Zac Brown Band: Southern Star Rising

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

The band did, however, go into a seven-minute-long instrumental showcase at this year’s CMA Music Festival in Nashville.

To make way for that seven minutes of rocking out, they chose to cut “Chicken Fried” from the set list – a decision that confused many of the 70,000 people in the stands at Nashville’s LP Field that night. As the band left the stage (and didn’t come back), many in the crowd were chanting the name of the song, unsure of how the band could end the set without performing its signature hit.

That, however, is just part of the Zac Brown Band experience. Fiercely independent, enormously talented and infinitely confident in its ability to win over audiences with exquisite musicianship, the band isn’t afraid of stepping away from expectations in order to stay true to its vision.

“We played the same venue last year, and we wanted to give the audience something different,” De Martini says. “We wanted to show people we have more than that. That’s our biggest song. But we wanted to show people that we have another side to us. If we wanted to, we could do everything to build the biggest country audience in the world. But we want to go a different route. That’s just the kind of band we are.”

“A fifth of our show is for jam people,” Brown explains. “A fifth is for country people. A fifth is for songwriters. It’s all divided up and mixed together. I feel like we’re pretty unique as far as that’s concerned. We can live in a lot of different places. We can win over any crowd.”

The band is confident that it will continue to win over bigger and more diverse crowds. It should get the opportunity to do so, thanks to a soaring national profile and a packed schedule that has it performing more than 80 dates nationwide in 2010, including events as diverse as the CMA Awards, MerleFest and the Bonnaroo Music Festival.

Another one of those dates will be as the headliner of the Sailing Southern Ground cruise, which sails from Tampa to Grand Cayman, in September. The cruise will feature musical performances by Michael Franti, bluegrass band Cadillac Sky and country duo Joey + Rory, as well as a number of artists from Brown’s own Southern Ground record label. The cruise will also feature a performance by the winner of the American Songwriter-sponsored Zac Brown Band Songwriting Contest.

Zac and his band/ship mates will return to the mainland just in time for the release of You Get What You Give, which hits stores September 21. The album features fourteen songs – a hefty number, but just a sliver of the eighty Brown says he wrote between the recording of The Foundation and now.

Those fourteen songs will be a more mature brethren of the type of material featured on The Foundation, he says, calling You Get What You Give a logical follow-up that finds the group – now equipped with even more horsepower, thanks to its trio of newcomers – firing on all cylinders.

As with The Foundation, the new album will have island-inspired sounds weaved throughout, along with a lot of down-to-earth, story-driven songwriting. There’ll even be one of those now-rare Zac Brown sad songs, the heart-wrenching ballad “Colder Weather.”

“This album’s like the aging of a wine,” he says. “I would’ve never guessed The Foundation would have done what it’s done so far. But I’m almost white-knuckled, hangin’-on-to-saddles kinda scared to see what’s gonna happen after this record comes out. It’s another level from The Foundation. It is a big deal. It has truly great songs.”

And, when it all comes down to it, “great songs” are what Zac Brown Band is about.

“When I’m writing lyrics, I don’t like to just settle on a line just because it rhymes. I have to make it great,” Brown says. “You want a song that people are gonna feel. They don’t just hear it, they feel it. They get chill bumps. That’s a great song. That’s what I try to write.”

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