Concert Review: Zac Brown Band / Marcus King / King Calaway @ SPAC, 08/13/2023

SARATOGA SPRINGS—Zac Brown brought his immensely talented band of musicians to Saratoga Springs Performing Arts Center Sunday night, filling the chilly mid-summer evening with an eclectic combination of country, rock, roots and blues sounds that kept fans dancing way past the firefly time of night. 

Photo by Jim Gilbert

Brown’s chosen opening acts didn’t disappoint, either. King Calaway, a Nashville-based band with rich harmonies and high energy, started the night off at 6:18 pm. King Calaway is precisely why being an early bird at concerts is rewarding: the band had a tight rock-and-roll sound that not only warmed up the audience but melted hearts with their molasses-sweet song “Tennessee’s Waiting.” The band’s new songs are produced by Zac Brown, who once again has chosen an up-and-coming sound to promote. King Calaway has opened for many country acts in the past few years, including Rascal Flatts and Garth Brooks (to name a few). Their appeal is in their wholesome look, which included big smiles, clean-cut appearances, and even a Saratoga shirt on their drummer. This is a band to watch.

Next up, Marcus King is well known in his own right, and his mind-blowing set featured a full brass section that amped up a wall of sound that enveloped the open spaces at SPAC. King’s bluesy vocals didn’t match his rounded, boyish appearance, but for that, I’ll forgive him. Because King’s roadhouse blues produced such a raw sound that anything he did was forgivable. His cover of “When A Man Loves a Woman” was performed with intense and convincing emotion. King is the real deal, an event unto himself, and he almost stole the whole show.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

I say almost because Zac Brown came on a curtain-draped stage alone to open his first set (of two), and it was quite clear that his star power was propelling the energy of the crowd toward a frenzy of joy. He played the opening verse from “Make This Day” before the curtains were whisked away, exposing the whole band on stage with him.

Right from the first moment, the Zac Brown Band captivated the audience. He referenced his band as “the best in the business,” and I must admit they reminded me an awful lot of the well-loved Canadian-American group The Band in their talent and breadth of ability. Brown has a large canon of his own to choose from, and he doesn’t make the audience wait too long for their favorites from him. He included “Knee Deep,” “Keep Me In Mind,” and “Same Boat” in his first set. But also squeezed in a King Calaway song accompanied by the band, “When I Get Home,” that highlighted both how similar the younger band was and how different. Calaway’s vocals have a softer, more polished sound, and when joined by ZBB, you could hear the older band’s twang more clearly.

Both sounds, however, are delicious, especially on a cooler-than-usual Sunday night in Saratoga.

Photo by Jim Gilbert

ZBB included a cover of “The Weight” in honor of Robbie Robertson, The Band’s lead guitarist, who passed away this summer. The song, while frequently covered by Brown, again brought to mind that the band on stage Sunday night is probably our closest group to The Band that we have performing on the circuit. ZBB is flexible, shifting between rock, blues, and really old country tunes, in a way that reflects love and respect for the genres.

After a brief intermission, ZBB re-entered with another full set of originals and some groovy covers. He included Marcus King on “Layla,” showcasing the younger musician’s technique in only a way King could show on a Clapton cover. The band hit the high notes of “Sweet Annie,” a crowd favorite, and held a sing a long through “Whiskey’s Gone.”

In a surprise choice, ZBB also covered Radiohead’s “Creep” and U2’s “With or Without You.” If you think of ZBB as a country band, here you’d be befuddled as the band moved gracefully between sets before finishing with a ZBB classic, “Homegrown.”

Photo by Jim Gilbert

The encore featured a mash-up of country songs, including some of my mother-in-law’s favorites from classic country (as well as Jim’s and mine), before concluding with a satisfying “Chicken Fried.”

ZBB comes annually to SPAC, and if you aren’t going because you think you don’t like country, you really are missing the boat on this one. Yes, there were country tunes. And yes, there were plenty of cowboy boots, short shorts, and gallon hats to be seen.

But there were also southern rock sounds echoing through the pines and blues chords that got my hips moving out of my seat like no country music ever could.

Any chance you get to see Zac Brown and his indelible band of musicians perform, go. Their ability to play with precision, coordinating up to 12 musicians on stage at a time, is enough alone to draw you out. For me, however, it’s the joy of watching Zac bring some younger, newer faces to the scene, sharing the love and spreading the wealth.

Photo Galleries by Jim Gilbert

1 Comment
  1. Marybeth says

    Thank you for this beautiful review such a beautiful man and entertainer Zac Brown as a very kind and generous musician
    Your writing is brilliant🩷

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