Zac Brown Band Presents: Sailing Southern Ground, Days 3-4

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Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

Alex Shoaf, Caine O’Rear and Davis Inman contributed to this article.

Besides giving us a taste of the Cayman Islands, Day 3 dished up more quality music and late-night conviviality. Michael Franti & Spearhead fired up the Lido Deck as we left the island behind, churning out hits like “The Sound of Sunshine” and “Shake It.” Not necessarily falling into the same genre as Zac Brown and company but clearly a perfect fit for the cruise, Franti mentioned that Brown “mixes a lot of sounds, but makes something we can all understand.” Franti also recalled playing a gig in San Quentin Prison, during which he played a medley of Sesame Street songs (“C is for Cookie” and “Rainbow Connection”) that erased all gang-related divisions in the crowd. Ever one to make music of the unifying and unabashedly positive sort, Franti later told me during an interview that he prefers to write songs that “show” rather than “tell.” – A.S.

As the sun went down and the glasses began tinkling, the sounds of Dirty Guv’nahs covering My Morning Jacket’s “One Big Holiday” ushered in the evening. – A.S.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit has been one of the consistent high-water marks of the cruise. On Saturday night, the guitar whiz from north Alabama played songs off his upcoming solo album (recorded in Muscle Shoals), as well as tunes from his Drive-By Trucker days, including “Decoration Day” and “Goddamn Lonely Love.” Before playing the latter, Isbell said, “This song was written about my ex-wife. I still miss her but my aim is getting better every day.” – C.O.

While three days at sea proved a breaking point for many cruisers – with the Saturday night party ending well after sunrise – Sunday seemed to signify a more modest endeavor. Joey + Rory tapped into the jingoism of the “red, white and blue” theme with a packed-house Sunday concert in the Candlelight Lounge. The duo, who placed third on CMT’s Can You Duet, have the power to move the secular and pious alike, (though their “country-simple” put-on is clearly designed for the latter.) Rory played a version of his immaculate “Teaching Me How To Love You,” which takes the listener through the relationships of the singer’s life. One of the highlights in J+R revue was an appearance by Rory’s daughter, Heidi Feek, who channeled Nico with partner Andrew Combs for a show-stealing cover of Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson’s “My Rifle, My Pony and Me,” originally from the film Rio Bravo. – D.I.

After Coy Bowles early afternoon Lido Deck jam session, another “Zamily” pick of the day was Clay “Cookie” Cook’s singer-songwriter set on the Serenity Deck at sundown. Cook, who dazzled behind the Hammond B3, pedal steel, mandolin, electric guitar and harmony vocals in Zac Brown Band’s Friday and Saturday night concerts, showed off his own compositions on Sunday, which he rarely has the opportunity to do. While fumbling lyric sheets, Cook readily admitted, “I’m unorganized, which is why I have to be in someone else’s band. Thank you, Zac,” with a nod to Brown, who stood among the crowd for Cook’s performance. Cook came up the ranks in the Atlanta singer-songwriter scene – before joining the Marshall Tucker Band and ZBB as a multi-instrumental maestro – and his compositions reveal a certain soul-searching self-deprecation common to the Eddie’s Attic set. What sets Cook a notch above though, is, forgoing his chops for simple strumming on a National resophonic guitar, he’s able to pull you into his lonely world much like an early Tom Waits. His songs lean on jazz and soul, and his voice is strikingly naked unaccompanied. It was a sober note for the last sunset of the cruise, delivered by perhaps one of the chief architects of the sudden rise of Zac Brown. – D.I.

Read a wrap up of Days 1 and 2.


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