The advertised start time for the Zac Brown Band (ZBB) show at Germain Arena in Naples, FL was 7 PM. I should have done more research about the show, although I did have a set list from the bandâ€™s show in Nashville on December 29th. There were two warm up bands, so our arrival at about 7 PM did not create any heartache about missing some of the headline bandâ€™s performance.
Opening the show was Nic Cowan, who will be on his own tour of smaller venues over the next two months. His feature song was his latest single â€œHard-Headed,â€ and his five piece band out of Atlanta performed admirably. Iâ€™d expand further, but the focus of the review is on the Zac Brown Band. Following Cowan and his band was Sonia Leigh. Sonia is an enthusiastic lead singer and guitarist. She plays on the same Southern Ground label as ZBB, and has co-written some songs with Zac Brown. A highlight of her performance was the announced filming of a portion of the show for her new single video.
After the two opening acts, there was a 10-15 minute wait for the headliners. They opened the show behind the curtain attached to the stage lighting, their silhouettes visible in the now expanded two tier stage. Early in the song, the curtain disappeared, delighting the crowd that was clearly enthused to see the band. The band all started on the top tier of the stage before descending down the steps to the lower main stage. Both drummers and a keyboard remained on the upper stage. As in Nashville, the opening song was â€œKeep Me in Mind,â€ and the band was in excellent sound and voice. The old playlist went out the window on the second song with my personal favorite, and one of the bandâ€™s most popular songs, â€œKnee Deep.â€ Zac asked the crowd if they wanted to â€œget lost tonight.â€Â The crowd roared its approval after the song, definitely some of the loudest applause of the night. The main bass player, John Hopkins, took over the main vocals for â€œItâ€™s Not OK,â€ a rollicking song that had the crowd amused and enthused.
With video of vehicles on a road and a city with skyscrapers in the background, â€œI Play the Roadâ€ from the latest CD was next, another strong performance. â€œAs Sheâ€™s Walking Awayâ€ has an appealing and substantial Allan Jackson vocal performance on the original recording, but Hopkins filled in admirably on that part of the song. The excellent sound of the performance, almost recording studio quality, was strongly evident in the playing of â€œNo Hurry Today.â€ Zacâ€™s potent vocals were also a highlight. Violinist Jimmy De Martini was front and center stage (there was an extended middle portion of the stage that split two standing general admission floor areas) for â€œWhiskeyâ€™s Gone.â€ Other members of the band took turns visiting the stage extension during the show, to the delight of the crowd. De Martini also led in the next song with the violin intro of â€œJolene,â€ which had extensive crowd participation and featured a fine saxophone portion by David Englehart.
Zac introduced â€œQuiet Your Mindâ€ as a song written while on the Florida coast. This song again featured a hearty Zac vocal. Following the song, there appeared to be a small skirmish to the left of the stage, and Zac quickly and emphatically implored the agitators to cease their activity, or â€œYouâ€™re Out!â€ His directive quieted the disturbance.
Following the song, Zac spoke of â€œCamp Southern Grand,â€ which he founded as a facility to help children overcome their emotional, academic and social difficulties. The camp is scheduled to be built on 500 acres in Fayette County in Georgia. One dollar from every ticket sold on the ZBB tour is being allocated to the camp, which is scheduled to open in two years.
The Jimmy Buffet flavored reggae â€œWhere the Boat Leaves From,â€ which also contained snippets of older songs â€œCrazy Loveâ€ and â€œIslands in the Stream,â€ was notable for itâ€™s amazing violin picking by De Martini.
A surprise of the night was the performance of the upcoming single for the CD that Zac announced would be released in two months. â€œThe Day that I Dieâ€ had a passionate Zac vocal emphasizing his love of music and the lyric that he would be content to be found in his home with guitar in hand on his last day.
Before launching into the cover of Charlie Danielâ€™s â€œThe Devil Went Down to Georgia,â€ Zac implored the crowd to â€œhave a drink and hoist your cup.â€Â The song was played at a feverish pace, and the band seemed uplifted as well as they took turns visiting the front center stage, and tossed a tambourine into the crowd.
Calming down a bit for â€œWho Knows,â€ the crowd enjoyed another prominent sax performance by Englehart, and subsequent center stage visits by most of the band, including Zac playing lead on guitar and yelling to the crowd. An extended version of the Allman Brothers sounding song also featured an exhilarating solo exchange between Englehart and guitarist Clay Cook.
Hopkins moved to the standup bass next for â€œHighway 20 Ride,â€ another huge crowd favorite. Cook played a superb pedal steel guitar as the crowd sang along for most of the song.
Introducing the song as one that some guy told him to play, Zac led into the comedic â€œSic â€˜Em on a Chicken,â€ which included a false ending. Solos came from the mandolin and the violin.
Zac asked the crowd to â€œhelp me sing this one,â€ as he launched into the famous â€œToes.â€ The crowd obliged Zacâ€™s request in full, bringing a big smile to his face. This song also brought out the dancers in the standing area in front of us.
On â€œMake This Day,â€ Zac asked the crowd for help with the chorus. Toward the end of the song, a huge black man came out and added an inspired rap portion to the song. I could only hear that his first name was apparently Matt. His appearance clearly incited the crowd.
This led to the encore, which started with the drummers doing solos, quite skillfully. The full band then returned and was led by Clay Cook in the Marshall Tucker Band song â€œCanâ€™t You See.â€ Cook exhibited a strong voice, and also played an impressive lead guitar solo. Di Marti also lent a strong violin lead in an extended version of the song that finished with a solo by Cook.
Zac again picked up the crowd with his exceptional vocals on â€œColder Weather.â€ Cook returned to the keyboard, guitar and violin solos were superb, and then the arena went dark at the end of the song.
Thrilling the crowd, Zac and Cook led the fans into â€œAmerica the Beautiful,â€ which fed directly into the show closer of â€œChicken Fried.â€
ZBBâ€™s portion of the show was a full hour and forty five minutes, and it is show that I think should be at the top of most peopleâ€™s must see list of shows. The sound was hearty and clear, and the complete band played with total enthusiasm. I do have a minor complaint and that was the exclusion of â€œWhatever It Isâ€ from the song list. Since there were t-shirts sold with the song title on it, I thought it would be played, and it is also a personal favorite.
Nevertheless, I look forward to seeing ZBB again in the near future, and am pleased that they will have a new CD out in a couple of months.