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Zac Brown Band transforms Downtown Nashville into ‘Southern Ground’

Over 15,000 fans gathered at the picturesque Riverfront Park last weekend for the inaugural Nashville edition of Zac Brown Band’s Southern Ground Music and Food Festival.   Zac Brown Band Executive Chef Rusty Hamlin curated a fine dining experience – a stark departure from the bland concessional offerings at traditional music festivals – surpassed only by the plethora of musical fare served up throughout the day, including performances by David Gray, Amos Lee, The Lumineers, and Southern Ground artists Nic Cowen, Blackberry Smoke and Sonia Leigh.

The “Chicken Fried” crooners themselves kicked off Friday night’s superset with samplings from each of their three albums, including fan-favorites “Keep Me In Mind,” “No Hurry” and “Colder Weather.”  Alan Jackson later joined the group to perform their collaboration “As She’s Walking Away” and Jackson’s own “Dixie Highway,” before Sheryl Crow donned a cowboy hat for a countrified version of her 1996 hit “Every Day Is a Winding Road” and a brilliant cover of Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With.”

A silent John Mayer was determined to join the set in spite of a vocal cord injury, the exceedingly talented guitarist lending his chops to a Zac Brown take on Mayer’s own “Neon,” mashed with Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely.” Country Music Hall of Fame member Jerry Douglas surprised the audience, performing Bob Dylan’s classic “I Shall Be Released” alongside Mayer and Zac Brown Band.  Saluting another Nashville legend, ZBB ended the set with an exhilarating cover of Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” a scorching duel between Jimmy DeMartini’s fiddle and Brown’s acoustic guitar culminating in a raucous uproar of energy that left the crowd reeling with stimulation-overload and begging for the party to continue.

Never one to disappoint, Zac Brown Band continued to stretch the bounds of the term “superset” – maintaining the collaborative efforts well into the encore.  Amos Lee sat in for his Uncaged contribution – one of the album’s most underrated tracks – “Day That I Die.” Gregg Allman and John Mayer both returned for The Allman Brothers Band’s “Melissa,” followed by an Allman-Brown-Crow-Mayer adaptation of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues.”  The night was appropriately closed with “America the Beautiful” and the song that started it all, “Chicken Fried.”

Saturday night’s set began with more iconic Zac Brown Band hits, including ““Toes” and “Highway 20 Ride,” along with their newest single, chock-full of Brown’s fiery chicken pickin’, “The Wind.”  John Mayer and Sheryl Crow contributed almost identical sets as the previous night, with a ZBB cover on Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion” and Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” thrown into the mix.  Dwight Yoakam was the highlight of the evening, joining Mayer and Brown for modern renderings of his classics, “Fast as You” and “Guitars, Cadillacs.”  The set ended with two additional Allman Brothers Band hits – “One Way Out” and “Midnight Rider,” with contributions by Allman, Mayer and Crow.  For those who missed the previous night’s show, the encore featured another Charlie Daniels nod, followed once more by “America the Beautiful” and “Chicken Fried.”

Zac & Co. will be bringing the festival to Charleston, South Carolina on October 20-21, featuring another star-packed lineup including The Avett Brothers, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, The Charlie Daniel’s Band, The Jerry Douglas Band, and John Mayer.

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