true musician during the rise of a career has always been interesting to me. There are highs and lows, risks and experimentations, criticism and awards. In the unique case of Jason Isbell, it seems like he has found his home, his star is on the rise, and he has never been happier. I say this because anyone who compares his older songs to the newest album, The Nashville Sound, can see has his lyrics have changed. His past songs are of pain and struggle, as the once full on rocker for the Drive By Truckers was in full on party mood on stage and off. But as his solo career has progressed, and he has found comfort in family (and sobriety), his music has hit its stride. The attention to lyrics, the dedication to his art, and the richness of the instrumentality (aided by the genius of producer extraordinaire Dave Cobb) have taken Jason Isbell to new and great heights. And this has never been more prevalent on the new album, as he takes on themes such as politics, racism, and mortality.
And last night, he brought his show the College Street Music Hall in New Haven, Connecticut, where he has played (and I have attended) three years in a row. This time, a large emblem of an anchor with a bird, which changed colors throughout the set, was draped in the background. I believe this emblem is also tattooed on the biceps of both Isbell and his wife, Amanda Shires (more about her in a moment). Anxiety was the first song played and the sound of Isbell and his 400 Unit Band has never sounded better. The guitars and bass boomed off of the large speakers and the solo’s soared before and after the powerful lyrics. Just like that, they were off and running, mixing in songs off the new album, as well the past two, Something More Than Free and Southeastern. This set was very different from past sets as songs from his early solo career, mainstays like “Dress Blues” or “Alabama Pines” were omitted, but a few Drive By Truckers songs (“Decoration Day”, “Never Gonna Change”) were still part of the show.
What really stood out to me this time around was the sheer happiness that Jason showcased. He spent time laughing and making jokes (at one point stated “I don’t want to be a country singer, I wanted to sing rock n roll” as he broke into the guitar wailing “Cumberland Gap”). He also discussed being happy about having the #4 album on the charts and joked about being able to beat Nickleback in sales. He also showcased his loving side, as the two most moving portions of the show involved simply he and his wife. During “Cover Me Up”, he, at one point, turned himself almost entirely around to sing the lyrics directly to her and spoke about how much it means to him to be able to sing this song her wrote for her, to her every night (see Video clip). And again, the two of them went acoustic on the moving “If We Were Vampires”, which, in my opinion, should have consideration for the Grammy for Song of the Year.
His wife, Amanda Shires, is as beautiful as she is talented, wielding a classically trained fiddle with a wonderful voice aiding in background vocals. All done while wearing huge black heels and a flashy skirt. If you haven’t checked out her solo album, My Piece of Land, you are missing out. Amanda Shires is not to be ignored as she is a true force of her own and a real part of the Jason Isbell & 400 Unit live show.
I must comment on how upset I was with the College Street Music Hall this time around. Usually I applaud them for having an intimate venue, with great staff and full on comfort. It seems that they completely oversold on tickets, as my wife and I were kicked out of where we were standing an astounding seven times within the first five songs (7 in 5!). The staff was pushy, aggressive and downright rude to us and other concertgoers. Finally, we decided to just walk upstairs and watch from the last row in the venue, which happened to be a relaxing and very different experience as we were able to take in the true richness of the show and sound. But, above all, (and I cannot say it enough) check out Jason Isbell’s show and music as often as you can. The dedication to his art is well conceived and masterfully executed in every aspect, creating as rich of a sound as you will hear in any genre of music today.
Every one has said it before: “An actor wants to be a musician now? Oh, give me a break.” I have many times as well. And in most cases, I have been right. However, when I first sat down to listen to Kiefer Sutherland’s “Down A Hole” album, my ears perked up and a grin came over me. This man can sing. And, more impressively, can sing some real authentic country music the way it was intended to be. I am not talking about the watered down, pop mainstream country you hear on the radio, targeted at teenagers looking to party. Kiefer Sutherland writes and sings songs about real life experiences including pain, love, and loss. Once I heard he was playing the Bowery Ballroom, one of my favorite venues, I was intrigued to see how these songs would translate to a live performance.
A few weeks back, I had a chance to interview Kiefer. He spoke about the differences between acting and performing and how scared he was the first time he took the stage. He explained that the first few times he performed his songs live, he felt so vulnerable and had no idea if people would accept him. He also talked about he balanced life as a singer and an actor at the same time. Kiefer is currently filming season 2 of the hit ABC show, Designated Survivor, in Canada. He says he takes his tour bus on site now, instead of the normal actor trailers, so that when he is done shooting during the week, he can head right out to perform concerts on the weekend. He says the schedule has worked out well so that he can split his time equally. Kiefer also confirmed that he working on songs for a second album.
The Bowery Ballroom in New York City is a special venue. It is small and intimate with a sound system and stage setup that puts the fan in touch with a live music experience that always seems to be memorable. And on that windy Thursday night in the City, Kiefer’s fans appeared to be that of all ages. But for everyone, the question was , “do you think he will be good live?” And when Kiefer finally came on stage well past 9 pm, one thing was clear: Kiefer Sutherland can perform. He came out like a bullet out of a gun, with an old West styled hat and a rowdy band (you’ve got love anytime a band has a woman drummer as well). His first song was “Can’t Stay Away”, which included some spirited guitar playing and some yells to the crowd, which immediately showed this was not just a gimmick, Kiefer is taking this music thing seriously.
Kiefer’s first few songs were up tempo and he was energetic and charismatic through-out. But, before singing his first single off his album, “Not Enough Whiskey”, he tossed his hat aside and addressed the crowd. This is when the show really gained its intimacy, as Kiefer began to tell the crowd why he wrote each and every song and really let us into his mind. He was honest and vulnerable, and seemed to have the experience and comfort that usually takes years and years of live performances. And with the stories, the songs gained more meaning, which made me appreciate his songwriting even more.
When I had previously interviewed him, I asked him who some of his musical influences were and the answer was nothing short of diverse. He mentioned names like Tom Petty, Elton John, Bernie Taupin, The Band, Johnny Cash, and Merle Haggard. He said Cash and Haggard wrote such linear songs and that was his initial attraction to country music. And he performed a few cover songs, in his own way, that night in NYC, including the Merle Haggard classic, “The Bottle Let Me Down”. He also closed out his set with Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, but the cover that stood out to me that night was his rendition of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown”.
All in all, Kiefer Sutherland’s live show exceeded my expectations. His genuine persona and true dedication to making music for all the right reasons really became evident hearing him talk and sing. Not to mention that he and his band could jam out as well. The musicianship itself was masterfully executed. I consider 24 to be my favorite television show of all time, and have really enjoyed Kiefer’s acting in all of his many projects. It was really enjoyable to see this actor also become a musician who I can respect now as well. I look forward to hearing more Kiefer Sutherland music and will absolutely see him live again.
