In recent years, the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum has steadily moved into the mainstream of the Music Row social scene.
I had a couple of thoughts after attending the organization’s latest exhibit opening on Tuesday (June 19) honoring The Zac Brown Band. First, by continually holding newsworthy events, the museum has transformed itself into being a regular destination, a vital, breathing entity, rather than a static, conventional “museum.”
Second, the reception for the exhibit was dominated by young attendees, folks in the music business who were still in their “new networking” years. This is a very healthy and admirable trend. It was great to see this institution engaging the next generation of industry personalities.
“We’re pleased that you’re here for our new exhibit, Homegrown: Zac Brown Band,” said host Kyle Young. “Zac started singing as soon as he could talk. And he sure can cook.
“I’m less impressed with the fact that Zac can cook than with the fact that Zac serves. He’s a community builder. His motto is, ‘You Get What You Give.’”
Before each tour stop, Zac feeds the band’s fans from a custom kitchen. Proceeds go to Camp Southern Ground to mold children into good citizens. It is in Georgia, outside Atlanta.
Southern Ground is a lifestyle brand that also incorporates crafts, a line of knives, jewelry, philanthropy and a variety of events. There is a Southern Ground music and food festival in South Carolina, a Southern Ground amphitheater in Georgia and a Southern Ground recording studio in Nashville.
Young told the crowd how exceptional Zac Brown is: “’Ordinary’ does not win Grammy Awards,” he said. “’Ordinary’ does not put out platinum albums. Fans know that they’ll find something extraordinary” in the Zac Brown Band and its music.
At Young’s invitation, all eight members of the group came on stage. Zac was overcome by the experience of having his life and career showcased.
“What an incredible honor,” he began, before choking up. “I have to get myself together,” he stammered. “I’m moved by all of this. I’m proud of these guys standing behind me through thick and thin,” he added before being overcome again.
“I’m not gonna pull it together. What an incredible presentation….We just tried to make the right choices.”
Dapper fiddler Jimmy De Martini took over to say, “Seeing the exhibit today was pretty emotional, pretty amazing. This is a great way for us to re-bond together and see what we’ve been through. We’re trying to always do the right thing, and we want you guys to be proud of us.”
Each of the other band members also took a turn at the mic, and each spoke from the heart. Guitarist/singer John Driskell Hopkins (once a country hater), electric guitarist Coy Bowles (a jazz snob) and multi instrumentalist/singer Clay Cook (a rocker) all admitted that, as youngsters, they never dreamed they’d play in a country band. Bass player Matt Mangano, drummer Chris Fryar and percussionist Daniel De Los Reyes emphasized what a “family” the group is.
“There is an incredible team behind this band,” concluded a still-emotional Zac. “This is beautiful. It’s an honor to be part of this place.”
Taking it all in were Laura Crawford, Earle Simmons, Rod Essig, Ron Huntsman, Tom Roland, Mike Craft, the Nashville TV series’ Clare Bowen and her Music City picker fiancé Brandon Robert Young, Brian Mansfield, Craig Shelburne, Rory Lee Feek, Oliver Wood, Lynn Oliver, Wyatt Durrette, John Huie and Ernie & Jerry Williams.
There’s a guy who comes to these Hall of Fame events sporting great appliquéd jackets. Jerry decided to find out who he is. He’s Steve Westfield and, yes, those are Manuel jackets he wears.
While the young attendees schmoozed, networked and mingled, the veterans snacked on chicken meatball sliders and baguette slices with spiced chickpea hummus.
The Zac Brown Band is one of country music’s coolest acts. Appropriately, the exhibit is loaded with cool stuff. Go and see.