Zac Brown Band | Santa Barbara | Review | Pics

Words & Images by: L. Paul Mann

Zac Brown Band w/ Blackberry Smoke:: 05.13.11 :: Santa Barbara Bowl :: Santa Barbara, CA

Jump right to a bunch of pictures from this night here!

Check out the 2010 JamBase interview with ZBB's Clay Cook here!

Blackberry Smoke by L. Paul Mann
The Grammy winning, contemporary country rock sensation Zac Brown Band played one of the most elaborate live shows ever presented at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Some 18 big rig trucks brought the huge stage to the outdoor amphitheater crammed full of the latest lighting and multimedia technology. They even brought their own trailer-sized custom kitchen named “Cookie” and Master Chef Rusty to cook up Southern delicacies for the band and some lucky fans invited to the pre-show barbecue.

The show opened with a jam-infused set by Georgian compatriots Blackberry Smoke. These young Southern rockers look and sound similar to legendary 70s rockers like the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the band utilized their extended opening set to maximize effect, including one guitar-drenched jam that stretched to 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.

Zac Brown and his band of five masterful musicians took the stage just before sunset and proceeded to play a nearly three-hour set. With the theme from Rocky playing in the background, the band jumped into their opening number, which included 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 less than a decade, has been on a meteoric fast track to success since their first number one country hit “Toes” from their 2008 debut album, The Foundation. Since then the band has charted five number one singles and won an impressive slew of award.

Zac Brown Band by L. Paul Mann
The band quickly proved why the group has become so popular. Each member takes turns in the lead spotlight, exhibiting multiple layers of masterful musicianship. Zac Brown himself played an impressive array of instruments, switching off between 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.” Against 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 like Widespread Panic. During the reggae-tinged “Who Knows,” lead guitarist Clay Cook exploded into an extended solo that pierced the cool night sky.

But it is the group’s impressive “go-to list” of cover songs that shows 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. They managed to segue from a Van Morrison tune into a Dolly Parton’s “Islands in the Stream.” Later, they played a stirring version of The Band's classic “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” displaying their Georgia roots proudly. The band even played a remarkably faithful version of the Tom Petty’s “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 lengthy show by two powerhouse Southern bands, the only thing that stopped the music in the end was the Bowl’s 10 pm curfew, even though the Zac Brown Band seemed ready to play all night.

Continue reading for more pics of Blackberry Smoke & Zac Brown Band...

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