The Zac Brown Band put on a stellar two-hour-plus performance for the audience that packed Chesapeake Energy Arena on Thursday night.
Band members look like the grubbiest bunch of mountain men to crawl out of the backwoods of Georgia, but my gosh these boys can play and sing. Zac Brown, of course, brings such a smooth, beautiful, powerful voice and a mean pick to the guitar, but other band members are exceptionally gifted on their own. Particularly notable are violinist Jimmy De Martini, bassist John Driskell Hopkins, and guitarist Clay Cook. Cook and Hopkins did an outstanding job singing lead on several of the band’s songs.
The band started with their standard opener “Keep Me in Mind,” with fine guitar and violin, before Brown greeted his audience with a “Yeah baby” – something he said about a half dozen times during the show. Then he thanked the crowd for “makin’ it feel like home” in the arena.
The band ripped through the very fast “Whiskey’s Gone” with band mate Clay Cook having his own little hoedown on the mandolin and other band members showing off their individual skills along the banjo-shaped stage before slowing things down just slightly for “Knee Deep.”
Brown then introduced the brand new song, “Uncaged,” on the band’s CD of the same name to be released July 10.
It’s impossible to feel bad when the Zac Brown Band is playing. The band’s weave of feel-good lyrics and sweet blend of violin, guitars, organ, drums and various other string instruments are a good fix for any stress or heartache one might be feeling.
The band played their hit “As She’s Walking Away,” before launching into a version of “Isn’t She Lovely/Neon” that is almost unrecognizable as a partial Stevie Wonder cover. The violinist took the lead mid-song and was absolutely mesmerizing, drawing a huge roar of praise from the amped crowd, before Brown blended in with a screaming guitar riff, fingers flying on the strings.
Brown next drew the audience to tears as they sang along to the ballad “Highway 20 Ride,” a song he described as “a father’s song to a son.” The song featured beautiful violin and cello.
The band didn’t keep it sad for long. They got the crowd fired up by throwing T-shirts. Brown then gave a plug for Camp Southern Ground, set to open in Georgia in 2014 to help children with developmental disorders.
The band next moved out to center stage, sitting on crates and buckets as they picked and sang an excellent rendition of the Pure Prairie League classic “Amie.” One of the band’s drummers played a washtub-like box, making it feel like an old-fashioned bluegrass, backyard barbecue.
Brown next introduced what he called one of his favorite songs, “Rivers of Babylon,” a song he said he first heard Steve Earle sing. Bassist Hopkins joined in on the ukulele.
The band followed with another cover, “Sweet Emotion.” An audience member said he couldn’t recall Aerosmith ever adding a violin or a mandolin. Cook sang this song with a fine growl, and as many of the band’s songs did, this one ended in a lengthy jam session by all band members.