Zac Brown Band Talks About There New Tour

Zac Brown Band may just be the world’s greatest cover band or at least that’s been the case on its current “Down the Rabbit Hole” tour.

The tour, which began last summer, found the ZBB mixing all or parts of at least 15 songs done by other artists into it’s a nearly two ½ hour show, combining covers with the group’s own hits the audience has come to hear.

“I think we’ve got 15 new songs we got ready for this show we’ve never played before,” Brown said during last summer’s opening night show in Lincoln, Nebraska. “You’re going to get a taste of our background and influences. This is kind of a new concept for us.”

So, after talking about growing up listening to his mother’s collection of 70s rock albums, Brown slipped a bit of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” into “Free.” And there were plenty of straight up covers, both new and old. A recent show in Tulsa featured the group’s versions of songs by Pearl Jam, Def Leppard, Rage Against The Machine, Simon & Garfunkel and James Taylor.

That’s nothing new for ZBB, which put together its show in the week immediately preceding the opening night concert.

That began with the video, lighting and sound techs getting things set up and dialed in. Then the band arrived to rehearse.

The rehearsals, multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook said in an interview, are needed to, among other things, get the eight band members’ in-ear monitors dialed in, work with any change in equipment and stage setup — “You have to make sure you won’t fall off the stage” and “You to have at least a day of everybody playing together so we can get the music right.”

Exactly what that music was and continues to be wasn’t determined until about an hour before the first concert — something that could happen at any ZBB show. So Cook summarized the show like this:

“You’ll definitely hear Zac Brown Band songs. You’re definitely going to hear covers. We always do covers. We’ve got a great bowl to draw from. The last three or so tours, the covers I thought were shoo-ins, by the time we finished rehearsals, I don’t think any of them were in the show at all. So we could be doing about anything.”

While the group has had 13 No. 1 hits on the country charts, including the likes of “Chicken Fried,” “Toes,” “Sweet Annie,” “Homegrown” and “Beautiful Drug,” ZBB doesn’t stay in any genre lane, blending rock, folk, country, tinges of Caribbean sounds and even some dance elements into its distinctive, unclassifiable sound.

Understandably enough, Cook, who plays guitar, keyboards, mandolin, steel guitar and adds a high tenor vocal, wouldn’t attempt to put a label on the band’s music.

“I think of it a lot more simply than genre,” Cook said. “To me there are two kinds of music, good music and bad music. I’m such a music geek I can get into arguments with people about where a band falls or where an album falls in terms of genre. But I don’t have time for that

“I just know I can pull up a playlist on my phone and know why I skip a certain song. There are times when you don’t want to hear Wham! There are times when you want to hear a Taylor Swift song. If you’re in a crowd of people and AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ comes on, it’s hard to deny that. If you’re in your car and you’ve heard ‘Back in Black’ 20 times that week and it comes on, that’s different.”

Cook, who played with John Mayer, Shawn Mullins and was a member of the Marshall Tucker Band for two years before joining ZBB in 2009, says he always likes being in and hearing the band, even when the ZBB is onstage in front of tens of thousands.

“Outside of music, we’re just a big family who like kidding around with each other,” Cook said. “Musically, I like hearing Coy (Bowles’s) guitar solos and Chris (Fryar’s) drums fitting in with Zac’s guitar. I get excited about the crowd getting excited about Zac’s songs.

“I’ll jam with certain bands and they don’t have a thing,” he said. “We get together and we’ve got a sound. I don’t know what it is, it’s good to me – whether we’re trying to play James Brown or Zac Brown, it doesn’t really matter.”

So are there any songs that Cook really likes, that he wants to play every night of a tour?

“When I get toward the end of a tour, I kind of don’t get excited about any of them,” Cook said. “But the first time we hit it, it’s different. I’ll hear a song we’re playing and think ‘That’s the Zac Brown Band right there.

“There are a couple songs that are just really challenging. “I Play the Road,” from the second album, the way we play it is so fast and my part is so intricate it makes the hair stand up on my arms. Every now and again, I’ll screw it up. That’s fun in a musician way. But all the really matter is how the crowd reacts.”

In fact, Cook said, Brown has been known to change the set mid-show based on audience reaction.

“He really does read the crowd,” he said. “That’s probably why he’s Zac Brown. When you have eight people on stage and all the video and lighting, it’s really tough to change a song. But we do it.”

The musical mix is also why he’s Zac Brown — which he acknowledged during the opening night Lincoln show:

“That’s what defines a real artist: somebody that made music and refused to be put in a box,” Brown told the crowd. “Thank you for following us on our journey.”

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