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Published: 2012/11/30
by Glenn H Roth

Jimmy De Martini and the Zac Brown Band’s Country Jam

The band is in a very unique position being popular in two music worlds: country and jamband.

I don’t know how that came about. I guess what it comes from is that we have songs that are written that go over well with the country audience and kind of tell a story but when we play live we’re more of a jam type band. We still play a lot of those songs, but we take the song and jam-it out for 20 minutes. It’s a balance. We want to enjoy ourselves on stage, have the crowd enjoy it and make ourselves happy and make everyone else happy. And we’re able to play Bonnaroo and do other jam-type stuff that some country bands can’t.

Drummer Chris Fryar is no stranger to the jamband scene, having played with Oteil and The Peacemakers from 2000-to-2005. What element has he brought to the band?

He’s the basis for the whole sound of the band. He’s got his own sound and he comes from the jam world. He was kind of a jazz guy by trade and then playing with Oteil makes you a jammy, improv, technical drummer. We changed drummers after our first album, and when we were trying out drummers, I guess the Peacemakers were on leave. He came over and we were like, “He’s amazing – that’s the guy.” He really sets up the band, especially when we’re jamming. You kind of feel where’s he going. He brings it up and he takes it down. He makes it dynamic and it makes our sound different than most country bands.

What has the newest member of the band, percussionist Daniel de los Reyes, added to the ZBB sound.

Talking about the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band with the two drummers and Widespread with the percussionists, we kind of wanted that open sound that you get from that. It’s loose and its full, it’s not tight. It opened up our sound up that much more. It gives you more wiggle room to do what you want on stage and play off of each other and it feels differently. We actually do a drum breakdown every once in a while where the rest of the band just stays on the side on the stage and watches.

Staying on the jamband subject, how did the cover of Widespread Panic’s “Ain’t Life Grand,” come about?

When you grow up in Georgia, Widespread is a big part of your influence if you’re a musician trying to come up. I lived in Athens for seven years or so, and it was pretty amazing what they were doing live. They were pulling in huge crowds, jamming out songs and they did all that without any radio play. You pull a following like that without having corporations involved – it’s pretty sweet to do that. We were big fans of their music had their albums growing up, covered their songs in different bands. When I met Zac I found out that he was a big WSP fan too. I asked him, ‘What song can we do?’ and he said “Ain’t Life Grand.” It’s kind of the anthem. It’s a tribute to a tribute to a band that continues to perform with a great sound.

Are you aware that Phil Lesh & Friends has covered your band’s “Quiet Your Mind,” and “Free?”

I didn’t know that. That’s cool. It’s just insane. I grew up listening to the Dead as well and when you hear that one of your heroes is playing your music – it’s surreal.

In 2010, the band had Robert Randolph as an opener and invited him out on stage.

He’s crazy. He’s an incredible entertainer, when he gets on that [pedal] steel. He can stand up on it and he can jam it. I got to trade with him on some songs – he raises the level of the audience.

Before meeting Zac, you played in a Dave Matthews cover band. What was it like during the 2010 summer tour, when you guys opened for DMB for three nights?

That was pretty surreal. When I found out we were opening for Dave Matthews – it was amazing because for 4 years or so, that’s all I played. They were a big influence on my music and the way I played. To be able to meet them and share the stage with them was a pretty amazing experience.

Did you get to meet fellow violinist Boyd Tinsley?

I didn’t. It was kind of hard to meet up with all the guys. I got to meet Dave and hang with him. I got to meet Jeff Coffin. But I didn’t want really want to push it. I just wanted to enjoy the experience.

How did the band’s very own festival – The Southern Ground Music and Food Festival – come to fruition ?

We wanted to create a festival with quality food and bands and Zac is big on, “Let’s do it ourselves.” It was a learning experience for us and we had a good turnout for the first time. And this year we repeated the one in Charleston and added one in Nashville and it also gives us a chance to collaborate with more musicians.

One of those was Warren Haynes, “The Master of Collaboration,” himself.

He played with earlier in the day with his own band and then joined us for our set. He just loves to jam. He’ll play all night. He’s a great guy and he loves to play music. He fit right in with us.

Gregg Allman also sat in with you. What was that like to have him perform with you at your festival?

It was crazy. We met him when we did a song together at one of the country award shows. We got to meet him and he was really cool and he wanted to keep in touch with us. He agreed to come out and do a couple of songs with us on the third night of our festival and we were like, “Holy cow this is going to make the festival.” It did make the festival, having him come on at the end and close the show like that. It’s just a blessing for him to do that at our own festival, especially since he doesn’t need to do it. He’s cool like that and wants to help us out.

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