What does a country band with numerous stylistic resources at its disposal choose as a show opener when it hits the road? If you're the Zac Brown Band, you choose an act that is even less genre-specific.
Cue the lap steel sounds of the A.J. Ghent Band, the funk, groove and spiritual soul ensemble so new it doesn't even have a full-length album out. But its source material is rooted in sacred steel music, the jubilant slide-driven sound played on the lap steel and pedal steel guitars born in Pentecostal church services.
Ghent is a third-generation sacred steel player. But he chose to take the music "out of the box." In this instance, that means out of the church.
"In the church that I grew up in, that wasn't really a good thing to do, to take it outside of Pentecostal tradition," Ghent said. "But I pretty much decided I wanted to add a little different flavor. Plus, I didn't want to talk religion or write religious songs all the time. I wanted to write about life's inspirations and things that I've been through, things that my family has been through. So that kind of took me way out of the box and let me do something more."
First up for Ghent was a stint with jam band veteran Col. Bruce Hampton. Now as one of several decidedly non-country artists opening for the Zac Brown Band this fall (his predecessor was Trombone Shorty), Ghent is delivering a feverish soul-funk sound to arena-size audiences that have not only never heard of him, they have likely never heard anything remotely like him.
"It's not too big of a challenge," Ghent said. "If anything, it's a matter of introducing what we do, and we do that for any audience willing to listen.
"As an opening act, we go out and mix so much together in the time that's given, so people don't always get an opportunity to hear the variety of things we're capable of. But we definitely mix a lot of flavors into our music, much like what the Zac Brown Band does. We're kind of cut from the same cloth. Along with our funk and the soulful sides, we may throw a little rock in there and add in a little Jimi Hendrix.
"It's definitely a mixture that doesn't let us get categorized into one sound."
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.