Zac Brown Band closes down PNC Music Pavilion
A Night of Country with a Rock and Roll Twist
It’s that time of the year again. Bonfires, hoodies, and those fabulous cold nights. The only thing that sucks about the fall is that all of our favorite outdoor music venues are closing for the season. However, the final show for 2017 at PNC Music Pavilion located in Charlotte NC, will without a doubt go down as one of the top concerts I’ve ever attended. Zac Brown Band, Darrell Scott, and Caroline Jones know how to close a venue down.
The night started out with Caroline Jones, a woman who doesn’t just stand on stage to look good. Jones knows how to play a variety of instruments, including both acoustic and electric guitar, a dobro, banjo, harmonica, and even the harmonica. Jones’ showed off her ever-growing music style last night as her and her talented bandmates played to the fans who were lucky enough to get those VIP tickets right against the stage. Jones played five tracks for her set. With a bright smile, she and her bandmates thanked the crowd for coming out early to see them before taking their leave.
Darrell Scott, from London, Kentucky, who has been in the music scene since the 90’s, took the stage next. Scott,who has a voice that can turn any song into a southern ballad, played “Heartbreak Town” as the second song of his set. Now, if you have lived in the south for any prolonged period of time, you know that there are certain songs that you just pick up from hearing them at social gatherings, parties, and even dinners at your friend’s grandparents house. The next song of Scott’s set is definitely one of those. “I don’t even know when I learned this song. I just realized one day that I knew it. This is “Will The Circle Be Unbroken.”
When Scott started singing this song I was immediately transported back in time to a Sunday afternoon at my grandma’s house. The nostalgia was real when the crowd began to sing along with Scott who finished out the last track of his solo performance.
Scott welcomed to the stage pianist Clay Cook, and percussionist Daniel de los Reyes, who brought with him a Cajon, which for those of you who don’t know, is a box like instrument originally from Peru. “We’ve lost a lot of musical angels this year,” Scott stated into his mic. “This one is for them.” The sound of Tom Petty’s “Southern Accent” filled the arena as fans sang along with Scott in remembrance of Petty.
The stage attendance continued to grow as Scott welcomed bassist Matt Mangano and fiddler Jimmy De Martini to join them for the next track “Down to The River,” which can be found on Scott’s album Couchville Sessions. The final track of Scott’s set brought out Zac Brown Band’s drummer Chris Fryar and banjo player John Driskell Hopkins as the group of extremely talented men played a cover of “Long Time Gone,” originally performed by The Dixie Chicks. At the conclusion of this track, the house lights went out, only to turn back on moments later with a huge curtain covering the stage announcing the name of the band we had all been anxiously awaiting.
The sound of a guitar filled the air as the curtain rose a few moments later to Zac Brown Band’s opening track “Keep Me In Mind,” which was off of their second album You Get What You Give. Now I’m not usually one for huge digital screens behind an artist with a lot of distracting videos playing, however, the patterns and snippets that were playing behind the guys in ZBB went amazingly well with the songs that they played. The second track of the evening off of the fourth studio album Jekyll and Hyde.
“Homegrown” began to play much to fans delight as they sung along to the headlining band. The first cover of the evening would be played shortly after; you can imagine my surprise as I was walking out of the photo area and heard the familiar lyrics of “Use Somebody” originally performed by Kings of Leon. I was completely blown away that a country act would be covering a song that fit more into a rock category, more so blown away that the rock type song sounded amazing with vocalist Zac’s country accent.
ZBB took a quick second to slow it down for their next song as they began playing “Colder Weather” which peaked at number one on the US Hot Country Songs (Billboard) charts for 2010-11. The night continued with great music, and awesome crowd interaction as Zac motioned for Darrell Scott to once again take the mic. Scott, along with the members of Zac Brown Band, covered Travis Tritt’s classic hit “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive.” Zac told the audience to howl along to which the crowd readily threw back their head and let out a howl that sounded like a back of wolves out in Alaska.
Opening artist Caroline Jones joined the group of guys back on stage for the eighth song of the evening. “Day That I Die” featuring Amos Lee, off of Uncaged, Zac Brown Band’s third studio album. The lyrics “And when I’ve lived out my days, until the very end. I hope they find me in my home, guitar in my hands,” could easily be applied to the numerous musicians who graced the stage. The expressions that danced across their faces as they played truly showed that they weren’t just playing the music, they were feeling it.
