Positively Ziek McCarter: Con Brio’s thoughtful frontman

Con Brio will play at the Crystal Bay Casino on Friday. Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Con Brio played at Crystal Bay Casino on Feb. 10 and will be onstage this summer at the High Sierra Music Festival.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

When you listen to the beautiful funk of Bay Area’s Con Brio you become captivated by the shimmering, colorful music that is coming from the speakers. There is a glowing intensity to it, not only in the notes wafting over you like Technicolor clouds but in the effervescent spirituality imbued in the music’s message. It’s hard not to get pulled into the band’s orbit, a quality whose origin is somewhat revealed when you have the chance to talk to exuberant lead singer and founding member Ziek McCarter.

Tahoe Onstage was lucky enough to get that opportunity to interview McCarter as he arrived in Fort Collins, Colorado, on the eve of Con Brio’s opening tour slot with New Orleans’ The Revivalists. (The two bands sold out the Crystal Bay Casino on Feb. 10.) McCarter’s voice was smooth and inviting and the singer had no problem describing the passions and inspirations that fuel both his time in Con Brio and his own personal journey.

Con Brio is fronted by the dynamic Ziek McCarter.

Con Brio is fronted by the dynamic Ziek McCarter.

Right now, McCarter is using Con Brio’s music to reach people with the band’s message of love and positivity. Singles “Free and Brave” and “Money” from the group’s latest album,“Paradise,” have really struck a chord with legions of fans, the songs radiating the importance of finding fulfillment in your own spirit and resisting oppression from outside forces with love. It’s a universal message that has found fans across the globe and the band has enjoyed great success outside American borders in Japan and Europe.

Con Brio’s message translates well in its spitfire live show, which is equal parts soul, funk and rock, with McCarter taking on the role of a dynamite frontman who dances, sings and moves across the stage with inspiring aplomb. The reception by international audiences has been a surprising and humbling experience for McCarter.

“That is amazing and is something we are still adjusting to. They are responding in this way, especially to these messages in the single ‘Money’ and the single ‘Free And Brave’” songs that are about this American experience, in some ways particularly the black American experience.

“The fact there has been the response to this in an international way kind of solidifies the importance of the message. It solidifies it and grounds it even more. The culture is American the way the music mainstream music works,. There is a formula to follow. If you don’t fit in that formula, in some ways there’s not really an industry or career for you. So having hit a target in the international sector comes with a lot of responsibility. It is inspiring and a lot of the things we work with are universal concepts,” McCarter said.

What’s so charming about McCarter is how much he is enthralled by humanity and how it influences his his conviction to give back. He’s a self-reflective dude who embodies the open-minded attitude prevalent in the Bay Area. He finds nourishment for his mind, body and soul from walking in nature, camping, exercising and reading in and around his home. He would love the chance to learn how to fly so he could pilot his family around. Before he was a full-time musician he was teaching urban gardening in the Fillmore District of San Francisco to inner-city youth in elementary schools, something he would like to do again. There’s a bubbling desire to continue to positively affect people outside of music.

Tahoe Onstage

Ziek McCarter of the San Francisco band Con Brio at last November’s Off Beat Festival in Reno.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

“Music has been a positive platform for me. Inclusiveness and universal love and positivity, that’s a theme that has inspired me since I was a young child. I’ve always been interested in starting my own nonprofit, getting into philanthropy. I hope to maybe be flying on a plane and owning my own winery. I love working with the earth and sustainability. It’s a huge goal of mine to start the first black-owned botanical garden. I want my own botanical garden for sure. My life is a reflection. There are some layers that haven’t been communicated yet and I have yet to share with the world. I feel like this story, my life, can be a catalyst for a lot of positivity and the continuation of positivity and the evolution of it all,” McCarter said.

Where does this spirit come from? It’s been with him his whole life, though you could point to the death of his Army veteran father as the spark that lit his inner fire to only breed positivity. His father was killed under questionable circumstances by law enforcement in 2011 and a young McCarter took the energy he felt from that situation and channeled it into a force of love and understanding, a very daunting and inspiring task when you consider how many times the opposite has occurred.

During the recording of “Paradise,” McCarter experienced a dream that he says validated the journey he had been on since the passing of his father. The night before he came into the studio to record the ethereal track “Paradise Outro,” he was visited by his father.

“There weren’t any specific words, it was just an energy that I haven’t seen since I was a young kid and he was alive. There was a huge smile on his face and a spirit of approval that I was headed in the right direction. It only affirmed the concept and all that we were creating in the studio at the time. And the lyrics for that song “Paradise Outro” all come from that dream, so if you listen to the song it is an immediate reflection of that,” McCarter said.

“I’m trying to create a paradise and to create harmonious life for myself and my family. The inner weavings of that is what “Paradise” is about,” McCarter added

McCarter mentioned that the concept of Con Brio’s recent international Birds Of Paradise Tour was inspired by the birds of paradise that live in the jungle of Papua, New Guinea. For those unfamiliar, the males use a combination of magnificently colored feathers and patterns and extravagant dancing to attract females.

There isn’t a better analogy for what McCarter does night in and night out than that. When you peel back the feathers, there is a thoughtful soul inside him that is even more beautiful. There’s a hope that everyone knows a Ziek McCarter in their life, someone who is affable and open to what the world has to offer and interested in using their time on Earth to enrich the people around them.

-Garrett Bethmann

About Garrett Bethmann

Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. He moved to Lake Tahoe in summer 2012.

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