Just when I thought I had seen (and heard) it all, along comes the Zac Brown Band (ZBB). I know a little bit about a lot of things, but ZBB was not on my radar, save for the knowledge that the band is wildly popular and that their one-night-only appearance at Bethel Woods sold out very quickly.
As I race to and fro in the Upper Delaware Valley, I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to experience the unfamiliar, and every so often I get a chance to have an up-close-and-personal moment with some of the legendary performers who grace the pavilion stage (www.bethelwoodscenter.org ) each season. If I’m really lucky, I sometimes join contest winners, fan club presidents and other members of the media in a traditional “meet and greet,” in which the performers pose for pictures, sign some autographs and shake hands with those of us allowed into the inner sanctum—backstage and behind the scenes. Hopefully, I’ll never reach the stage where I become blasé or take for granted these rare glimpses at the stars, but truth be told, (and just like me) it gets a little old.
Imagine my surprise then, when sitting in the booth with the crew from Thunder 102, I got word that I had been invited to Zac Brown’s “Eat & Greet.” Sure that I was looking at a typo in the schedule, I asked Bold Gold Media’s Regina Hensley what that could possibly mean? “Zac is touring with Chef Rusty,” I was told. “In fact, here he comes now.” Sure enough, celebrity chef Rusty Hamlin had stopped by to say hello and to invite us to join Zac and the band for a meal, replete with foods procured from our local farms and markets. Whipping out my trusty tablet, I scanned pages and learned that “what started as a simple way to reduce the awkwardness which arises at a typical rock band ‘meet and greet’ has blossomed into the largest traveling display of southern hospitality known to man.” Huh? Intrigued, I read on. “Before arriving in each town, Chef Rusty reaches out to the local farms that provide the fruit, vegetables and other staples needed and combines what he’s collected that day with the beef and pork tenderloin, rubbed and grilled in Zac’s signature Georgia Clay Rub and Love Sauce, into a memorable southern meal. The band mingles and joins in at the table, and Rusty gets to meet his guests, discussing recipes and trading stories with fans of all ages.”
In fact, the band not only mingled, but served the sumptuous meal to their fans, which included beer cheese muffins, Zac’s pocket knife coleslaw, corn spoon bread (with jalapenos) and chocolate peanut butter (OMG) biscuit pudding. Before making the rounds, Brown welcomed his guests, shared his reasons for the “Eat & Greet” and his desire to do something “completely different and more personal” for his fans. “We’re gonna feed you real good and then we’re gonna rock your face off,” he announced, before making his way to my table, pulling out a chair and chatting. “I told you I’d get to you,” he said with a wink and a smile as he shook hands with others nearby. “What’s it like living here year ‘round?” he asked, and we proceeded to chat about the weather, the economy and the Woodstock Music Festival. Apparently, my reputation (uh oh) precedes me, and Brown was aware that I had been on the grounds back in 1969 (http://www.riverreporter.com/issues/09-08-13/feature.html ).
Best known for their signature country/folk sound, the band is always “full of surprises,” and I left dinner early to set up my camera and observe the crowd hooting and hollering in anticipation of the show. Opening act “Court Yard Hounds” (two thirds of the Dixie Chicks) entertained first with their signature harmonies and fiddle expertise, before Zac and the band hit the stage for two full hours, covering everything from Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” sprinkled in with their own “Chicken Fried,” “Jump Right In,” and “Knee Deep.” These guys (IMHO) are the real deal—laid back, down-home, country folk with a flair for hospitality and the ability to make thousands feel as if they’re on the front porch having a good time with good old boys, pickin’ the guitar and havin’ a beer. “I’m not much of a guitar player,” Brown shared, “but I’m on stage with the best of the best. I hope you’ll all come back, and when you do be sure to leave room for dinner.”