Sometimes less is more. Zac Brown Band (ZBB) proved once again they can play to any crowd they want and not just the biggest stadium shows every single show. The capacity at the Bank Pavilion in New Hampshire is only 8,300 and ZBB first played there in 2008 (a year that ZBB only had 41 concert appearances). On those two days (yes I was there) he played with several acts, as at the time, none had enough to fill up a show. It was clear then and still true today that, musically, this group had major range and energy. On this fateful night, one of four in a row, ZBB showcased their range and mastery for a New England crowd who ate it right up.
Yes, I tend to be a creature of habit…. Some might call them issues …. I have seen the Grateful Dead over 100 times, Jimmy Buffett over a 100 times and, yes, have seen ZBB probably more than the average person. This does tend to make you recognize the good shows from the bad. One of the cool things about a ZBB show is the diversity of music and attendees. How often are you going to see a 50+ year old hanging out in the Pit dancing alongside most that are half their age? You will at ZBB. There where kids in the crowd with their grandparents as well as many Military folks in their Dress Blues (and yes of course they were recognized by ZBB, and, some of us in between).
The first night’s show was a tribute to ZBBs’ talented band and music of all genres as everyone in the band’s talents were on display. In cool ZBB fashion, Darrell Scott opened the show and during his final song, the entire ZBB came out to perform with him. Without taking a break they jumped right in to Uncaged and we are off and running. None of the 8,000+ sat for the next 25 songs which included ZBB songs of new and old plus eight covers. The early part of the show left no chance for a breath, as Uncaged, as well as covers of Kashmir and The Devil Went Down to Georgia where all performed without a break. This was truly a tribute to that classic performance style and it was concluded with fiddler, Jimmy De Martini, brining the house down on the Devil!
2 places at 1 time, Keep me in Mind, and Toes followed, in case you were somehow getting tired. Next was another new song, Family Table (which do yourself a favor an listen to, wow underrated song for sure) followed by (love it or hate it) what has become a ZBB staple cover of Bohemian Rhapsody. Without a break, the band jumped into one of their biggest hits to date, Colder Weather. Up next was a true highlight of the show, an amazing cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s Whipping Post, which, to my ear, included a snippet of Midnight Rider. With the death of Gregg Allman that very same weekend, this cover felt all that more meaningful and the band executed it masterfully.
ZBB, as always, recognized our country’s veterans during their rendition of the Jason Isbell penned Dress Blues. This always proves to be a moment that brings tears from the crowd. What followed was a trio of fun Homegrown, Real Thing and Loving You is Easy, followed by their current single, the stripped back, My Old Man. If you were tired it’s too bad as Roots (rumored to be the band’s next single off Welcome Home), followed by an island song medley of Jump Right In /Castaway/Where the Boat Leaves From/Knee Deep. Of course, ZBB had to play their first ever hit, Chicken Fried, as that ended their set before coming out for a two song encore. This included an acoustic performed of John Prine’s All The Best followed up by a bombastic cover of Enter the Sandman.
The crowd shuffled out and, once again, nobody left disappointed. It’s not really a secret that Zac Brown and his band have become one of my favorites, so I am sure some may read this with some bias. It is also not a stretch to say that, although they may not win the Grammy’s or CMA entertainer of the year, ZBB continues to be the most talented collection of musicians and entertainers on tour. The Jekyll and Hyde Tour was not for all, but, do yourself a favor and don’t miss the Welcome Home Tour, because they have gone back to their Roots!
KIP MOORE – ME & MY KIND TOUR (Lowell, MA – October 20, 2016)
Written by Guest Contributor: Lydia Simonetti
Kip Moore is currently out on the road headlining his “Me And My Kind” tour with Jon Pardi, and for select dates, Will Bowen. Last Thursday, the tour stopped in Lowell, Massachusetts (just outside Boston) to play at the Tsongas Center. Kip has an affinity for the city of Boston and with a very strong fan base in the area, consistently sells out his shows there. In fact, at the show I met up with fans from across the country who flew in or drove many hours to attend the show because it was in Boston. I met fans who came in from North Dakota, Colorado, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York and New Hampshire.
The VIP experience is always something special and this was one of the best I’ve experienced. The ticket description says fans will enjoy a 2 song acoustic performance, but Moore always goes way beyond. He takes fan requests and is often stumped by die-hards who throw out titles he admittedly has a hard time remembering the lyrics to, but tries regardless. During this VIP set he played a 9 song set which included a few new tunes and he paused to share some of the stories behind his lyrics. While playing “Guitar Man”, he told the crowd the song will be on the new album due out in 2017 and went on to explain that he remembers “being the faceless, nameless guy on stage…and it can be a lonely, lonely journey”. Closing out the acoustic VIP set with the anthemic, “That Was Us”, as he explained how he had to fight to get the song on his ‘Wild One’s album. Moore said “I refuse to sing songs I’m not passionate about and that’s one of them”. Before leaving the stage he thanked the crowd and said “Boston, you always show me your heart”.
VIP Set List
“Boys Gotta Do”
“Too Young To Die”
“Tougher Than The Rest”
“Mary Was the Marrying Kind”
“That Was Us”
Singer/Songwriter Will Bowen took the stage next to warm up the crowd with a short but very impressive acoustic set. Bowen has a gritty sound that exudes emotion. While he may not be a well known name, he’s already found a great amount of success in other genres and even has a Grammy nomination. He’s signed to Little Extra Music and is currently working with many top artists in Nashville. Bowen also showed his love for the city of Boston by showing the crowd his Larry Bird socks.
Next up was Jon Pardi. Pardi has had recent radio success with songs such as “Head Over Boots”, “What I Can’t Put Down”, “Dirt On My Boots” and “Up All Night”. While the majority of the crowd seemed to sing along to most of his set, I was not very familiar with most of the songs.
Kip Moore took the stage around 9:30pm and true to his nature he and his band “The Slow Hearts” came out ready to rock the crowd opening with “Lipstick”. The crowd especially enjoying the line “Way up above Dixie, Boston, Jersey, New York City”. He played a mix of old and new songs even covering the Jimmy Eat World hit “The Middle”. He then transitioned into an more relaxed, acoustic vibe playing tunes such as “Running For You” and “Hearts Desire”. All the while the crowd sang almost every word back to him. Moore then left the stage briefly to return (wearing his beloved Larry Bird jersey) with his full band for a high energy 5 song encore finishing with “Dirt Road”. Throughout the entire show, Moore took many opportunities to thank his fans for all of the support they continue to show him. Explaining that money isn’t what fuels him, it’s the fans that come out show after show and show he and the band how much they relate to his music.
Having attended many, many Kip Moore shows, Boston is always one of my favorite venues to see one of his shows in and this was certainly no exception. It’s clear that he feels something for the city and his fans there. Once again in an effort to show his appreciation for his fans Moore stayed after the show to sign for every single fan at the merchandise booth. I’ve got to tell you, that’s dedication and appreciation! Having just played for almost two hours and leaving everything you have out on stage to then stay until the last fan meets him is something unique. He’s a class act in an industry that currently seems to be overwhelmed with radio sell-outs. Moore is an artist who stands up for and makes the music he believes in.
