Chris Fryar doesn't recall exactly how or when the call was made for the Zac Brown Band to be promoted as a country act. He's just glad that was the label that wound up sticking.
"I'm not 100 percent positive about how it all came to be," said Fryar, who has played drums in the multi-stylistic Grammy-winning troupe since 2008. "But I'm pretty sure that's where we fit in most easily in terms of style. The sort of outward perception was that the band sounded most like country music, and thank goodness that's where we ended up. The country music fan base has given us such a wonderful system of support."
The country leanings are obvious in the music of the Zac Brown Band, from the sturdy Georgia tenor applied by the band's namesake leader to the combustible hoedowns that ignite in the band's breakthrough single Chicken Fried to the homespun nature of trucker ballads like Highway 20 Ride.
But take in a performance by the group and you might hear the tropically inclined original Where the Boat Leaves From give way to the Bob Marley reggae anthem One World, or the country meditation Free bleed into the Van Morrison classic Into the Mystic. You might hear echoes of blues, folk, pop and jazz-friendly jams. You might hear covers of tunes by The Beatles, The Band and Ray LaMontagne. Best of all, the Zac Brown Band doesn't just loot the pop mainstream for accents and ideas to pass off as country the way an increasing number of Nashville acts do. In this band's world, country and whatever other contemporary or roots-oriented inspirations from which it draws are equal but distinct partners.
"Every single person in the band comes from a different set of musical influences," Fryar said. "The groovy part about that is those influences help color and guide the music. When we're writing new material and trying to it out to see where a song wants to go or needs to go, one of the guys will come up with a blues lick. Another might try out a rock riff. All these little bits and pieces come in. We don't want to be known for just one style of music. To us, music is music. If we cross some genres or collide some styles, it's all music. It's all the same language. It's just different dialects all getting blown in together. It's wonderful."
Saturday marks the Lexington debut of the Zac Brown Band, but it will hardly be Fryar's first local outing. He played at the defunct Dame downtown a decade ago as a member of Oteil and the Peacemakers, a funk and jam ensemble fronted by bass guitarist Oteil Burbridge of the Allman Brothers Band, the grandfather of all genre-jumping Southern bands.
"Playing with Oteil was a huge blessing," Fryar said. "He is such a free spirit musically. Oteil possesses the ability to play anything and everything that pops into his head at any given moment. That forced me to listen and to always be attentive to what was going on around me.
"I believe every experience we have is a learning experience that helps us further down the road. How that helped me when I got into the Zac Brown Band is that I was able to listen to everything that was going on around me. As things change and evolve, I try to be attentive to it and learn to either to take part in what's happening or let it be its own little thing."
IF YOU GO
Zac Brown Band, A.J. Ghent Band, Dugas
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 14
Where: Rupp Arena, 430 W. Vine St.
Tickets: $29.50-$69.50. Available at (859) 233-3535, Rupparena.com or Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.
Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.