Go ahead, ask any two music lovers to describe the Zac Brown Band. Even with that small of a sample, you might get a dozen different answers.
They’re country, but they’re beloved by aficionados of jam bands, and reggae, and just about every musical genre in between.
They’re rockers — yes, “Enter Sandman” is actually on their set list these days — but you’re probably more likely to see Jimmy Buffett-influenced Parrotheads at their shows than rockers in Metallica shirts.
They’re southerners with a huge nationwide following, and singer-songwriters that work a surprising number of cover songs into their shows. They’re multitalented musicians who might roll out an armada of previously unused instruments for one number, then strip down to Zac, alone with an acoustic guitar, for the next.
Call them what you will, but with their still-growing popularity, there’s another term that has to be included: In this neck of the woods, they’re indisputably No. 1.
After all, ticket sales don’t lie.
On a summer that is featuring some of the biggest musical acts in the storied history of the Lake Tahoe Summer Concert Series, it’s the Zac Brown Band that scored the fastest sellout of the year for their show at Harveys this Sunday, July 20, at 6:30 p.m.
And we’re not talking about your typical “Oh, I’ll find a good deal online from a ticket broker at the last minute” sellouts. A Wednesday afternoon check of Stubhub, for example, showed barely 100 seats available, starting at close to $200 apiece. (By comparison, there were nearly 600 tickets available to see the Eagles for one of their two shows in late August.)
This is the first of two swings through California for the band on their “Great American Road Trip” tour of 2014 (they’ll play the Sleep Train Pavilion in Concord on Sept. 25), and the ticket demand for the show at Harveys is pretty typical. Given the state of much of today’s country music, which seems to fall into solid “Nashville,” “crossover” or “outlaw” categories, you have to imagine Brown’s all-encompassing approach to the music is a big reason for his success.
It’s a subject he’s not afraid to discuss, as evidenced by some head-turning comments in an interview with a Vancouver, B.C. radio station JRFM last year, in which he took country singer Luke Bryan – a friend of his – to task for his song “That’s My Kind of Night.”
“To me, country music has always been the home for a great song,” he said. “If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, daisy duke song, I’m gonna throw up. There’s songs out there on the radio right now that make me ashamed to be even in the same format as some artists.
“I’m opinionated because I care so much about the music and the songs,” he added.
And, as is apparent by the band’s set list, that passion isn’t limited to his own music.
In addition to an ever-growing roster of hits (relax, you’ll hear “Chicken Fried,” “Toes,” “Knee Deep” and their latest No. 1, “Sweet Annie,” among others), Brown and band continue to perform a wildly varied assortment of covers. Their show in Indiana last Sunday included offerings from the catalogs of Led Zeppelin (“Kashmir”), Billy Joel (“Piano Man”) and Charlie Daniels (“The Devil Went Down to Georgia”) along with, of course, “Enter Sandman.” This tour has also included frequent nods to Buffett (a medley consisting of “Where the Boat Leaves From” and “Volcano”), Pink Floyd, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Foo Fighters and … well, you get the idea.
The music will come from all angles and, if you follow the band around the country, you might not hear it played the same way twice. But, chances are it’ll feel just right, like a pair of jeans that fit just right – and the radio on, regardless of the station.
That’s the beauty of the Zac Brown Band. There might be a thousand ways to make good music, but at this still-young stage of the game, they already seem to be “knee deep” in them all.
– Unabashed Parrothead and longtime Northern California journalist Mike Wolcott is the deputy director of the Northern California Design Center. “Wally” worked at the Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times with Tim Parsons, the Tahoe Onstage editor.