Several minutes into the Zac Brown Band‘s performance of Who Knows, Saturday night at Rupp Arena, it was easy to forget what song you were hearing.
Echoing the song’s stormy lyrics about thunder and lightning for 40 days and nights, the Who Knows had morphed from its reggae ease into a torrent of solos by guitarist Clay Cook, violinist Jimmy De Martini, opening artist A.J. Ghent and just about everybody else in the band. As Cook and Ghent were trading licks, you started to think maybe the frontman and namesake of the band had ceded this little party to the other musicians while he slapped high fives with fans around the stage thrust. Then Brown himself launched into a glorious solo.
It was the most, but certainly not the only thrilling moment in a concert that proved that if you have not seen the Zac Brown Band live, you have not truly experienced the Zac Brown Band.
What you hear on the radio, while catchy, sunny and good, only hints and what this ensemble is capable of. Brown did not name his group “band” because he’s modest. This is a band in the truest sense of the word: highly skilled musicians tuned in tight harmony. And for the roadshow that rolled through Lexington Saturday, Brown did not put together a lineup of Nashville hopefuls record labels were trying to push. The country music award-winning act was supported by steel guitar wizard A.J. Ghent and blues rock quartet Dugas, who both set a non-genre specific stage for the Brown Band, which itself has defied labels while topping country charts.
Since bursting onto the charts late in the last decade, the Brown Band has booked spots on the indie-rock Bonnaroo Festival, opening for jam band darlings the Dave Matthews Band, and most recently recording an EP with rocker Dave Grohl, all while topping country radio playlists.
Saturday’s concert offered a little something for everyone interested, maybe best illustrated by the arc right before the encore. Brown settled at the edge of the thrust for an aching rendition of the ballad Colder Weather, easily his most moving vocal performance of the evening. That led into a chilling rendition of Metallica’s — yes, Metallica, at a “country” show – Enter Sandman that did not miss the original artists for a moment and benefited from De Martini’s effect-laden violin. All that led up to the feel-good anthem Chicken Fried, which has to rank up there with Garth Brooks’ Friends in Low Places for gregarious sing-alongability.
Somehow, that trio made sense, as did the whole Zac Brown Band thing.
Just a couple months ago, we saw Florida Georgia Line at Whitaker Bank Ballpark as a county act trying hard to simultaneously be and run away from country. Saturday, with Zac Brown Band, we saw a band that thinks about making great music, regardless of the genre it fits into.