Bottom line-do whatever it takes to get to a Kip Moore show, you won’t be disappointed!
Track by Track Discussion: Heart Of A Flatland Boy with Erik Dylan
I had the privilege of sitting down and having a track by track discussion with Erik Dylan, regarding his new, independent album, entitled “Heart of A Flatland Boy”. I hope you all buy or download the album because it really is a breath of fresh air in this day in age of country music. The following are my thoughts after listening to the album followed by where the origins of each song came from by the artist himself …
Heart of a Flatland Boy
MTMS: When I hear this song, I hear a straight up heartland song written for the people who work hard and won’t be knocked down, no matter what. And the way you sing it is raw and unapologetic, sort of the way those its written for live their life.
Erik Dylan: Where I’m from in Kansas, we have a lot to be thankful for. But we also have a lot to be angry about. My people don’t get enough credit for what they do. They are the ones who clock in every day, drive tractors, pour steel, bust their asses and raise their babies. They are also the first to get screwed, laid off, and forgotten. I’m just sick of it. I guess I would consider this song an anthem for the under appreciated shrinking middle class. I feel like in many ways it is my job as a songwriter to write vicariously through them. And I’m damn proud to take that job.
It Aint Broke
MTMS: I love how this song was strategically placed the follow Heart of a Flatland Boy, as its also written about the small town people, but less from the point of view of not being knocked down, but more about how much they love the life they live and appreciate the small time living. The verse about the guy giving up the scholarship for love and a piece of land, but not regretting it really stands out.
Erik Dylan: This song is best described as pure flatland philosophy. If something is working, don’t fix it. There is a beauty in knowing some things will never change. It inspires me. I wrote it about my hometown in Kansas but honestly, this could be anybody’s hometown. It’s beautiful to me. I watch wrecking balls turn history into high rises & parking lots every day on Music Row. It wasn’t broke. It was alive. They broke it. Glad that won’t happen in my town.
MTMS: To say I love this song would be an understatement. From the edgy songwriting to the musical breakdown, this is a hell of a song. Who thought that a song about getting revenge from domestic abuse could also be so catchy. Where did you come from in writing this one?
Erik Dylan: I had that phrase “pushing up pink flamingos” in my head for a few months. When I sat down to write the song with Adam James we came to the conclusion that somebody just had to die in this song. We didn’t want it to go down the typical murder ballad road. I wanted to write it from the perspective of the people who saw what happened and looked the other way. I’m not saying it is right, but I do understand why they pled the fifth. Sometimes bad shit happens to good people. And sometimes small town justice prevails.
Willie Nelson T-Shirt
MTMS: So many emotions run through my mind when hearing this song. It starts with true love, then immediately switches to heartbreak, anger, disgust, and then humor. It’s clever and fun, while still being heartbreaking. How are you able to execute both sides in a single song as a songwriter?
Erik Dylan: I think this is pretty typical of most guys. It is our grieving process after being done wrong. Hurt turns to anger. Anger turns to disgust. And in the end the all you can do is get your favorite Willie Nelson T-shirt back and try to make her jealous as hell on the rebound.
The Good Life
MTMS: Out of all the songs on the album, I could see this being the live show anthem. It’s got such a build and emotional progression. It’s relatable to every listener and brings about a sense of optimism no matter how dark life seems. The line “life ain’t worth living if it ain’t hard” hits you in the heart and gut at the same time.
Erik Dylan: I felt like writing a song that celebrates the struggle of living the so-called “good life”. This song is a tip of the hat to every guy that takes care of their family and hangs in no matter the cost. It’s a song for the ones who get through the rough patches running on faith and love. My dad is one of those guys. I want to be that guy for my family.
Girl That Got Away
MTMS: Your album does not have the prototypical love song, where the writer describes all the great feelings he has when he’s in love. Instead, you bring a heart wrenching approach that brings all the emotions to the surface right after you lose the girl of your dreams and it was all your fault. The slow build and the background sound effects make this a hauntingly beautiful song.
Erik Dylan: I wanted the lyric to stand front and center. I’m incredibly prod of this lyric and wouldn’t change a word. Jake Mitchell & Westin Davis wrote the hell out of this song with me. The music needed to enhance the emotion in my voice. The steel guitar haunts me. Russ Pahl set the mood with steel and created a vehicle for the listener to follow the lyric in. It’s a song about missing a one in a million girl. It had to be dark. I am proud how it turned out.
MTMS: When I first heard this song, I thought what the hell? But, each time I hear it I love it more and find myself singing “Copenhagen habit and a GED”. And it is situated perfectly in the track list as it changes direction from the seriousness for a song and just lets your rock out. Where did the idea of how this song was going to be sung come from?
I needed a black sheep for the record and Astronaut was perfect. We sped the song up 6 clicks and went Ramones on it.
The idea came from a construction worker running a jackhammer outside my publishing office. I was writing with Randy Montana & Driver Williams that day. It was loud all day. Another writer from the building dropped in on us bitching and moaning about how loud it was. I turned to him and said “Ok… We write about our feelings all day at our job. That guy runs a jackhammer for 8 hours a day. Shut the F up.” That’s how the idea started.
Your Way Down
MTMS: This seems to have the simple message of a guy who is so in love with a woman that he tells her he will wait for her. But it has a little twist, as he throws a dig in there that he knows she will climb the ladder and fall back down.
Erik Dylan: I have seen this a million times. The girl that thinks there is something better to chase out there in the world. She walks out on the one guy who really loves her and has the strength to do it because she has a parachute. He’s gonna be there when she falls because he truly loves her. There is a lot of anger in this tune but I think it is warranted. However, if you love somebody you have to forgive them eventually if you ever want a shot at that white picket fence & two kids in the yard.
MTMS: I am an emotional train wreck when I hear this song. The songwriting and the story are just perfection. I think the lyrics speak for themselves for all who listen. My question is how in the world do you hold it together enough to sing it live?
Erik Dylan: I don’t. I had tears in my eyes at my last show. I’m never going to hide my emotions on stage. I think I owe my audience that kind of honesty. It’s ok to feel something. That’s why we are here. That song continues to make me feel something every night. It reminds me to call the ones I love and never take them for granted.
Map Dot Town
MTMS: When I hear this song I get such a sense of nostalgia mixed with pride as I think every listener will bring themselves back to a time in their life where the words from this song connect with them. I know I have heard a version backed by a full band, but you chose the acoustic version for the album. I think it’s a poignant conclusion to this heartland adventure, how did you come about that decision?
Erik Dylan: I wanted the listener to hear the song how it was written. One guitar and one voice in a room. It had to be all about the song. I wanted the world to hear it on my back porch at 2am with Jake Mitchell when we wrote it. The only thing this recording is missing is the sound of the crickets in my backyard.
I know where I’m from. It has made me who I am. The heart of this flatland boy will always be in Muscotah, Kansas. I write what I know. And I know where home is.
