Versatile Zac Brown Band Heralds Change of Season at SPAC

Zac Brown Band charmed fans with a warm line up of beloved hits and familiar covers on Friday, August 30th. As if heralding the change of season, the band played in flannels, jeans, and hats as they opened with “Homegrown.” Fans chilled by the cool late August air as the sun dipped below the horizon were glowing with the joy of a sing-along with Zac.

But first, the audience had the treat of Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real.

Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real has been to Saratoga before; last year, they played an opener at Outlaw Fest, Nelson’s father’s festival, before playing as the band for Neil Young. A band with a fan following in its own right, their presence incited a lot of pre-ZBB excitement.

Lukas didn’t disappoint, either. Kicking his way across the stage, Lukas Nelson and his band played eight songs to engage the audience, with each song getting more exciting than the last. As he sang amazingly high and on pitch in “Find Yourself,” audience members crooned along, gyrating with the bluesy rhythm.

After a brief break, Zac Brown and his particularly talented crew of musicians danced across the video screen in a video montage. Hard to hear due to the loud voices of fans, the film seemed to follow the band across the experience of preparing for and setting out on tour. It also served as a timer, counting down the minutes until the band took the stage.

In a humble entrance, band members walked on stage, picked up their instruments, and began to play.

The band started with two fan favorites, with “Knee Deep” following “Homegrown,” and band members encouraged the audience to sing along. And while the music was great, inspiring folks to sing, clap, dance and stomp along, the band members looked a bit fatigued and somewhat bored by their own songs.

Until “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” a cover from the Charlie Daniel’s band, really heated things up. Also, a fan favorite and frequent song on the setlist during previous SPAC concerts, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” allowed the fiddle and guitar to be highlighted, really drawing excitement from the crowd at both the technique and pace of the musicians.

The band returned to their own songs for a bit, and again the crowd swooned with happiness to sing along and share forlorn lyrics about the what really matters, also feel-good songs about beach days and partying with friends.

The band’s cover of “Whipping Post,” also a repeat from last year’s concert, really breathed life in The Allman Brothers Band’s song. The musicians on stage, including Zac Brown, seemed happiest performing these challenging and unique songs made popular by other musicians.

The acoustic set followed suit with the formula of covers to show off technique and diversity of style. Using a wheel to choose a James Taylor song, a small girl from the audience was asked to spin (twice as she hit spin again!) before the band settled on “Sweet Baby James.” With a twinkle in his eye and a knowing grin, Brown sat down with his acoustic guitar and his bandmates to charm the audience.

With a quick transition to a Jason Isbell cover, the band then moved across genres again. And that’s when you realize: Zac Brown Band can really play whatever they please. And audience members will follow them pretty much into any genre.

After a brief intermission, the band returned to play the same formula of familiar hits combined with unique and exciting covers that engaged everyone within earshot to dance. With a drum solo piece squeezed in, the concert seemed to take on a life of its own, defying classification as a country show or rock show. It was both, and it was neither. It was a true variety show showcasing talent and encouraging audience participation.

Ending with “Chicken Fried,” the band’s signature piece, Zac Brown Band returned to their southern rock, country feel. At one point in the song, while singing about thanking troops, a soldier was brought on stage in a standing salute. Audience members went wild with excitement, and an incongruent moment of nationalism swept through the amphitheatre. It was chilling to see how quickly the energy could shift from joyful family variety show to a theatre filled with folks chanting “USA, USA.” Brief but entirely out of place, the moment passed.

The encore delighted fans with guitar battles using famed songs to show off the musicians’ talents. “Money for Nothing” brought yelps of pleasure, followed by “Seven Nation Army.” A brief guitar snippet of “Hot for Teacher” may have brought the loudest screams of joy, until the whole band joined in for “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (cover of Def Leppard). The band closed with their fiddler singing “Bulls on Parade,” a cover of Rage Against the Machine.

Zac Brown Band is familiar, and while that’s some of the charm, the band also demonstrates musical flexibility and unrivaled talent on music that is well-loved across genres and generations. There appears to be nothing the band members won’t jam to.

A repeat favorite at SPAC, this is a concert worth attending year after year for delightful surprises and a charitable sense of home.

Lukas Nelson and The Promise of The Real (Setlist):

“Stars,” “Die Alone,” “Bad Case,” “Carry On,” “Civilized Hell,” “Let Me Down,” “Find Yourself,” and “Something Real.”

Zac Brown Band (setlist):

First set:”Homegrown,” “Knee Deep,” “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” (The Charlie Daniels Band cover), “Day That I Die,” “Me and the Boys in the Band,” “Keep Me in Mind,” “Goodbye in her Eyes,” “Whipping Post” (Allman Brothers Band cover).

Acoustic Set: “Sweet Baby James” (James Taylor cover), “Cover Me Up,” “Toes,” “The Muse” (The Wood Brothers cover), “Leaving Love Behind.”

Final set: “Someone I Used to Know,” “Colder Weather / Take It to the Limit” (Eagles cover), “Beautiful Drug,” “Shoofly Pie” (The Wood Brothers cover), Drum solos, “Jump Right In,” “Sweet Annie,” “The Woods,” “Free/Into the Mystic,” and “Chicken Fried.”

Encore: “Money for Nothing” (Dire Straits cover), “Seven Nation Army” (The White Stripes cover), “Hot for Teacher” (Van Halen cover), “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (Def Leppard cover), “Bulls on Parade” (Rage Against the Machine cover).

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