The Zac Brown Band had already broken out as one of music’s hottest acts last spring when the Georgia-based country fusion act brought in as a new member renowned percussionist Daniel de los Reyes. The multitalented rhythm master would be an odd choice for some acts found regularly on the country charts, but when he played his first set of southern jams with ZBB, he fit in perfectly.
“I went over there with my whole percussion setup and played and it was just like a glove,” de los Reyes recalls. “From the first note we played, I knew it was just magical.”
After playing more than an hour, de los Reyes sealed the deal to jump aboard the fast-moving train led by the burly, beanie-topped lead singer and guitarist and his band of brothers: drummer Chris Fryar, multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook, guitarist Coy Bowles, fiddler Jimmy De Martini and bassist John Driskell Hopkins. He soon learned he wasn’t joining a band as much as he was being adopted.
“Zac said, ‘Would you like to join us out
on the road and come over and meet my family?’ Little did I know it’s a
huge family out on the road and another couple hundred back in
Georgia,” he relates. “From the time I went there I knew I’d found a
“Zac said, ‘Would you like to join us out on the road and come over and meet my family?’ Little did I know it’s a huge family out on the road and another couple hundred back in Georgia,” he relates. “From the time I went there I knew I’d found a family.”
The Brown family makes its first Salt City appearance at Syracuse University’s Carrier Dome on Friday, Nov. 16, 7 p.m., with opening acts Blackberry Smoke (see companion Q&A on page 23) and Levi Lowrey. Tickets are priced from $38.90 to $70.25 with handling fees. For more information, call Ticketmaster, (800) 745-3000.
From the 2008 release of their breakout Atlantic CD The Foundation, featuring the finger-lickin’ good single, “Chicken Fried,” the band has blazed a trail, releasing two more albums on Atlantic/Southern Grounds. Their latest, Uncaged, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart.
They’re usually categorized as a country act, with their recent single “The Wind” capturing a bluegrass breeze. But their jam band personality leans at times toward the rock, blues and Southern rock that will remind more mature listeners of the Allman Brothers and Crosby, Stills and Nash. They also love to mix in some tropical flavors a la Jimmy Buffett, who made a cameo on the ZBB radio hit “Knee Deep.” Yet their repertoire avoids characterization, not merely because it just happens that way, but because Zac and the boys intentionally thumb their noses at convention.
Not only that, but de los Reyes affirms that improvisation is an important element in their shows. “Big time,” he raves. “There’s certain things that you never change and you don’t want to change. We do our songs a lot like the record. Usually it’s songs of other people’s, covers that we stretch out more on. We jam in different directions throughout the evening. We want to make sure people get another side, not just exactly what they hear on the record and nothing else. It’s very important for us to do that.”
Although the band was inexplicably upset when Little Big Town nabbed the Country Music Association award for Best Vocal Group on the Nov. 1 show, de los Reyes enjoyed attending and saw his new boss in a different light when Zac sang with Keith Urban. “It was nice meeting the guys backstage and it was also cool to go out and sit and watch from out front,” he says. “Usually, I’m in the back watching or playing the concert. Last night I went to sit down to watch it and I got a new incredible outlook on the man, Zac Brown. He’s an incredible singer, he’s so powerful.”
The New York City-born percussionist also loves Brown for the creativity he extends to his team. “I bring a whole new library, and I’ve got an extensive one, into the band,” de los Reyes relates. “Zac lets me interject all sorts of ideas. He’s very open, he’s a sponge, he’s very flexible, whether it’s a new song or we do something a little bit different. I wanted to try something different with percussion that was quite a change. Can we do this or try that? Yes, definitely.”
The Grammy-winning crew’s Carrier Dome gig brings them to a building that has hosted some of the industry’s most famous acts, from the Rolling Stones to Bruce Springsteen. De los Reyes says the Zac Brown Band, armed with a string of phenomenally popular songs and a penchant for springing a few surprises on audiences, belongs on that list of notables. “110 percent,” he exclaims. “We’re already there. That’s not to boast, but I think this band is going to be around for a long, long time.”
On stage, the bearded Brown’s now-trademark beanie gives
him a distinctive look, but de los Reyes says he’s special in a much
more important way. “Every musician is always practicing, trying to be
better,” he marvels. “But Zac is somebody very, very special. God bless
him, he’s somebody that’s been touched as I call it.”