The Zac Brown Band closes out DeLuna Fest, headlining Sunday's bill. / Special to GoPensacola.com
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So, you say you’re not a country music fan, and you’re considering cutting out of DeLuna Fest early Sunday night and skipping the Zac Brown Band’s festival-closing set?
Fiddle player Jimmy De Martini begs to differ.
“Oh, you’ve GOTTA stay,” De Martini said when asked what he’d say to dismissive non-country fans during a phone interview with the News Journal. “Just give us a chance, listen to us. If you don’t like the first couple of songs, then leave, but I promise you won’t be disappointed. We’ll make it worth your while, for sure.”
Of course, millions have already found the Zac Brown Band well worth their while. The Atlanta-based band — which also features vocalist/guitarist Brown, bassist/vocalist John Hopkins, guitarist/keyboardist Coy Bowles, drummer Chris Fryar, multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook and percussionist Daniel de los Reyes — has been one of the biggest success stories in music over the past few years, scoring a phenomenal 8 No. 1 country singles and 9 hits on the mainstream Top 40 since breaking through with the 2008 single “Chicken Fried.” The band received the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 2010, chief among its many accolades. Its newest album, “Uncaged,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts in July.
But while the band seemed like an overnight success to many, they’ve actually been paying their dues for several years. De Martini discussed the band’s salad days and much more in this interview.
Q: The new album, “Uncaged,” was just released in June. Talk a bit about the process.
A: The album was kind of a long time coming. It doesn’t seem like it was that long since our last one, but the process takes so long that by the time you’re finished with one, you’re ready to start writing again. We’re really excited to have it out and get to go play these songs. We’ve been playing a lot of them live, but now the crowd can sing along.
We had a lot of songs written (for “Uncaged”). We went up to Zac’s river house and relaxed up there, chose the songs, arranged them and then went to Ashville, N.C., where we recorded everything (but the vocals). Then we flew down to Shrimp Boat Studios in Key West, Jimmy Buffett’s studio, to do the vocals. We’re really happy about the way it turned out.
Q: The Zac Brown Band is often mistakenly called an “overnight success.” Talk a bit about the road to success and what that “overnight success” really means.
A: It was good, because for many years, we paid our dues, traveling around in an airport shuttle bus with an air conditioner window unit in the window and a generator. We weren’t making good money, but we were having fun and learning to put on a good live show. That’s what helped us when we made it nationally, that we were able to bring it live. Those were good days. It was hard, but well worth it. It makes you appreciate what you have now a lot more.
It was about 8 years ago that we started the Zac Brown Band, and (we were) 4-5 years in when “Chicken Fried” hit. We’ve been riding that wave ever since. We were slowly building in Atlanta and the Southeast, and doing pretty well locally before we had the radio hit. But that’s how you get known in the places you can’t drive to.
Q: You have a strong reputation as a great live act. Is that important to you?
A: The live show, I think that’s what we do best. We make great albums and write great songs, but we’re all incredible live performers. We were making a living performing before the band got together. But as a force (together), we teach each other new things and have created this live show that we’re slowly becoming known for, and that’s what we strive to be best at. We put a lot of work into it. We make sure we’re switching up the set list each night, take a lot of instrumental breaks and give everyone a chance to shine. Some of the other band members take the lead (vocals on some songs). We’ll jam for 14 minutes, which is kind of unheard of in the country genre.
But we play all the singles, too, and find the balance between a unique, jam-type show and the hits. And we make sure we have state-of-the-art tech to make sure wherever you’re sitting you’ll go away happy and feel you got your money’s worth. We know people are spending hard-earned money to see us.
Q: Do you think that jammy side you mentioned is a part of what’s allowed you to expand beyond a country fanbase?
A: I definitely think so. Because of that, we’ve been able to reach bigger audiences at festivals like DeLuna Fest. I think we were the first country act to play Bonnaroo; we headlined (New Orleans) Jazz Fest and we made a lot of new fans that way. Sometimes we’ll take less money to reach new audiences that we want to reach. We want everybody to hear us. We’re all fans of different types of music and want to play them. Like with DeLuna Fest, we’re huge fans of Pearl Jam and Foo Fighters. To play alongside them is amazing for us.
Q: You mentioned working in Jimmy Buffett’s studio, and your band has struck up quite a friendship with him. Talk a bit about that.
A: It’s funny, we were at this men’s club thing that goes on out west, a camping thing that a bunch of people go to, and he has a club out there. We met him there -- we were sitting around the campfire -- we’d just met him, and we traded songs for about 2 hours. We were already huge fans of his, all his songwriting and singing and his live shows, too – that cult live following is something he really has.
So we started a friendship with him that day and kept in touch with him. He’s such a generous person. He let us stay at this house in Key West. He did “Crossroads” with us on CMT. Who’d have thought I’d be playing “Margaritaville” on stage with Jimmy Buffett?
Q: Jimmy Buffett’s name is on the Margaritaville Beach Hotel, less than a half-mile from the stage where you’ll be performing. There have been a lot of rumors that he may show up at the festival and do a song or two with you guys. Anything you can say about that?
A: That would be awesome. I haven’t heard anything, but that would be really cool. I’ll make sure we reach out and see if he’s in town.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
A: We’re just really excited any time we get to come down to Florida and the beach. If you’re at all curious, stick around for us.
So, you say you're not a country music fan, and you're considering cutting out of DeLuna Fest early Sunday night and skipping the Zac Brown Band's festival-closing set? Fiddle player Jimmy De
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