Y’all ready for two days of nonstop food and tunes? Zac Brown’s Southern Ground Music & Food Festival returns for its fifth year, bringing with it headliners Tedeschi Trucks Band and Thomas Rhett, super-sets from Zac Brown Band, and much more all weekend long. There’s plenty of grub to go around, too, with Charleston’s Craig Deihl (Cypress, Artisan Meat Share), Patrick Owens (Langdon’s, Opal), and DC veteran RJ Cooper teaming up with Southern Ground’s resident chef Rusty Hamlin to create delicious Southern dishes. DC pastry chef Nicole Crane and Front Porch Stage Box guest chef Michael Perez (Indaco, Colletta) will also join Hamlin. Local vendors will include Home Team BBQ, Cru Cafe, Bohemian Bull, Mex 1 Coastal Cantina, Kickin’ Chicken, and Gilligan’s Seafood Restaurant.
The full music lineup goes like this:
Performing Sat. April 16: Thomas Rhett, Marshall Tucker Band, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Sam Bush, Old Dominion, Coy Bowles & the Fellowship, Cam, Drake White & the Big Fire, John Driskell Hopkins, Jamestown Revival
Performing Sun. April 17: Tedeschi Trucks Band, Hunter Hayes, Kacey Musgraves, Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers, A Thousand Horses, Clay Cook, Muddy Magnolias, Packway Handle Band, the Archetypes
Here are just a few Southern Ground music highlights we’re looking forward to:
Zac Brown Band
When Swedish DJ Avicii released his 2013 smash anthem, “Wake Me Up,” he melded electronic music and acoustic pop in a way that shifted perceptions of what music in a particular genre could be. In the country spectrum, Zac Brown Band has accomplished the same feat, so it’s no surprise that the DJ and superstar Georgia-bred group collaborated last year on the hit, “Broken Arrows,” a beat-driven dance song that’s miles away from anything country.
ZBB’s 2015 release and fourth full album Jekyll + Hyde adheres to a similar multigenre format. Although the band built their reputation on sing-along, down-home barn burners like “Chicken Fried” and “As She’s Walking Away” (with fellow country superstar Alan Jackson), Jekyll + Hyde opens with “Beautiful Drug,” a poppy track complete with a beat-driven anthemic chorus. Then there’s “Mango Tree,” a big-band swing number featuring singer Sara Bareilles. And at last week’s iHeartRadio Music Awards, they took home Rock Song of the Year for their collaboration with Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, “Heavy is the Head,” while walking away from the country categories empty-handed.
“That’s normal for us,” claims ZBB guitarist and tenor-vocalist Clay Cook. “We don’t really get a lot of country love these days, even though the first three songs on Jekyll + Hide have been No. 1 on country radio.”
Before Zac Brown Band blew up in 2008 with “Chicken Fried,” their bandleader built a reputation around Georgia and the Southeast as a singer and guitarist with a prolific library of cover songs. Today, a ZBB show may find the band covering Queen, Widespread Panic, Van Morrison, or Billy Joel.
“We’re at a point as a band where we can hear a song and depending on how complicated it is, pretty much just listen to it and play it,” says Cook, citing a recent pre-show rehearsal when the band relearned Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.” The following night, just before another concert, they learned Don Henley’s “The End of Innocence” on a whim.
“We played it over the speakers in our bus, and everybody just listened and figured out what they were going to do,” Cook says. “I think that’s a testament to how fearless we are as a group — a lot of bands, even better musicians, might say, ‘I don’t know. Let’s figure out an arrangement first.’ But we just go out there and play the song.”
By rooting themselves in the country music of their native South (Cook even played with the Marshall Tucker Band for two years before joining up with Brown), Zac Brown Band has managed to secure a massive, loyal audience that’s happy to hear the group diversify their setlists and albums.
“We’re not afraid to step out of the country zone, and we’re at a place in our career where we can do that,” says Cook, citing Caribbean flavors and Kings of Leon vibes to many of the band’s original songs. “We allow the influences that we love in life to creep into the music. If we were 20-years-old, there would be producers telling us what to do, but now that we’re all 900-years-old, it’s a lot easier to compromise together and figure out how to make the best and most interesting recording.” —Stratton Lawrence
Tedeschi Trucks Band
When guitarists Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks left the Allman Brothers Band in 2014, it prompted the dissolution of one of the greatest bands in Southern music. But now that Trucks is free to pursue his own music all year long, there’s a new iconic band in the world of slide guitar-driven Southern soul that could one day equal the influence and breadth of its predecessor.
Like the Allmans, the Tedeschi Trucks Band has their roots in family. Trucks is the nephew of Allman drummer Butch Trucks, and the band’s other namesake is Derek’s wife, Susan, a formidable guitarist on her own as well as the band’s powerful lead singer. Their ensemble grew to 12 members in 2015 with the addition of a third harmony singer, along with new trombone and trumpet players.