“Loving You Easy” was the next track to grace our ears last night, as Zac walked and sang down a stage extender, and out into the crowd. He bent over and touched hands with countless fans who surrounded the extender, smiling all the way around. A familiar bass rhythm filled the arena as Clay Cook took the spotlight on the big screens. Cook began to sing a rendition of “The Whipping Post” by The Allman Brothers. Fans screamed with delight when they realised what song was being played. The cover featured several guitar solos by Zac Brown and Coy Bowles. The tribute lasted around ten minutes and was just filled with amazing music and Cook’s vocals which I’m having trouble describing in just a few words. His voice was this haggered, southern drawl that I instantly fell in love with. After this mind blowing performance, the group took a five minute intermission to catch their breaths and rest their fingers.
A battle of the beats ensued after intermission as Fryar and Reyes faced off with their two separate sets. Reyes lead the group into “Castaway” which was followed by another beachy themed favorite “Knee Deep.” Bowles literally got the crowd jumping to the beat of the music for the next track “Beautiful Drug” as he walked out on the stage extenders with his beautiful pink guitar with a psychedelic pattern straight out of the seventies painted on it. I felt as if I was at a rock concert as I watched the crowd jump in unison with Bowles who was jumping like a huge crowd of people wasn’t watching him.
Zac took the next few seconds to take center stage to say a few words. “I just want to say thank you for giving us our jobs, and I wanted to let you know, for every ticket bought tonight we’re donating to help kick cancer into the ground. Zac Brown Band donates to Camp Southern Ground, which is located in Fayetteville, Georgia. Kids learn about nutrition, and about how to treat each other. We learn how to help children with ADHD, OCD, and other diverse abilities such as Asperger syndrome and Autism Disorders. So thank you for giving back.”
The evening continued in a blur of amazing music which only got better when Zac announced they were having a few more people join them on set. The O’Connor Family, a group of six individuals who played acoustic guitar, three violins, a mandolin, and an upright bass! The track “Family Table” from their latest studio album Welcome Home. Brown once again took control of the mic, guitar in his hand as he said a few words pertaining to the next track.
“One of America’s greatest musicians ever passed away earlier this week, may he rest in peace Mr. Tom Petty.” The band began to play “Runnin Down A Dream” as the members, as well as the audience, paid a small tribute to Mr. Petty. When the track concluded, Brown once again spoke into the mic “Rest in Peace, my man.”
“Toes,” one of Zac Brown Band’s most popular song was the next on the bill, followed by “Chicken Fried.” One line of chicken fried states. “I thank god for my, for the stars and stripes, may freedom ever fly, let it ring” at this point of the song, two marines, decked out in their dress blues, marched on stage as Brown sang those patriotic lyrics. The crowd at once began clapping and whistling for the two soldiers who would give their lives to help save ours. The soldiers then marched back off stage and back into their seats which were two rows behind me.
Remmber the subtitle of this piece? The one where a country concert had a rock and roll twist to it? Well you guessed it, here comes the twist. For their encore the group took the stage for one more song. “Now as some of you may know, we have had an ongoing altercation going on between two members of the Zac Brown Band. Coy and Clay have been arguing the whole tour over who is the better guitar player. I think we should let you guys decide,” Brown announced to the crowd as Bowles and Cook each took a stage extender. Cook opened up the battle with a magnificent solo to which he challenged Bowles, who was quick to reply with a solo of his own. This battle or original shreds went back and forth until Cook played the introduction to “Sweet Child of Mine” to which Bowles scoffed and played back the intro to “Pride and Joy” by Stevie Ray Vaughn. Not to be out done, Cook replied with a piece of “Back in Black” by ACDC. This banter continued with covers of “Crazy Train,” Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The duel was then brought to head when Cook played the intro to “Panama” by Van Halen. At this point, John Hopkins took the mic from Brown and began to sing those famed opening lyrics. The crowd began to scream, sing, and jump around as if they were at the best rock concert in the planet.
With our hearts and ears both ringing with the sounds of amazing music, the Zac Brown Band took their final bow and exited the stage. As we left the PNC Music Pavilion for the last time in 2017, we were left with nostalgic memories of musicians both new and old who will be forever in the concert vault inside out head. It’s concerts like this that help us as people remember, that we may not all be made from the same fabric, but we are all connected on the same tapestry. For those few precious hours in those seats we were all united for the same reason. For our love of music. As long as we have groups like The Zac Brown Band around to help remind us of that, I believe we will all one day find peace.