Starting from the beginning of the evening, after valiantly maneuvering through the gridlock of traffic leading into the pavilion, I began one of my favorite pastimes of a country concert: People watching. The majority of attendees walking to the ZBB show fell into varied demographics of country music fans both young and old. Most notable, however, was the delightful lack of the obnoxious bro-country concertgoers who frequent the more pop-infused events like Country Thunder, where they can be found running amok, pulling shots from a bottle in one with with a bottle of chaser in the other.
All this isn't to say they were not there whatsoever, but their numbers just seemed pleasantly lower than expected. There were, however, a certain legion of fans donning Zac Brown's trademark look of a wool beanie on their head. Will the real Zac Brown please stand up? When the band took the stage shortly after 8 p.m., and Brown revealed himself sans the beanie, you can imagine the shared disappointment among his stylized following.
It's not a fashion show we're here to see though, and Brown wasted no time as his band dove right in to their number one single "Keep Me in Mind." It was more than apparent from the opening lyrics that these guys were going to be sharp on this fall night in Phoenix.
Hold the press. Before I go any further, a huge honorable mention needs to go out to Sturgill Simpson, the evening's opening act. In the spirit of authentic and great country music, he certainly deserves a tip of the hat.
The first act consisted of several popular ZBB singles, a few covers, as well as their first ballad of the night -- and frankly one of the best songs in their arsenal -- "Colder Weather." Upon its conclusion, roadies rushed the stage to set up a semi-circle of barstools and microphones so the band could take their places and begin the more intimate Act II.
The acoustic section of the show commenced with the single "Sweet Annie" from the band's album Uncaged. The audience took their seats for the first time in the evening to bask in the music, but it was a short-lived effort once the band broke into their good-time-and-easy-living hit "Toes," since everyone promptly hopped back onto their feet to dance along.
"How many tour buses would it take to bring you all with us?" Brown asked of the audience after surrendering the lyrics of "Toes" to the crowd and they carried the whole chorus in a monstrous roar.
The highlight of the second act, for me, came with the completely unexpected, but completely awesome rendition of Billy Joel's "Piano Man." It was obvious that many of the people in attendance shared my surprise and enthusiasm with ZBB's selection as soon as that unmistakable harmonica introduction came blasting through the speakers. Once again with that monstrous roaring sing-along, the crowd let Brown know loud and clear: You've got us feelin' all right.
To close out the evening, ZBB really started to unleash the surprises -- starting with their own cover of "Enter Sandman" by Metallica. This is another one that caught me off guard, but a fellow media member told me that covering "Enter Sandman" has become a pretty popular trend among a lot of country musicians. Since she oversees mash-up playlists for a radio station, I think the source is fairly solid here.