In January, they released Let Me Get By, their third studio release. Unlike its predecessor, Made Up Mind, the album’s 10 tracks were written entirely by the band. Recorded in the laid-back environs of Tedeschi and Trucks’ home studio, Swamp Raga, in Jacksonville (and produced by Derek), there is a strong possibility that the album could earn a Grammy nod, following their 2011 debut album’s (Revelator) win for Best Blues Album.
Since releasing Let Me Get By, the band has performed in Australia and Japan, and two weeks after performing at Southern Ground in Charleston, they’ll headline JazzFest in New Orleans with special guests Billie Gibbons (ZZ Top) and Jimmie Vaughan.
“They’re unbelievable,” says Clay Cook of Zac Brown Band, who sought out TTB to share the Sunday bill at Southern Ground. “You want to talk about a group that has better musicians than we do? That whole band is fantastic, and they’re great people. I’ve seen them five or six times and it just keeps getting better.” —SL
Bubbly, bright, and bold are all words that have been used to describe Cam and her newest album Untamed, produced with Sony Music’s country division Arista Nashville. The heartbreaking melody “Burning House” that got her signed to the label helped propel her into popularity across the country, but not many people know they’ve heard her work before. She composed “Maybe You’re Right” for Miley Cyrus and “Fall Madly in Love with You” for Maggie Rose, for example. After moving to Nashville, Cam turned down a publishing offer to pursue her own work, a move that has paid off. Released in February, Cam’s third single “Mayday” is climbing the charts. As she continues to push toward pop with a country foundation, Cam’s powerful voice, flexible range, and precise ear will follow her in whatever direction she chooses to take her career. —Madi Kois
There’s so much more to Jamestown Revival men than great beards, hats, and well-worn flannel (though they don’t hurt). Comprised of Zach Chance and Jonathan Clay, the duo began their careers writing their own music, but when they offered harmonies to each other’s work, it became clear their blended vocals belonged in a group together. Since then, they have self-released the album Utah, which was later rereleased by Republic Records when they signed in 2014. That same year, Utah was named Singer-Songwriter Album of the Year by iTunes and has brought about a national fan base. The Texas natives now reside in California, but they won’t abandon their folksy Americana rock sound anytime soon. Their stripped-down, minimalist instrumentals and straight-forward lyricism fit seamlessly into the Americana roots genre they so naturally gravitate toward. —MK
Kallie North and Jessy Wilson, a.k.a. Muddy Magnolias, are two badass chicks whose sound bursts with the kind of soulful funk that makes your body move involuntarily. Crooning along with smooth guitar riffs and balancing each other in seamless harmony, their music explodes from the stage. But they are just as comfortable singing acoustically around a fire as they are with a full band. After Southern Ground, Muddy Magnolias will head to Alabama’s Hangout Music Fest and the Denver Day of Rock in Colorado. —MK
Kacey Musgraves is just a “Dime Store Cowgirl,” but according to the charts, she could be the next Carrie Underwood or Taylor Swift. Her pop-infused country tunes grab listeners with their all-too relatable and laid-back lyrics. Consistently urging fans to “follow your arrow” and “mind your own biscuits,” she is a Texas gal through and through. Independent and determined, already she has created a prolific amount of work in her budding career. She self-released three albums before competing on Nashville Star in 2007 and then joined Mercury Nashville in 2012. Since then, she’s released two more albums Same Trailer Different Park and Pageant Material and added another leg to her tour, which will wrap up shortly after her Southern Ground performance. It’s safe to assume you’ll recognize a few of her songs, such as “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Blowing Smoke” from the radio, but you’ll probably leave with a few new favorites, too. —MK
A Thousand Horses
In 2010, Michael Hobby, Bill Satcher, Zach Brown (no, not that Zac), and Graham Deloach released their self-titled EP, a rock-heavy collection befitting the long-haired, motorcycle jacket-wearing crew. Since then, their sound has been softened with some classic country influences, while their full-length album Southernality bears stronger resemblance to a blended Southern/rockabilly/country sound. Expect a few slow, lost-love ballads and a few more boot-stomping jams to dance to. Their top hit, “Smoke,” has received a warm reception from fans, and with support from Universal Music Group and the Big Machine Label Group, the group is in the position to produce another strong album in the months to come. —MK
John Driskell Hopkins
Best known for providing some deep, gritty vocals and quick guitar pickin’, John Driskell Hopkins has proven to be a key part of Zac Brown Band. Not only is he a multi-instrumentalist, but he has also written and co-written countless songs the band regularly performs. In 2012, he released his own album, Daylight, backed by the Balsam Range Bluegrass band. He brings in numerous artists for support on vocals, banjo, fiddle, and dobro, including Zac Brown, Jerry Douglas, Joey + Rory, Levi Lowrey, Tony Trischka, and Richard Foulk. The core of his performance will be good, old-fashioned country with plenty of bluegrass and roots-Americana influence. Though he veers away from rock in this album, you get a hint of it in “Runaway Train” with Douglas. For more of that, check out his earlier work with his band, Brighter Shade. —MK