Concert Spotlight: Interview with Zac Brown Band

Country Hybrid Return To Their Roots

Atlanta-based Southern rock/country band Zac Brown Band has been together since 2002 and hit it big in 2008 with their debut single “Chicken Fried.” The band plays PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ on Friday and Saturday, July 7 and 8, their only shows this summer in the tristate region. With six albums behind them and 11 #1 hits like “Toes,” “Free,” “Colder Weather,” “Homegrown” and “Loving You Easy,” Zac Brown Band’s music is as inviting as it is timeless, with storytelling that feels like your own backyard party and melodies that you cannot get out of your head.

The three-time Grammy winners have also earned CMA and ACM Awards and many more, they have appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, Saturday Night Live, The Late Show with David Letterman and many others and they have collaborated with everyone from Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett to Dave Grohl and Trombone Shorty.

ZBB multi-instrumentalist/vocalist John Driskell Hopkins spoke with New York City Monthly about the band’s Welcome Home Tour, his favorite memory playing in New York and why he’d rather take the bus over a jet with his bandmates…

You have been with the band since 2005 when Zac Brown Band released Home Grown. Six albums deep and many years later, what will be most different touring this summer and sharing new album Welcome Home, which finds the band returning to its roots?

We’ve got a great new look, and a great new set. We have a new thrust and catwalk, we kept growing and growing and we had background singers and horns and we were up to thirteen singers on stage but we trimmed it down to eight. We miss those guys a lot, but the core band is the focus, that’s what you’re going to see. It’s going to be more voice and instruments and less electronic enhancement, but that being said, our lighting and LED walls are really exciting, but it’s back to the core eight. It’s about the same as the band was in 2010.

How have you grown and changed as a man and a musician since 2005?

I think that after you’ve been in the same group for twelve years, it becomes part of your identity and it’s part of who you are. Not that you’ve changed as a person mentally, morally or personally, but you grow as a professional and become very confident in explaining things about your group. We have a thing and the thing cannot be encompassed in one word properly, but I know what it feels like, and it feels like home.

But, there are times where we’ll be in really nice hotels and resorts and flying on charter jets and all these lavish things and then we’re back on the bus and there’s this sigh of relief. Here’s my bed and here’s my drawer where all my stuff is. The bus is sometimes more comfortable than all the hotels and the lavish places we have been in. After twelve years, it has taught me a lot about how to organize my time and to get along with people that you’re in close quarters with. It’s taught me how to be a better communicator. And it’s taught me how important family is to me, ’cause when you’re on the road it’s tough sometimes. It’s taught me to cherish in life what is most important.

You are playing PNC Bank Arts Center in Central New Jersey for two nights, July 7 & 8, and while there are no NYC dates this time around, many people will come from the region to see you guys. Have you found tri-state area fans to react positively to Zac Brown Band music over the years?

Well, we played the baseball stadium in New York, we played Madison Square Garden, Camden (basically Philly), we play Hartford every year. I think we have a strong following every year. I hate that we’re not in New York this year.

It makes sense to mix it up and shake it around. I mean who doesn’t want to play Madison Square Garden? I mean we’re in the baseball arenas now, we love to play all over the world. We played Atlanta three weeks ago and we haven’t played there in a year. Atlanta folks were kinda scratching their head, but it didn’t present itself properly. I hope New Yorkers do make the trip.

Zac Brown Band has played a number of morning shows in NYC, late night shows, Madison Square Garden. What’s a moment for you personally or something with the band that happened in New York that you will never forget?

I think it’s probably when we played Rage Against The Machine as we opened for Dave Matthews Band at Giants Stadium back in 2010. That was our first time on any stage that was that big, that vast. That was before the Kenny Chesney football tour. We played Rage Against The Machine, we played “Killing In The Name” which we loved playing in the bars back in the day. I remember falling on the stage in the middle of it. It was just one of those moments we’re in New York City, it’s with Dave Matthews Band and we’re at Giants Stadium. It was just fun that way, that’s one of those moments I’ll never forget.

One of the major draws to me about Zac Brown Band is you’re all incredibly talented musicians, with multiple talents, memorable harmonies and melodies. What are you most looking forward to this summer as you share the ZBB “Family Table” with fans?

Well the best fan experience that’s consistently happening just about every night except the night we leave, Coy (Bowles) and Danny de los Reyes and I will go to the merchandise booth and stand there as long as it takes and we have our own albums and shirts and things, if you pick up CDs and everything for $10 we’ll take pictures and sign things. It’s rewarding for me to get to do a photo and talk to everybody and make it a personal moment. I think if more people knew on the front end we’d have more people going. We’re going to try to make that an experience with about half the guys from the band, Darrell Scott did that with us. We’re looking forward to that interaction more this year.