Steve at Telluride #5: This is Your Life, Zackie Brown
Zac Brown Band
Trivia question for TBF scholars: When has an artist playing the current festival scored a Top Ten single on the Billboard country or pop charts in that same calendar year? I’ll leave that answer up to the archivists, but I’m willing to bet a corn dog that it’s never happened.* Until now. And the Zac Brown Band haven’t had just one Top Ten hit this year, but two. Their smash album, The Foundation, has launched both “Chicken Fried” and its follow-up, “Whatever It Is,” to the top of the country charts. ZBB have sold enough records this year to fill Stone Mountain in their home state of Georgia, but they were booked for the TBF before most of that success, which helps explain why one of the nation’s hottest bands is playing so early on the festival’s opening day.
Zac Brown’s hits sound more or less indistinguishable from the rest of modern country radio, so they’re sort of an unusual choice for this fest, which generally shies away from “new country” acts. The thing is, live, the band has more in common with Dave Matthews than with Kenny Chesney. The band is extremely tight, gives lots of love to the fiddle, and Zac himself is a tremendous singer and picker, playing an amped-up acoustic with flash and pop. The hippie kids have crowded the stage this morning and are doing their shoulder-shrugging chicken jigs to every tune, so there’s little evidence of any major-label backlash around here. Maybe it’s because Zac has a full beard and always wears caps–the kind of dude who always looks like he has a dip in. Or perhaps it owes to his Jimmy Buffet-esque, hedonistic lyrics, with shout-outs to Pabst Blue Ribbon and “rolling a fat one.” He even tries to rhyme “do me a favor” with “pour me some Jäger.” But mostly it’s because these country tunes about how much summertime fun they used to have back on the farm sounded really nice here and went straight to the pleasure centers of the folks in the crowd. Add two genuis covers: a note-perfect “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” blended in with a stunning version of Zac’s own “Free.” This was exactly the kind of under-blue-skies dance set everyone was hoping for when they came here. “A little bit of chicken fried/Cold beer on a Friday night.” Well, it’s just Thursday afternoon, but fine, I’ll take two. Everybody chicken jig!
*Brief tangent: The fact that artists at Telluride typically don’t have current radio hits is no indictment of the festival. The TBF stage features the greatest musicians on earth, not necessarily the trendiest hitmakers of the year. In a perfect world, yes, Sam Bush, John Cowan, and Tim O’Brien—or David Byrne, Elvis Costello, and Emmylou Harris, for that matter—would be charting Top 40 singles this year. Then again, it would screw up the festival. If you want hits, go see Lil’ Wayne—if you want the world’s most phenomenal live music, come to Telluride.