Zac Brown Band pulls together to bring high-energy show to St. Louis

For the News-DemocratJune 6, 2013 

Zac Brown Band may have 10 No. 1 hit radio singles, two platinum-selling records and countless dedicated fans, but to hear its members talk they're just getting warmed up.

After numerous nights in front of packed arenas and amphitheaters, things are just beginning to come together for this accomplished band of brothers, led by one of the most charismatic individuals ever to don a beanie.

The band's latest album "Uncaged," debuted at No. 1 on Billboard 200 last year and earned the band its third Grammy (Best Country Album). The result of a highly collaborative process, it's the sound of a group of versatile musicians gelling into a formidable unit and realizing they're capable of anything their fearless leader happens to dream up -- from traditional country ("The Wind") to Caribbean rhythms ("Jump Right In") and even slinky bedroom R&B ("Overnight"). Running over genre boundaries, and bringing its audience along for the ride, its title is accurate -- this is truly the sound of a band "Uncaged."

For musician Jimmy De Martini, who plays fiddle in the band, it's a work in progress.

"The band is a formidable unit, and there's never any rest on the creativity that we feed off of each other," De Martini said in a telephone interview. "Zac is, of course, the driving force of the band, but it is a very equal process."

De Martini said that Brown and writing partner Wyatt Durette do most of the songrwriting, and provide the feel for the song. The rest of the band has input on how the song comes out as the finished product.

"We'll get a song from them and it's passed out for each one of us to put our own little spin on it," De Martini said. "We never really know how it's going to turn out, until we all get to sit down and play our parts together. Sometimes it comes out something totally different than what I had imagined it would be. Sometimes, it comes out different than anyone expected it to be."

That is what makes the Zac Brown Band what it is, De Martini said.

"We are a combination of many, many different musical styles," De Martini said. "Zac has never allowed himself to be categorized as any particular type of music artist, and he has also been very adamant about that with the band."

Illustrating De Martini's point, the band will be traveling to Europe to play the predominantly rock Glastonbury Rock Festival, on a bill with the Rolling Stones.

"Zac doesn't want to be considered a country band, or a rock band or anything else, and neither do we actually," De Martini said. "For him, as it is for us, we are all about making the music, and it comes out as it does. It's the Zac Brown Band 'sound' or whatever you want to call it. We call it just trying to make good music, and making music that our fans want to hear, no matter what kind of music it is. We just want to take them on a musical journey for the time they are with us."

The Zac Brown Band show is high on production, but not overbearing.

"Of course we have the big lights and things, but that's just what is expected these days," De Martini said. "We want to put on the best show possible, and that's a part of it. However, our show remains all about the music."

Brown makes sure that each member of his band is spotlighted numerous times throughout the show, and equally shares the spotlight with his cohorts.

"It truly is a team effort, and I am so glad to be able to work with such a great person that he is," De Martini said. "It's not only a musician's dream to do what we're doing for a living, but to be able to work with a person such as Zac puts the icing on the cake."

Brown's involvement with his band also reaches out to his fans. Before each show, instead of the usual meet and greet with a 5-second handshake and a picture, the Zac Brown Band puts on an "Eat and Greet."

Seriously. Every band member including Brown attends the event, actually serves the food to guests, and then sits down to eat with them.

"This is something that we do to engage ourselves with our fans," Brown said at the event last year. "We are so appreciative of how the fans support us, and it's our way to give you a special experience to remember."

The band has a personal chef that travels with them, and shops at local stores in each city to purchase the food that is prepared for the nightly event.

"We're all part of this big thing called life," De Martini said. "We may as well enjoy it together."

Who: Zac Brown Band with Blackberry Smoke

When: 7 p.m. Friday

Where: Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. Maryland Heights, Mo.

Tickets: $29.50-$75.90

How: www.livenation.com

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