For a band that broke through with “Chicken Fried,” it only seems natural that the Zac Brown Band would connect food and music. That’s the notion behind their Southern Ground Music and Food Festival — the best possible grub and grooves the guys can get.
The outdoor festival stopped in downtown Nashville last month with guests like Jerry Douglas, Alan Jackson, Amos Lee and the Lumineers, among many others. Its next stop is Oct. 20-21in Charleston, S.C., with the Avett Brothers and John Mayer already on board.
Although it’s in its second year, the ambitious idea has not reached its expiration date. Brown says he’s looking to expand the concept to more cities in 2013. Meanwhile, everybody in the band — Brown, Coy Bowles, Clay Cook, Jimmy De Martini, Chris Fryar, Daniel de los Reyes and John Driskell Hopkins — says they’re still in awe of the swelling crowds every night.
“It’s always humbling, knowing where we came from,” Brown told CMT Insider producer Terry Bumgarner just prior to the band’s Nashville show. “From being friends with the janitor in the bar and being friends with the waitress — because they were some of the only people that were listening when we finished playing — to this, we are able to appreciate every single person and every single piece of it, because we came from nothing to this.”
CMT: Where did this idea come from? What are you going for with the Southern Ground festival?
Brown: We want to grow this thing into an annual event where the fans can come and eat amazing food and see our favorite artists with the best sound system and best production. So the quality for this, compared to other festivals, is kind of on steroids. And that’s what represents us well. We’re able to come play the same cities two nights in a row and able to set up and be here. So what better place than Music City to come and do it? We want to support Nashville, support the community there and be a part of it.
What do you hope that experience is like for people who are sitting in the special area next to the stage?
Brown: As a diehard music fan and a lover of food and hospitality, that is everything that I would want when I watch a show. Be onstage with them, get to eat five-course meals, get my own bathroom and have people waiting on us hand and foot.
Bowles: Lots to drink.
De Martini: It’s a full sensory experience. You’re up there smelling the food, you’re tasting it, you’re watching a show, you’re hearing the sounds. It’s just a full experience.
Bowles: And it’s real cool for us, too, because we have all these runways to run out on and act a fool and play, so it’s like a big giant gymnasium.
You guys as a band get a good chance to interact with these people.
Bowles: Oh yeah, man, we’re all over both sides of the stage running out, high-fiving people and trying to steal some of their food.
Five years ago, you were just starting on a national level. Now you have your own record label and are putting on festivals like this. Was this a plan for phase one to end up right where you are now? How have you done it?
Brown: We’ve done it with our amazing team of people … and they’re able to pull off our ideas. The vision for this thing has been around for a long time. It’s been rattling around in my head, and now it’s been made a reality. We work hard enough to bring the resources to the table to develop it and bring it and to slowly grow it over time. But I want this to be the premier event for quality music and food in Nashville that happens throughout the year.
De Martini: But we’ve always done this, even on a smaller scale. Years and years ago, Zac had a restaurant that we used to play at on the weekend. Zac would design the menu and feed people and would hire other bands to play there. We’d watch them play, and then we’d play our own set, so it’s kind of the same thing, just on an enormous scale.
It’s a very, very big scale. What has the last year on tour been like for you guys?
Bowles: We still get along. Nothing’s changed with us. We still have a great time. We’re laughing and still having a great time with each other. Musically, we keep growing as musicians and pushing each other, songwriting-wise. I couldn’t be happier, and I think the rest of the guys [would agree that] it’s a blessing. Plus the fan interaction and Zac’s ideas with the festivals like this allow us to grow as musicians, as well, so everything is just right on track.
Zac, did you sit there years ago and think, “This is where I’ll be in five, six or seven years”?
Brown: I had my head down, trying to gather great people to help, so we all do it together. That’s what’s been happening — try to grow it and see what the opportunities are. Other people pull off amazing festivals and events and things like that. I think ours is a little bit different, and that’s what makes us distinct. We’re just getting started. We’re going to be doing this for a long time.