May 5, 2012
Winstar World Casino
Thackerville, OK USA
Review by Josh Wiggins
Photos by Craig Hunter Ross
Zac Brown Band
There's just something about the opportunity to catch Zac Brown and his band in concert that, as Robert Palmer so eloquently put it, "is simply irresistible!" So, with Cinco de Mayo festivities in full swing on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Dallas, I found myself heading North on I-35 to exit one mile past the Red River into Oklahoma territory. My destination was the WinStar World Casino, now billed as the third largest gambling destination in the country.
This was my first time to venture up to Oklahoma to see a show at the WinStar. Truth be told, if it weren't for the notoriety associated with the Zac Brown Band live shows, I wouldn't have made the 90-mile trek. Whether you enjoy his catchy beer drinking lyrics, or appreciate the depth of his country love songs, exceedingly large and often sold-out crowds have become a norm for this Georgia based outfit whenever their dates are announced. However, when the top dollar price for entry into this particular show topped out at $150 per ticket, you better believe there was more than this country boy's charisma on the line tonight. These people were ready to party, and it was Zac they were counting on to give them their money's worth.
The WinStar's 3200-seat 'theater' felt more like a large conference or ball room upon entering. The crowd inside appeared to be a mixed scene of young Dallas professionals, Oklahoma locals and an array of your typical gorgeous southern ladies. But whether you were in plaid, pearl snaps, or a Hawaiian shirt, this joint was full of down home, nice, genuine folks. The lines for cold beer - and in Oklahoma that means the watered down 3.2 variety - were long. The Mexico City brewed Modelo beer was the only frothy beverage carried by the casino that exceeded the other offerings in alcohol content. But let's face it, no one really cared.
Around 8:45, the ringleader for tonight's festivities finally made an appearance. When the lights went down, the roar of the crowd literally transformed the massive room into a barn hall of sorts. "Whiskey Gone" was the perfect opening number for this quasi, new generation Southern country rock band. Four large screens provided everyone inside an up close and visual experience of the activity on stage. Brown's well-seasoned band – they've been touring constantly going on two years now – was precise and on cue. The true versatility of this band was evident when they broke into Charlie Daniels' classic, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia".
The tune really showed the group's ability to jam, and was the best rendition of this song I've heard outside of the original author himself. ZBB played all of the whimsical favorites including "Toes", "Highway 20 Ride", "Keep Me in Mind" and "Cold Weather" many in the crowd had grown to love while listening to the music partying with friends. The addition of multi instrumentalist and vocalist Clay Cook, and the recent announcement that percussionist Daniel de los Reyes was now a permanent member of the group, has literally created the perfect Southern Jam band. Truth be told, they are all incredibly gifted musicians. Cook's guitar playing and singing helped divert attention away from Brown as well as anchor an already solid and well-seasoned group.
From one tune to the next, you really didn't know whether Zac and the gang would play a cover tune, or dig out a hidden gem to play. His version of the hit "Free", which had a few bars of Stevie Wonder's, "Isn't She Lovely" included in it, had the women arm in arm with their men, or girlfriends. The show ended with the group's signature hit, "Chicken Fried."
I know the band has been touring off the same album going on two years now. The thing is, people just can't get enough of this band in concert. ZBB continues to strike while the irons are hot, and the results have been one sold-out show after another. Sooner or later, the band is going to have to retire from the road and get back to the business of creating new music. As of now, they've got the Southern country rock jam portion of their act down pat. If they can incorporate some of that vibe into their next record, the band may never come off the road again after its release. Regardless of what the future holds, it was the present that was indeed satisfying this beautiful cloudless night. Kenny Chesney may be comfortable sticking to stadium shows, but for my money, (and in this case quite a bit of it), I'll take the Zac Brown Band in a 3200-seat theater any time, any place, and especially anywhere.