Zac Brown Band – Fenway Park, Boston, MA (August 21, 2016)
Written by Jody Smith
It is not an original thought by now, but the Zac Brown Band (ZBB) may not only be the best touring band in country music, but the best band touring, period. Their pure musical talent is obvious, but their diversity of music styles show off not only their musical abilities, but their collective voices and creativity. They continued with that diversity this weekend at Fenway Park in Boston, MA, where Zac pledged a “no repeat weekend” … and yes, they delivered. The fans that follow them are just as diverse, in age, as there were children in attendance all the way up to seniors.
I have been to ZBB shows prior to his sell outs where they had a cast of bands with them because there was not enough in the arsenal to fill a show. I have been to sold out shows from New Hampshire to Mexico in recent years to see ZBB. It is not a stretch to say Zac and his band seem to get better and better.
After seeing the set list for Saturday and knowing this weekend was a page from the Grateful Dead as a no repeat weekend, I was a bit skeptical about Sunday. If Saturday was Dr. Jekyll, then I was predicting Mr. Hyde for Sunday. What we got was that and then some. The first set was an emotional roller coaster. The show opened with Jump Right In and stayed with Uncaged for The Wind, and then things got interesting. In a Jerry Garcia-esqe way, they rolled into Where the Boat Leaves From into One Love. Fenway was on fire, so why not a chance for everyone to sing S.O.B? It was time to bring the heart rates down with more from Uncaged and Jekyll + Hyde prior to reflection time, which came the way of Dress Blues. This song, on it’s own, is a potential Kleenex grabber for all, but when Zac brought out a WW II Veteran Fenway did what Fenway does…. erupted in unison! An amazing tribute to the Greatest Generation.
Well , the expression goes you cant keep a good man down so it has to be Metallica time featuring John Driskell Hopkins on vocals. Did I say an emotional first set? Not done, yet the flow continued with Highway 20 Ride and then the stools came out. Zac Brown side by side with legendary recording artist Mac McAnally for Jimmy Buffett favorite A Pirate Looks A Forty ! The set finished with a couple more acoustics and then it was beer:30 and time for a well deserved break.
The second set was filled with many from You Get What You Give , as well as what has now become the obligatory Heavy is the Head. The surprises however where not complete , an amazing version of Aviccii’s Broken Arrows followed by a performance of 11 year old piano prodigy Joey Alexander and if your going to play in Fenway you bring out Ken Casey one of the lead signers of Dropkick Murphys’ to do of course, Shipping Up To Boston. The night finished with yet another tribute to Prince and topped off by Homegrown and I think the 36,000 were pumped up and exhausted all at the same time.
If you managed to survive both shows at Fenway you got to hear 45 different songs performed by ZBB. In a day in age where most performers barely have enough music that people want to hear in one night, ZBB delivered a flawless two night no-repeat weekend. Zac seemed so energized and grateful for the crowds. He recognized the 7 sold out shows at Fenway (a new venue record) and seemed very appreciative. Yep , you can have all the rest , I will take ZBB vs. the field.
Eric Church – Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Colorado (August 9 & 10, 2016)
Written by Kristin Hamlin
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect for the first of an epic two night special acoustic event by Eric Church at the legendary Red Rocks. Lightning flashes went off everywhere, but never a sound all night, but there was no rain. It was almost as if the Heavens were enjoying this show as well.
Eric Church. Two words, but one big meaning.
I was fortunate to land sixth row, smack dab in the center at Red Rocks for both nights of Eric Church last week. I have been to my share of concerts at this Amphitheatre, but I knew this time would be different. The way the stage was set up was as if you were in Eric’s living room; rugs and candles lit the stage, with just a piano and a microphone.
You could hear a pin drop as the lights went down and Eric was about to come on stage. As soon as those familiar ray bans and side smirk became visible, the crowd erupted into a standing ovation. Eric sat there in awe for a about a minute, taking it all in, and then the familiar chords of ‘Mistress Named Music’ started playing, and everyone began to sing as loud as they could, never missing a beat. What none of us were expecting, was when Eric broke out into covers of other people’s songs in the middle of Mistress. (like a rock, ain’t got money, piano man, troubadours) and then ended it with the last chorus of Mistress. It was incredible.
Without missing a beat, he flowed into ‘Mr. Misunderstood’. The crowd was so loud singing it back to him, he let us sing the chorus to him, and as we did, he just smiled and mouthed ‘thank you for this’ to us. That was definitely one of my favorite parts of the night. He then went on to sing Smoke, Drink in my Hand and Record Year, and then ‘Mixed Drinks About Feelings’. Next was his upcoming single, ‘Kill a Word’, and before singing it, he told the crowd how he didn’t think there was a more appropriate song to sing with all that has been going on in the world. The passion in the way he sang this song was goosebump-worthy, as you could tell this song meant a whole lot to him. Then came ‘Pledge Allegiance to the Hag’, ‘Rock and roll Jesus’, ‘Homeboy’, ‘Creepin’, ‘Dark Side’ ‘Living part of life’, ‘Jack Daniels’, and ‘Wrecking Ball’ – where he even had Peyton Manning jamming right behind him. The crowd didn’t miss a word!
What happened next warmed everyone’s hearts. Eric spoke quietly and said ‘I promised someone I would play this…I hope I can make it through the song’ and turned around to where his son was sitting and blew him a kiss. ‘Three Year Old’ was the song he sang for him and I teared up watching him singing it, because I knew behind those sun glasses, he was doing the same thing. It was absolutely magical. Then came ‘Cold One’ and ‘Chattanooga Lucy’ and the energy was wild!
Next, Eric had said the next song he had never played live before, but he wanted to play it because the first time he came to Red Rocks, this song came on his bus, and it stuck with him so much, and he had told his band just hours before he was going to play it. The second the first verse came from his mouth, the audience didn’t make a sound, and we all watched in awe as Eric played Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ – his voice as strong as I’ve ever heard it. It was probably at that moment, that I realize I was witnessing the best live act I have ever seen in my life. I have never been that impressed and touched with any artist I’ve seen, but this show was much different.
He followed that by singing ‘Knives of New Orleans’, ‘These Boots’, ‘Talladega’ and ‘Holding My Own’ and bowed his head and said thank you again and left the stage. The crowd, who never sat down once, chanted his name, and in seconds, Eric was back out, singing my personal favorite ‘Those I’ve Loved’. This was the best closing song I could think of.
The show the next night was completely different, which made this concert experience unlike any other. He had said he had one song he knew he was going to sing for sure, and the rest he just made up as it went, following the energy of the crowd. As soon as the show ended, the quiet lightning stopped.
Dawes – The Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY (July 14, 2016)
The best part of doing this blog is the fact that I am always being introduced to new music and new bands I ordinarily would not hear if I was just a casual radio listener. Last January, I attended country super group, Zac Brown Band’s Mexican Music Festival known as “Castaway With Southern Ground”. On that bill was a number of acts spanning multiple genres of music. One such band was Dawes, a band I had never heard of at the time. I did my due diligence getting to know each of the acts appearing Castaway and was more than pleasantly surprised with what I heard from Dawes. Not only have their four LPs now become some of my most used records, but they have become one of my truly favorite bands in all of music today. When I heard they were coming to my area and playing the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY, I did not hesitate in the least.
