The tour, which began last summer and finished up this past spring, found the band mixing all or parts of at least 15 songs by other artists into its a nearly two-and-a-half-hour show, combining covers with the group’s own hits its audience has come to expect.
A recent show in Tulsa, Oklahoma, featured the group’s versions of songs by Pearl Jam, Def Leppard, Rage Against The Machine, Simon & Garfunkel and James Taylor.
Now, the Zac Brown Band is beginning a summer/fall outing dubbed “The Owl Tour.” It’s named after “The Owl,” the new album the group will release in September. This will be a new show, but it doesn’t mean the group’s talent for cover songs won’t again be on display.
Exactly what that songs will be in a given show, however, is up in the air – sometimes until about an hour before the concert – because the band tends to put together a new set list at each stop.
Multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook summarized a typical show this way: “You’ll definitely hear Zac Brown Band songs. You’re definitely going to hear covers. We always do covers. We’ve got a great bowl to draw from. … So we could be doing about anything.”
The Zac Brown Band will appear at Jiffy Lube Live on Sunday, Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. Lawn tickets start at about $40 at www.ticketmaster.com.
While the group has had 13 No. 1 hits on the country charts, including the likes of “Chicken Fried,” “Toes,” “Sweet Annie,” “Homegrown” and “Beautiful Drug,” the Zac Brown Band doesn’t stay in any genre lane, blending rock, folk, country, tinges of Caribbean sounds and even some dance elements into its distinctive, unclassifiable sound.
Understandably enough, Cook, who plays guitar, keyboards, mandolin, steel guitar and adds a high tenor vocal, wouldn’t attempt to put a label on the band’s music.
“I think of it a lot more simply than genre,” Cook said. “To me, there are two kinds of music: good music and bad music. I’m such a music geek I can get into arguments with people about where a band falls or where an album falls in terms of genre. But I don’t have time for that.
“I just know I can pull up a playlist on my phone and know why I skip a certain song. There are times when you don’t want to hear Wham! There are times when you want to hear a Taylor Swift song. If you’re in a crowd of people and AC/DC’s ‘Back in Black’ comes on, it’s hard to deny that. If you’re in your car and you’ve heard ‘Back in Black’ 20 times that week and it comes on, that’s different.”
Cook, who played with John Mayer, Shawn Mullins and was a member of the Marshall Tucker Band for two years before joining ZBB in 2009, says he always likes being in and hearing the band, even when they’re onstage in front of tens of thousands.
“Outside of music, we’re just a big family who like kidding around with each other,” Cook said. “Musically, I like hearing Coy (Bowles’s) guitar solos and Chris (Fryar’s) drums fitting in with Zac’s guitar. I get excited about the crowd getting excited about Zac’s songs.
“I’ll jam with certain bands and they don’t have a thing,” he said. “We get together and we’ve got a sound. I don’t know what it is, it’s good to me. Whether we’re trying to play James Brown or Zac Brown, it doesn’t really matter.”
So are there any songs that Cook really likes, that he wants to play every night of a tour?
“When I get toward the end of a tour, I kind of don’t get excited about any of them,” Cook said. “But the first time we hit it, it’s different. I’ll hear a song we’re playing and think ‘That’s the Zac Brown Band right there.’
Cook says a couple songs are really challenging, such as “I Play the Road,” from the band’s second album.
“The way we play it is so fast, and my part is so intricate, it makes the hair stand up on my arms,” he said. “Every now and again, I’ll screw it up. That’s fun in a musician way. But all the really matter is how the crowd reacts.”
In fact, Cook said, Brown has been known to change the set mid-show based on audience reaction.
“He really does read the crowd,” he said. “That’s probably why he’s Zac Brown. When you have eight people on stage and all the video and lighting, it’s really tough to change a song. But we do it.”