Friday, April 27 , 2018, 2:35 am | Fair 48º


Paul Mann: Zac Brown Band Plays It Up Big at Santa Barbara Bowl

The Grammy-winning ensemble rocks the house with large rigs and monster jams

The Grammy-winning contemporary country rock sensation known as the Zac Brown Band played one of the most elaborate live shows ever presented at the Santa Barbara Bowl last Friday night.

They brought 18 big-rig trucks onto the huge stage, cramming the outdoor amphitheater with the latest lighting and multimedia technology. They even brought their own trailer-sized custom kitchen, “Cookie,” and master Chef Rusty to cook up Southern delicacies for the band — and some lucky fans were invited to the pre-show barbecue.

The show opened with a jam-infused full set by Georgian compatriots Blackberry Smoke. These young Southern rockers look and sound similar to legendary 1970s rockers such as the Allman Brothers or Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band utilized their extended opening set to maximize playtime and played one guitar-drenched jam for nearly 20 minutes.

Playing tracks from their two releases, the band has toured as an opener for an impressive list of Southern rock superstars and garnered a large fan base in a short time.

Brown and his band of five masterful musicians took the stage at 7:15 p.m., just before sunset, and proceeded to play a set for two hours and 45 minutes. With the theme from Rocky playing in the background, the band began to play their opening number, with an explosive fiddle duel featuring fiddle maestro Jimmy De Martini, and the nearly full house exploded in a foot-stomping and hand-waving frenzy.

The band, which has been together for less than a decade, has been on a meteoric fast track to success since their first No. 1 country hit “Toes,” from their 2008 debut album The Foundation. Since then, the band has charted five No. 1 singles and won an impressive slew of awards, including the Grammy.

The band, on its first headlining tour, quickly proved why the group has become so popular. Each member of the band takes turns in the lead spotlight while exhibiting multiple layers of masterful musicianship. Brown himself played an impressive array of instruments, switching off to various guitars and bass, and even playing an electrifying bongo duet with drummer Chris Fryar on a morphed version of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t’ She Lovely.”

With a backdrop of one of the most impressive multimedia and light shows ever presented at the Bowl, the band moved in and out of an array of musical genres with ease. The band played their biggest country roots hits, but punctuated them with long, explosive rock jams more akin to groups such as Widespread Panic. In the reggae-tinged “Who Knows,” lead guitarist Clay Cook exploded into an extended guitar solo, piercing the cool night sky.

But it is the group’s impressive go-to list of cover songs that proves the true diversity of their sound. As the night wore on, the group proceeded to rearrange the sounds of some of American pop’s biggest names. The band managed to segue from a Van Morrison tune into a Dolly Parton gem, “Islands in the Stream.”

The band played a stirring version of The Band’s classic “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” displaying their Georgian roots proudly. The band even played a remarkably faithful version of the Tom Petty tune “I Won’t Back Down.”

As men in cowboy hats and pretty girls in tight blue jean shorts screamed their approval at the end of the nearly four hours of music between the two powerhouse bands from Georgia, the only thing that stopped the music in the end was the 10 p.m. curfew. The Zac Brown Band seemed like they were ready to play all night.

— L. Paul Mann is a Noozhawk contributor. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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