And not unlike what I witnessed in Mexico back in January, Dawes set off like a bullet out of a gun with the rousing I Can’t Think About It Now and never looked back. It was great to see the entire theater at max capacity, with the crowd singing and even, at times, jumping up and down, to the alternative rock/folk tunes that make Dawes seem so very authentic. I had a friend with me who was relatively new to their music, but came along because of how much I’ve been talking about them. And when Duane Betts ripped into his first of numerous solo’s on his electric guitar on that first song, his eyebrows went up and simply stated, “oh wow”.
And that expression really summed up the entire night as each song seemed to turn into its own rock show as all five members of the band showcased their incredible musicianship with Taylor Goldsmith controlling the forefront with his impeccable vocals, unstoppable energy, as well as impressive bouncing skills while ripping the guitar. Songs such as If I Wanted Someone, Things Happen, Fire Away, and Most People were full on sing-a-longs, while others were complete jam outs admist the original lyrics of the song (Now That It’s Too Late, Maria seemed to turn into a fifteen minute song). The brothers Goldsmith, Griffin and Taylor, took to the forefront for two passionate acoustic songs, highlighted by the beautiful Take Me Out Of The City. And the entire crowd erupted when the anthemic When My Time Comes (which was recently featured for the NBA Draft) was performed with vigor and zeal.
However, the true highlight of the night, was during A Little Bit Of Everything, which was introduced by Taylor exclaiming “…it’s a weird time right now, but it is times like these that remind us that we love each other a lot. We are all on the same team!” The song spoke to the truths of love, heartbreak, and all the feelings you encounter in life. Taylor sang the song almost with a preaching tone that made the message all that more effective. And when the band ended the spectacular set with All Your Favorite Bands, another song with a hopeful message, it was clear this band called Dawes is one of the most authentic and talented today’s music has. They have won me over as a fan and, I am sure, if you were in the building last night, you understood the brilliance that this band has achieved as well.
After years and years of hearing about how amazing Garth Brooks was as a live performer, I made my way into the Bronx on Saturday afternoon bracing myself for a once in a lifetime experience. When all was said and done at 2 a.m., my feelings were certainly mixed, mostly due to the unfortunate and confusing three plus hour rain delay. However, there is simply no way I could overlook the performance and spectacle that Garth put forth late into the night.
I got to my seat at approximately 8:15, just fifteen minutes before he was supposed to get on stage. I had just had an amazing dinner at NYY Steak and was feeling like the evening was set up perfectly to be a memorable experience. With a light drizzle in the air, the last thing I was thinking about was a delay. Even at 9:15, more than forty five minutes after the start time, with the entire Stadium seating filled to capacity, we all thought it was just a matter of time. But, then, the stage crew began to come out with tarps and plastic to fill the giant sized circle stage extension and we all began to fear there was a delay, despite there being no announcement. Finally, after 10 pm, more than one hour and a half from the start time, with still just a drizzle (if that) in the air, the Stadium announced we were in a rain delay. Most were furious, including me, that it took this long to make the announcement, but more so that they could have gotten most of the show in already. What was worse, was they cleared the pit and floor area, and alcohol sales ended. The scene within the Stadium was angry, tired, and anxious.
Finally at about 11 pm, we were allowed back to our seats. It had rained extremely hard during the 10 to 11 pm hour, but that did not make anyone feel better about the situation. At midnight (yes, freaking midnight), Garth finally took to the stage. There was simply no energy from the crowd at that point as people half heartedly clapped when he came out. I was expecting some dramatic entrance, but instead Garth just walked out and apologized for the wait. But then something unexpected happened, song by song he won back the crowd and energized the iconic Stadium deep into the night air.
From Rodeo to Two Pina Coladas to That Summer, it was clear Garth was going to do everything he could to salvage the night. He moved from side to side of the huge stage and even used the slick circle extension a few times. He told the crowd he was not going to be able to do some of the performance runs like he usually did (another bummer due to the rain), but all in all it was clear he was born to perform. And the crowd was in the palm of his energetic hands by the eighth song of the night as the huge screens flashed lighting and rumbled thunder as he put forth an amazing rendition of the epic Thunder Rolls, with the hidden verse included (to the crowd’s delight). From there on, the crowd was up and standing, singing, and dancing in unison.
He claimed that they were “making up the setlist as they went along”, but that was hardly true as it very much mirrored the night before, despite some changes and crowd requests. One such change from the previous night was my favorite Garth song of all time, “Much Too Young (Too Feel This Damn Old)”. The twang of his voice echoed in the Stadium and truly made me appreciate not only the mastery of his performance style, but the perfection of his voice in a Stadium, at that. Halfway through the show, his wife Trisha Yearwood came out to perform a five song set. The crowd went crazy when they shared an embrace at the end of In Another’s Eyes, but her solo performances of How Do I Live and She’s In Love With the Boy got two of the biggest responses from the fans all night. Her mid show set was a great change of pace and I got a new found respect for Trisha as a performer as well.
The true climax of the show occurred with the three songs before the rather forgettable encore, consisting of a bombastic Callin’ Baton Rouge, followed an epic sing-a-long Friends In Low Places and concluding with the heartfelt The Dance. No three songs may say more about Garth Brooks’ career in terms of the depth, reach, diversity, and passion he has for his music. After those three songs it really sunk in to me that I was seeing one of the best performers I’ve ever seen in the 500 or so concerts I have seen.
The encore was a mixed bag for me as I felt his best songs were already performed and it was so late (1:45 in the AM) I was beginning to expire. He ended the night with a Billy Joel cover of Piano Man followed by Standing Outside the Fire which included five minutes worth of fireworks, which seemed unnecessary due to it being 2 am. However, all in all, I am glad I waited out the annoying rain delay because the show itself was indeed a spectacle and Garth is a world class performer. But, I can’t help but feel like I was cheated out of the full Garth Brooks experience, but I guess that just means I will have to see him again in the future.
JUNE 24, 2016 – Tim McGraw, Chris Janson, Josh Abbott Band, High Valley, and Gunnar & The Grizzly Boys
by Austin Earl
It was a lazy Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan, Kansas. With the temperature being 104°, there was nothing I wanted to do outside, so I played around on Twitter and sent an innocent Tweet to Dierks Bentley and Chris Janson. With their upcoming shows in Manhattan, I wanted to inform them that this future fish biologist could show them some good spots around town to catch white bass and walleye. Janson responded with the most unexpected, best Tweet I have ever received.
The tickets were for Day 2 of Country Stampede. Stampede is the largest music festival in the state of Kansas, and brings out the big names of country. Headliners this year included Sam Hunt, Dierks Bentley, Tim McGraw and Jake Owen. The Day 2 artists were Gunnar & the Grizzly Boys, High Valley, Josh Abbott Band, Janson, and McGraw. Will call was having problems finding our tickets, so we missed most of Gunnar & the Grizzly Boys.
