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!
Artist: Levi Lowrey Album: Levi Lowrey Label: Southern Ground Artists, Inc. Interview Date: 3/26/14
I got the chance to speak to Levi Lowrey about a number of topics, including his self titled album, Levi Lowrey, which was recently released on Zac Brown’s label, Southern Ground Artists, Inc. Check out the question and answer session with Levi and be sure to pick up his album by clicking here, itun.es/us/ZQGbW QUESTION (MTMS): Thank you for giving your time to speak to me. I know you just came back from the Dominican Republic (Sun, Sand, & Southern Ground), how was that? ANSWER (LEVI):Yeah, I got in last night. It was nice, but I am happy to get back to Georgia. QUESTION (MTMS): I saw a lot of pictures and posts on facebook and twitter regarding your individual performance. It seemed like there was a lot of buzz. ANSWER (LEVI):The first night was a lot of fun. The hotel forgot to barricade it off so anyone that was at the resort could come out, so it was a lot of fun. It was a huge crowd with a lot of people who didn’t pay for it. So it was awesome. QUESTION (MTMS): I know that you wrote all the songs except for one on your newest album and pride yourself as a songwriter. How many songs did you write for this particular project? ANSWER (LEVI):I was writing a lot and think we ended up with about twenty or so that we entertained. All I did between records was write and taking trips between Nashville and Georgia.
QUESTION (MTMS): What is the process is breaking down the songs to select which make it onto the record? ANSWER (LEVI):Well, I typically take the ones that have no shot on country radio. That’s how I choose my songs on my record. The ones I love. The others I try to sell off to other artists, the catchy stuff.
QUESTION (MTMS): December 31 was a standout track to me, is there any meaning or a story behind that song? ANSWER (LEVI):It was a song I wrote with Travis Hill. He actually wrote the song “Anything But Mine” by Kenny Chesney which is the only song by Kenny Chesney that I like. We wrote the song about how things can turn around in one second. It is just a strange part of the human psychology how the new year comes along and there is a new second. It came during a time where my wife was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and she was starting to get better and was in remission. So it was how things were changing.
QUESTION (MTMS): I saw the Black Sabbath song, War Pigs, made it onto the record. How did you decide to put it there? ANSWER (LEVI):Zac (Brown) wanted it there from the get go and I fought him on it as much as I could. He ended up winning out. I think he was right, I will now admit it. I did not think it fit the collection of work that I had recorded and thought that the song Long Way Home was a good stopping point. But after listening to the album straight through when I got a copy, it seemed to me as it was thrown at the end as a we are done thing. And I think it’s now resonating with a lot of people.
QUESTION (MTMS): I noticed the production on this album seems so big and different from your last album. Was that your choice to go in this direction? ANSWER (LEVI):It’s actually a direction I’ve always gone in with my band and my records myself. My first album with Zac was a departure from me. The bluegrass thing has always been a part of me as I grew up playing fiddle and in Bluegrass bands. I had never made a record like that as I came from a pop punk band. I mean, I played fairs and around Georgia. But when I signed with Zac and recorded this record it was just how that record came out. And I am happy with that first record, but this one is more like what I’ve been doing.
QUESTION (MTMS): I saw a lot of posts by Clay Cook (of the Zac Brown Band and Southern Ground Artists, Inc.) about this album. What role did he play in making this album? ANSWER (LEVI):He and Matt Mangano were the Producers on this record. So he came in every day and put in fourteen or fifteen hour days as well as playing on most of the songs. I say the album sounds like my band with special guest, Clay Cook. He brought a lot of incredible ideas, so did Matt Mangano. It would not sound as good without those two guys right there.
QUESTION (MTMS): I know you are headed out on the Levi v. Clay Tour 2 soon. I will be at your New York City tour stop at Joe’s Pub. What can we expect from that tour? ANSWER (LEVI):Oh man, it’s hard to describe. The first tour was so unique. I know everyone gave us a good response the first time and have wanted a second round. It’s two guys, no setlist, multiple instruments. We just sit up there and pretty much give each other shit all night long and play on each other’s songs. You’ll hear songs from this album, songs no one has heard before, and who knows what else. We pull out covers and try to stump each other as much as possible. He may be a little bit better than it than I am because he is more musically versed being a Berkley graduate and all. There will be some curveballs as we try to stump each other. We may even merge some tunes that no one has heard before. Last time we did a complete A minor version of ‘Wherever We Break Down’ that was really dark and strange sounding.
QUESTION (MTMS): I have seen you perform many times opening for the Zac Brown Band, in many places such as Madison Square Garden. Any plans to get back out there with them? ANSWER (LEVI): Any time I get to play with anyone at Madison Square Garden I will take that opportunity. But right now no other dates yet with them. Hopefully, sometime in the soon.
QUESTION (MTMS): I’ve enjoyed seeing the Southern Ground rise as I saw you back at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City and then just a few years later play the Garden. ANSWER (LEVI):The Bowery Ballroom, to date, is one of my favorite shows I’ve ever played. I went in not knowing what to expect as it was just me and an acoustic guitar and a packed room. And New York City surprised me so much because it went from a huge raucous crowd to a listening room at a split second. And you guys were so incredible to me. It gave me validation for what I do for a living. It made me feel like I can make it as a songwriter and can make people listen to what I have to say. That show still stands out to me to this day as one of my favorites. I try to have just one of those moments from that night per show. Even if the crowd is against you, if I can get one moment the way that whole show was that night, that makes it all worth it.
(My photo of Levi & the ZBB from the night at the Bowery Ballroom, NYC in February 2009)
QUESTION (MTMS): Do you have a favorite song off the new album? ANSWER (LEVI):I am very partial to ‘Trying Not To Die’. It is one one of my favorite that I’ve ever written and one that came to me fast. And to have one of my heroes, Mac McAnnally, help me on it and sing background, play piano and guitar on it, just put it over the top for me.
