Review: Zac Brown Band rocks Tampa crowd with hits songs and new medleys

The Atlanta-based group got creative in a three-part set.

click to enlarge A photo from a September run of shows by Zac Brown Band. - Photo via zacbrownband/Facebook
Photo via zacbrownband/Facebook
A photo from a September run of shows by Zac Brown Band.
Zac Brown Band has nothing left to prove after an illustrious 15-year career in country music’s mainstream. The Atlanta-based group, led by Brown and a star-studded crew of musicians, could have easily cruised through hit songs last Saturday night at Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater and left the crowd abundantly satisfied.

Instead, they upped the ante. An unorthodox three-part show that featured a pair of brief intermissions was what Brown called his favorite format to date. It included 18 songs, a pair of medleys and a stage setup that only the Atlanta-based group could pull off.

Brown promised each of three parts would be better than the previous. He was almost right. The band opened the two-hour, 15-minute concert in a throwback bar scene, where Brown made a name for himself and met many of the band members that still tour with him 20 years later. A half-dozen lucky fans sat at the on-stage bar as Brown, violinist Jimmy De Martini and guitarist John Driskell Hopkins opened with the classics: “Toes” and a mashup of “Free,” together with a cover of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.”

Brown introduced the rest of his eight band members and a handful of touring musicians one by one as the first set went on, and the group masterfully inserted less-popular songs from its newest album, The Comeback, while still keeping the crowd. Sandwiching new ballad “Wild Palomino” between pop radio hit “Same Boat” and a creative medley with fan favorites from Dolly Parton, Randy Travis and Alabama kept concertgoers on their feet during a song they’d have probably otherwise sat for.

Ditto for the new album’s title track in the second set, which Brown introduced as a response to the media “bullshit” and political division caused by the pandemic. It followed country chart-topper “As She’s Walking Away” and preceded a rousing percussion solo from former Earth, Wind & Fire member Daniel de los Reyes. The percussion solo led into “Jump Right In” then “Sweet Annie,” and the party continued.
Besides Brown, De Martini was the real star of the show. The 46-year-old fiddle player demonstrated an incredible versatility that few in mainstream music can match. He led the group’s instrumentals for just about every song, but was even more impressive when singing lead vocals on a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” in the third set.

Brown introduced De Martini as someone who works out three hours a day and is a blackbelt in karate and jiu jitsu. After listening to him perform, it wouldn’t be surprising to learn he's flown to the moon or once played in the NFL—the guy can do anything.
If Saturday night’s show had a weakness, it was the third set which Brown said he liked most and promised would be the best. Musically, it was creative. Entertainmentwise, it was forced.

Each of the 12 musicians on stage took turns leading vocals in a medley of cover songs spanning a gamut of musical genres. Hopkins covered Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” and De los Reyes crooned Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” The band mixed in Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” KC and the Sunshine Band’s “That’s the Way I like it” and “Anderson .Paak’s “Fly As Me” among other random songs from the past four decades that didn’t fit together.

It's plausible that Brown asked each of his tour members to pick something they wanted to sing, then crammed it into a 30-minute medley that was supposed to be fun but instead fell a little flat. When you’re as popular and as well-traveled as this group, though, you can certainly get away with trying.
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