High Valley exceeded my expectations. They had a good bluegrass feel in a lot of their songs and entertained the crowd well. They were very interactive and did not look awkward like a lot of artists that are in a similar career stage. They went full bluegrass while playing I’ll Fly Away and their talent was evident. They also showed some Florida Georgia Line-esque music with their song County Line. If they stick to their bluegrass roots they could be a very entertaining band for crowds in the future.
For me, the day really started when Josh Abbott Band took the stage. JAB has always been one of my favorite acts since I heard the song I’ll Sing About Mine for the first time a couple of years ago. The “Band” portion of the namesake put on a great show. The fiddle player had a crazy amount of talent. Unfortunately, Abbott’s voice just wasn’t there for him. I do not know if he had a cold or what was going on with him, but he could not hit the high notes that makes his range so impressive on the studio albums. In fact, he sang all of the chorus of Amnesia down an octave. As an entertainer, he was very good. He was energetic, brought out a t-shirt cannon, and made fun of the Kansas Jayhawks—always a welcome pander in Manhattan. I would be interested in seeing him again at some point to see him with his full voice.
After JAB finished, it was finally time for Chris Janson. Many people only know Buy Me A Boat, but Janson has a lot of good cuts on his debut record. The hour and a half long set let him showcase those songs as well as play some of his favorite older songs. I had heard rumors about his crazy antics on stage, so I had high expectations for his show. He did not disappoint. Janson was absolutely electric on stage. He said “you’re about to see 135 pounds of skinny white dude play a harmonica like you’ve never seen” and then he did exactly that. His vocal range was as ridiculous as his harmonica playing. He doesn’t sing high all that often on stage, but he covered Merle Haggard and hit every note in the song. He also played an oddly fun punk rock version of Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash. He interacted with pretty much everyone along the stage, signing hats and talking directly with the people. While singing Buy Me A Boat, he brought four little girls up on stage and had them sing with him. He lit up the stage and looked like he had just as much fun as anyone at the festival.
The headliner Tim McGraw finished up the day. I was personally most excited for Janson coming into the day, but it hit me about five minutes before McGraw took the stage that he was someone I’ve listened to since I was two. Words to his songs were some of the first words I knew in any music. He was one of the influential artists that helped foster my love for not just country music, but music in general. When you’re a 49 year-old with 52 number one hits, you can basically send your band out there alone and the crowd will sing all of your songs for you. McGraw didn’t do that, thankfully, but he did let the crowd sing most of his old songs’ choruses. It was kind of chilling to hear how many people McGraw’s music has touched as almost every person—from 16 to 60 year olds—in the crowd knew every word. As someone who would like to get into making music and performing, it was amazing to see how an artist can transcend generations. McGraw had a lot of energy and made the concert fun, but the star of his set was his music rather any antics. At this stage in his career, it would impossible for that not to be the case.
Overall, my girlfriend and I enjoyed a wonderful day of diverse country music in the middle of a field. To me, it just doesn’t get much better than that.
DAVE MATTHEWS BAND – June 11, 2016 – Xfinity Theatre – Hartford, CT
Dave Matthews Band took to the Xfinity Theatre stage in Hartford, Connecticut this past Saturday night to celebrate twenty five years of turning themselves into one of the biggest touring acts on the face of the planet. This night, per usual in New England, the show was sold out. And one of the best things about this DMB crowd was that there were people of all ages, from teenagers to people in their 60s. And that is a testament to who they have become as a touring act as they have not changed their jam band sound along the way, and it appeals to generations abound.
Each and every setlist at a Dave Matthews Band show is different and full of surprises. I have been to approximately seven of their shows dating back to my first in 1999 and I’ve always appreciated the diversity of songs from all eras of their career chosen to be part of their shows. To me, this shows true showmanship and musicianship in a live act. Nothing is worse than the artist who goes out and performs the same practiced setlist night in and night out, with no surprises or nothing to keep their fans guessing. And this night was no different.
Right off the bat, DMB sunk their teeth into Pig and Proudest Monkey, followed by one of their most commercially accepted songs, Crash Into Me, all from their earliest albums. But then the song selections jumped from their newer albums like Seven back to Grey Street, with “commercial” songs sandwiched between, like the nostalgic The Space Between. And as the night went on, the jam outs and guitar solo’s became longer and more intense. I was overjoyed to hear two of my personal favorite songs live in Rapunzel and Why I Am, while some of the die hards seemed to sing louder to If Only and Belly Belly Nice.
Dave Matthews, himself, is an unique lead man. He seems to be a bit reserved with an odd sense of humor. However, he was full of smiles and jokes throughout the night and even traded his acoustic guitar for a piano on two songs. His talented band members seemed to sit back a lot more than in shows past, as they were happy to let their lead man get most of the limelight. Either way, their musicianship surely shined bright during the band’s jam outs. And, at no time did that shine brighter, than during the encore when the band ripped into a cover of Bob Dylan’s legendary All Along The Watchtower. I was surprised that it was only an one song encore, but it was a great show nonetheless. I hear that DMB is taking off next year from touring to create a new album, but I foresee many, many more touring years in this great American band.
With the release of his new CD, Lattin 101, Pat Lattin is ready to break into the newest echelon of singer-songwriters. A native of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Pat has been serious about music since he picked up his first guitar at the age of twelve. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston where he studied performance and songwriting. He formed his first bands soon thereafter and recorded several demos. After some time, he assembled a group of studio veterans and laid down an EP.
Lattin 101 marks a new direction for Pat. At the helm is fellow Berklee musician, drummer and producer Tyler LeVander. The songs range from ethereal to contemplative to no-holds-barred rock and roll. All have the stamp of something that is not just innovative, but mold-breaking.
Flying in the face of conventional artists, Pat Lattin—and his music—defies description. One may hear familiar melodic structure, but then comes the unexpected: complex, unique chord structures; songs with multiple “movements”; rhythmic adventures with wonderfully jarring changes.
Unlike some other singer-songwriters, Pat Lattin can play. Acoustic, electric, rhythm, lead, you name it. Listeners will hear subtle nuance, supple backing and scorching leads, all combining in a sound that, quite simply, breaks new ground.
“I feel new songs,” says Pat. “Some picking can become a head, a verse or a chorus. I have a simple rule on guidelines: I disregard them. Some songs are culled from others. I just assemble what sounds ‘at home’ to me.” The result: tunes that comfort, provoke, and surprise. Some veer close to a precarious edge but somehow never lose control. They can turn heads and startle, but concurrently seem to bring the listener to a landing—if not a seamless, safe one.
Pat is equally adept at playing solo as he is with his band. At every venue, he manages to invite the audience into his world—a world of wonder, texture and new horizons. Perhaps an early listener described a Pat Lattin performance best, “I don’t know what I just heard … but I need to hear it again. Right now.”