QUESTION (MTMS): I saw in the liner notes, people like Mac, and Wyatt Durrette, Coy Bowles & Clay Cook of ZBB, and even Clare Bowen from ABC’s Nashville, all helped you. How does it feel to work with all these great musicians? ANSWER (LEVI):It’s awesome and I can say it truthfully that they are all my good friends. I talk to them on a regular basis. I am fortunate. To have Mac MacAnnally to call or text with. Or to be able to sit down with someone so talented like a Clare Bowen. Me and Clay call each other and talk each other through crap all the time. We are really good friends and I wanted them all on the record. Luckily, they all are musical bad-asses.
QUESTION (MTMS): I saw in the liner notes that you thanks Zac Brown for being able to beat him in Madden from time to time. What’s the deal with that? ANSWER (LEVI):Zac likes to play Madden after every show and he gets on an elliptical. I am not well versed in work out machines but he gets on one of those and plays Madden. He has gotten pretty good. I used to beat him every time but he has been studying. The last time we played, I finally got him online and set up a profile for him so we can play when he’s at home and I’m at home. I beat him 38-10 and he hasn’t asked for another rematch because I think he’s a little afraid. He prefers a run on the elliptical, I prefer a cold beer.
QUESTION (MTMS): I’ve seen your songs on Zac Brown Band records and even Randy Houser’s newest album, do you have any other songs right now that will appear on other artists’ albums? ANSWER (LEVI):I hope so. There are a lot of good ones out there right now. It depends on these Nashville artists and what road they go and if they are going to record some songs with substance. I think everyone is getting a little tired of it right now and I’m kind of hopeful because this new executive came out not too long ago and made the comment maybe we should start recording better songs and not just stuff about pick-ups and beer. I have hoped things will turn back around. Everything runs in cycles. Even back in the day when Chet Atkins came to town and produced these slick-pop records, that I honestly cannot stand, but that was the trend. But then came Outlaw. So everything moves in trends and cycles and hopefully we are at the end of this “bro” country bullshit. QUESTION (MTMS): What would you like listeners to take away from your most current record? ANSWER (LEVI):Its personal, almost like reading my journal. I think the biggest thing for me is December 31 and how everything can turn around in a second. I hope people can find hope in the songs and relate to the songs. If you are going through the same struggle you can come out the other side.
Zac Brown Band Comcast Theater Hartford, CT September 1, 2013
Just in case anyone doubted the live prowess of the Zac Brown Band, they surely set the record straight on Labor Day Weekend in Hartford, Connecticut. It was a hot, humid and sticky day in New England, but that did not stop people of all ages to fill the Comcast Theater pit, seats, and lawn to the very last spot. The parking lot was extra rowdy as tailgaters got themselves ready, for what I consider, the best Band in the land.
Zac and his crew of musical geniuses took to the stage at approximately 8:45 and performed one of the most action packed shows I have ever witnessed. The summer anthem “Jump Right In” got everyone dancing and singing off the bat and ZBB never looked back. Armed with a laser light show and stunning visuals on the big screen behind them, every portion of the performance was masterfully executed.
But as much as the visuals were impressive, the real star of the show was music. And for anyone who regrettably has not seen Zac Brown Band live yet, they are not your typical country act. In fact, they are far from it. What other artist or band out there, who churns out #1 after #1 on country radio, can play just some of their “hits” and the fans are left satisfied? What other Band can play Metallica, Nirvana, David Gray, Van Morrison and James Taylor covers with such authenticity? The answer is there is only one.
And as it such with every ZBB show, Zac is the obvious ring-leader, but makes it known that every member of the Band is equally as important. From Clay Cook and Coy Bowles’ rousing electric guitar solo’s on “Who Knows” to Jimmy De Martini’s face melting fiddle solo’s on songs like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” to John Driskell Hopskins’ surprising rendition of “Enter Sandman” to Chris Fryar and Daniel De Los Reyes perfection on the percussionist instruments, each member shows how truly superior ZBB is from anyone else in the game today.
Of course, no show would be complete without ZBB’s signature song, “Chicken Fried”, which produced an eruption of vocal chords all singing in unison from the stage to the very back of the lawn. Zac was extremely demonstrative with his stern and focused look as he picked and strummed his guitar with intensity.
What really surprised me and much of the crowd was when the band came out for their encore dressed in glow in the dark skeleton outfits that brought an air of mystery and darkness. And the song selections fit right with costume stage as they rocked out to “Uncaged”, Led Zeppelin’s “Kasmir” and a stirring rendition of The Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”. I may get knocked for it, but I think ZBB’s version of the song one ups the original as Jimmy De Martini absolutely destroys any other fiddler I’ve ever seen.
All in all, the Zac Brown Band is the best in the business for my money. The overall excitement and true appreciation for all genres of music makes them truly unique. In an age where music acts play the same songs and same setlist night after night, no Zac Brown Band show is like one before. Simply put, ZBB is the best band in land.
Jump Right In
As She’s Walking Away
Day For the Dead
Into the Mystic (Van Morrison Cover)
Seven Bridges Road
Babylon (David Gray Cover)
Me & Julio (with Brad Stella)
Love the One You’re With/Iko Iko (with Brad Stella)
All Apologies (Nirvana Cover)
The Frozen Man (James Taylor Cover)
Keep Me In Mind
Settle Me Down
Highway 20 Ride
Sic ’em on a Chicken
Goodbye in Her Eyes
Enter Sandman (Metallica Cover)
Kashmir (Led Zeppelin Cover)
The Devil Went Down to Georgia (The Charlie Daniels Band Cover)