Speaking thematically, Pat Lattin compositions touch on friendly discord (“Thanks for the Advice”); a Poe-like walk through the macabre (“Mad Hatter”); the plaint of a lonely sailor (“Edge of the World”), and possibly the world’s first song about a baggage claim (“Queen of the Carousel”).
Audiences can pick up Lattin 101 on June 20th. The album will be available via all popular digital outlets. Physical copies will also drop on that date.
For more information, contact email@example.com.
BILLY JOEL – MADISON SQUARE GARDEN – NYC – MAY 27, 2016
I had the extreme privilege of seeing yet another musical icon, amidst a recording breaking run of sold out shows at the “World’s Most Famous Arena”, when I saw Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden. I have been to a low of shows in my lifetime, and dozens at Madison Square Garden and can say that this venue always has a unique aura of electricity from the crowd. And this night was no different, as the sold out crowd was loud and proud to be Billy Joel fans all night long. And Billy returned the favor, treating the crowd as if he personally knew them.
Billy was seated at a rotating piano for the entire show sans the encore. During the set, he played mega-hits, such as Movin’ Out, New York State of Mind, and The River of Dreams, and expectedly received beams of applause from the dancing crowd. But, early on, he did something I’ve never seen another live performer do before. Two separate times, he announced two songs and asked the crowd to pick between the two by their applause. The winning songs were Vienna (over The Stranger) and Zanzibar (over Big Man On Mulberry Street). It truly showed how comfortable Billy Joel is as a live entertainer. At no point did anything he or his band did seem staged or practiced. It was just a man and his band going out and playing for a bunch of people who felt like they knew him. And knew his music they did.
Other highlights included Billy bringing out twenty or so members of the Navy during Goodnight Saigon. Not only was it Memorial Day weekend, but also Fleet Week in New York City. Chants of USA thundered down from the entire arena during this moving moment. On the other side of things was when Billy dedicated The Entertainer to Donald Trump. I personally think, based on the lyrics of the song, that it was done as a jab at Trump. But, the Presidential Nominee obviously did not think so since the next day he took to Twitter to thank Billy personally for the dedication. However, there was no louder portion of the show than when he ended his set with two of his most famous songs, Scenes From an Italian Restaurant and Piano Man, the latter of which the crowd did most of the singing with Billy sitting there in awe.
Billy came out to a stirring six song encore chock full of classics. And instead of sitting at his baby grand, he took to the edge of the stage with an electric guitar and jammed out. During the final song, Only The Good Die Young, you could literally feel the arena floor bouncing. All in all, the concert was a great experience and one that everyone should get a ticket to as Billy continues his run as the first ever music franchise.
Last night, Zac Brown Band kicked off their new Black Out The Sun Tour in Hartford, Connecticut and absolutely captivated a sold out crowd. This show had a little bit of everything for the music fan in everyone, from country to rock, with a little reggae and electronic mixed therein. More than anything, what separates a ZBB live show is the fact that, every night of the tour, you are going to get a completely different setlist, not the same 18 songs in the same order like most of the other acts out there touring. Of course, this was night one of the tour, but you could tell the song choices were strategically chosen and masterfully executed.
For anyone who has been to a ZBB show before, a highlight is always what covers are they going to play. Because, not only are they a band who has pumped out 15 #1 hits and 4 #1 albums, but they are probably the best cover band out there as well. In years past, I’ve seen them cover songs from Metallica, Rage Against the Machine, Bob Marley, Tom Petty, Queen, and so many more. This night did not disappoint in the least, as they performed four amazing and very diverse cover songs: “No Way No” by Magic, “S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Riley, “Wrong Way” by Sublime, and “Teenage Wasteland” by The Who. Yes, you did not read those four titles wrong.
On top of it all were the hits, like “Homegrown”, “Toes” and “Chicken Fried”, as well as a great acoustic portion which featured “Sweet Annie”, “Colder Weather”, and a rare song found on ZBB’s first album which was an independent release, called “On This Train”. Only the diehard ZBB fans know about that album, and many having been dying to hear that song live, which was a special treat. The stage was intense, with multiple levels, a new horn section, and graphics that were very high tech. During the song “Tomorrow Never Comes”, the Black Sun illuminated the entire amphitheater and turned it into an intense rave with trippy colors and the band jumping in unison. Overall, the show is a can’t miss this summer from music’s most talented live band.
And not to be overlooked in the least, was Drake White & The Big Fire, who opened the show to much intrigue and acceptance. Sometimes being a relatively unknown act without an album for fans to get exposed to your music may be held against an artist in a live setting. However, Drake White took to the stage with the performing swagger of a season veteran. He pumped out country anthems such as “Back To Free” and “Living The Dream” as well as feeding to the ZBB crowd with covers such as a Beatles classic. “It Feels Good” had the crowd grooving as Drake used every inch of the stage and showed no signs of being a rookie. I caught up with him after his show and he told me he was excited about his first album and that he is shooting for an August release date. Fans need to get ready, because he is going to be around for a long time.
with Trombone Shorty, Dawes, Michael Franti, Kacey Musgraves, The Wailers, Brett Dennen & Darrell Scot
This past January, Zac Brown Band embarked on a familiar mission of giving its fans a healthy dose of great music, food, and entertainment, but this time, in a not so familiar setting. I have been a fan of the Zac Brown Band since their beginnings. I have been a member of their fan club, the “Zamily”, since its first few weeks of its existence. So, when I heard that ZBB was putting together an all inclusive concert vacation at the Hard Rock Hotel in Riviera Maya, Mexico, I was all in. While this is not the first time a band or artist has put together a concert vacation experience, and it was not ZBB’s first time (they previously did one a few years ago in Punta Cana), they are usually paired up with similar artists in the same genre. What I love so much about ZBB is that you cannot fit them into any single genre, and this was so evidenced by the acts that Zac hand picked to be a part of the four night extravaganza. Instead of your typical country music festival feel that acts like Luke Bryan or Lady Antebellum have put together in resort settings, Castaway was much more than that. With acts such as Trombone Shorty, Dawes, Michael Franti, Kacey Musgraves, The Wailers, Brett Dennen, and Darrell Scott, the music side of Castaway became a true celebration of all music.
When putting together an event like this, all details must be worked out ahead of time, and ZBB, Could 9, the Zamily, and the Hard Rock Hotel did this and more. Not only was the resort enormous and beautiful, but it was kept clean and had all the options you could think of for a resort vacation. What was very cool was they gave each resort guest a number of resort credits that could be used in a variety of ways. My wife and I used them to upgrade menu choices at some of the restaurants, private cabana’s on the beach, and for entrance to the spa as well as services there. There were various pools located at the resort where the party crowds seemed to gravitate towards, while the guests who wanted to relax and unwind had a plethora of choices along their enormous beach front. And right in the middle of it all, was a huge stage fit for any large music festival, where the musical magic went down at night.
Each night had a different line-up consisting of different artists and different set times. The first night was kicked off by Brett Dennen, an eccentric musician who has a very different delivery, but one who I enjoyed a great deal. He has had some hits that have showed up on different commercials and movies, such as “Comeback Kid” (look it up, I am positive you’ve heard it). When he hit the stage, the Castaway guests were chomping at the bit for some music, so his show was accepted very positively. With the music playing, the cool Mexican breeze blowing and the neon lights flashing in the sky, you knew you the next few nights were going to be something very special. The second act of the night was The Wailers, Bob Marley’s old backing band who has continued to tour after his untimely passing. And for fans of the old Bob Marley & The Wailers Greatest Hits, there show contained every single one of the classics. The lead singer did very well to engage the crowd as the entire concert courtyard turned into a dance party. “One Love”, “Jamming”, “Exodus” and many more were full out sing-a-longs as The Wailers played on to midnight closing out a very fun and diverse first night of music.
However, the second day was the one all the guests were looking forward to the most as Zac Brown Band was set to take the stage right before sundown. I caught up with Clay Cook, multi instrumentalist for ZBB and a solo artists in his own right, and he told me how much he was looking forward to taking the stage because the band hadn’t played together for a few months. He told me he was meeting up with Zac that afternoon to discuss the setlist because “they knew it had to be something different and special”. And different and special it was, as ZBB performed a flawless two hour set full of song from each one of their projects, including songs I had never heard live before despite the fact that I’ve seen them live more than two dozen times.
Naturally, their set began with “Castaway” and was finished off by “Toes”, two of their island themed songs. But it was tracks such as “Day That I Die”, “Cold Hearted” and “Natural Disaster” that made this set so memorable for the die hard Zamily members who paid their way out to Mexico hoping to see their favorite band celebrate their career. Of course, there were the hits such as “Free”, and “Homegrown” thrown in, because, well, ZBB has hits. But it was refreshing to hear all of their catalogue played live. And to make this set even more memorable for me, personally, was the fact that I got to watch the majority of the show from a rooftop suite overlooking the stage with the ocean in the background at sunset, thanks to a few good friends I made while on the vacation. This set, for me, will always be one of my favorite two hours of live music that I’ve ever witnessed.
After ZBB’s set it was announced by T-Bird, the Zamily’s Manager, that Brian Collins was going to be performing at one of the bars on the resort. I had never heard Brian Collins’ music before but my friends urged me to go and see him and I am happy I did. Brian has a true Southern Ground type feel to his music and he performed a stirring acoustic set with his guitar and harmonica, as well as help from ZBB’s Daniel De Los Reyes and John Driscoll Hopkins. The catchy song “Healing Highway” really stood out to me and made me buy his album when I got back home. And I unfortunately did not get to see Michael Franti’s performance that night, but from what I heard, he had some of the best energy of any of the performers and hope to catch him in the future.
The next day we were treated to a songwriting seminar with Coy Bowles of the ZBB and a guacamole cook off with Chef Rusty Hamlin, the band’s touring chef. The seminar with Coy was outstanding as he spoke on how the band comes up with lines in songs and musical breakdowns. For instance he told us that the band goofily created the song “Castaway” based off a dance some older women were doing in the front row of a ZBB show. Or how the intro to “Colder Weather” was just stumbled upon at 5 am by Clay Cook at a piano at Kid Rock’s house, while he was still half asleep. To hear how some of the songs ZBB fans love were created was truly priceless. I even got to meet the lead singer of Dawes, Taylor Goldsmith, at the bar that afternoon. Overall, it was a solid day with lots of fun and personalized options for the fans.
That night we were treated to shows by Dawes and Kacey Musgraves. For me, aside from the ZBB sets, the two hour set by Dawes was the most memorable of the four nights. I had never heard their music before they were announced as a performer at Castaway and I spent the months leading up to the vacation, experiencing their four albums on vinyl. And wow, was I blown away by their live performance. I would describe Dawes as a folk-rock-jam band as they take a folk like approach to their songwriting with a lot of rock rifts, but then jam out for minutes at a time on almost every other song. “My Time Comes”, “Things Happen”, and “All Your Favorite Bands” are probably their most well known songs, but it was other tracks such as “I Can’t Think About It Now” and “Somewhere Along The Way” that were most impressive live because each of the band members absolutely owned their instruments with bombastic jam outs. They completely won me over and I will now see them live every time they are in my area.
Up after Dawes was country sweetheart, Kacey Musgraves. She put forth a low energy, free flowing set that paired very nicely with the breezy Mexican night. Kacey’s first album, “Same Trailer, Different Park” has become one of my favorite albums, although her second album did not really connect with me the same way. Her stage persona has changed a bit as she used to be very earthy, but now dresses in a strange tutu as her bandmates dressed in pink suits. It all comes across as a bit cheesy to me, but her songs, nonetheless, are pure country and of much quality. I watched half the set with the crowd and half the set from my friend’s rooftop with a cigar and some whiskey, which really brought together the relaxing atmosphere that Kacey creates.
The final day of Castaway included tequila tasting seminars, a dance class with Daniel De Los Reyes, and a Tropical Sunset dinner prepared by Chef Rusty with acoustic music from Darrell Scott. The food was amazing as Rusty cooked up suckling pigs and some freshly caught fish along with lots of authentic Mexican food. Darrell Scott performed on a stage that was in the middle of the ocean with help from ZBB band member Matt Mangano. It was a perfect kick off before the final pairing of Trombone Shorty and Zac Brown Band.
Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue performed on the main stage first on the final night and they put forth an equally impressive and energetic set. Trombone Shorty himself is a dynamic performer who uses every inch of the stage while he sings, raps, and plays a number of instruments, most notably, the trombone. His band members were extremely skilled as his guitarist ripped filthy solo’s and his horn and sax sections had their time to shine as well. Trombone Shorty had everyone dancing and grooving from start to finish and was much more than just a warm up for the finale of the vacation. I even got to hang with him in the crowd during ZBB’s set and he was incredibly personable.
ZBB performed the finale set of the Castaway experience with another two hour set chock full of hits and rare cuts from all of their albums. Incredibly, they did not repeat a single song from their previous Mexican set two days earlier, which I dare you to find me another act who can do that. “Quiet Your Mind”, “Settle Me Down”, and “Different Kind of Fine” were some of the rarely heard live songs that were performed, along with hits such as “Keep Me In Mind”, “Goodbye in Her Eyes” and “Beautiful Drug”.
A few highlights included Darrell Scott coming out for the song he co-wrote with Zac, “Remedy”, fiddler Jimmy De Martini’s face melting solo on their cover of “Neon”, and the “Broken Arrows” performance that Zac is featured on with the EDM artist, Avicii . Over all, the show was high energy and Zac and the boys were amped up throughout. Fittingly, the four night concert experience was capped with ZBB’s breakout hit, “Chicken Fried”, which made the courtyard feel like a family style sing-a-long. It was a masterfully executed event on all fronts as the music, food, resort, and personal attention were impeccable. Zac told the crowd he wanted to do this again next year right back at the Hard Rock. Mark my words, if they do it again, I will be there. It truly was easy living down in paradise …