Georgia Boy Zac Brown Shares his South

Something in the rich fertile Georgia soil must be feeding creativity. Every year or so it seems the most exciting and popular new artists in America emerge from somewhere in the state. Making the big time after years of footwork in every honky tonk and party town across Dixie, Mableton’s Zac Brown Band has broken through into that next big level – the national stage.

From a tentative start playing in his hometown Dahlonega coffee shops to winning the 2010 Grammy for Best New Artist, along with three recent CMT and four Academy of Country Music award nominations, Brown and his band have already achieved a lifetime of dreams, and they are just getting started.

It is an insult to call the Zac Brown Band an overnight sensation. Their still-blooming career was honed one night and one town at a time. The first big crowning moment came when the catchy single “Chicken Fried” was picked up by country radio, and became a smash hit.

“I don’t really consider myself as a country artist. I am a ‘southern’ artist,” Brown said in a recent phone interview. “Being from the South, it instills a sense of love and respect for each other, we share a common base.” He gives credit to the local fans who were always encouraging. “The Georgia fan base is invaluable to us.”

While acknowledging fan support as essential, Brown is quick to point out the numerous Georgia-based musical influences that shaped his sound over the years: “I grew up on good music, and was a big fan of people like the Indigo Girls, Matthew Kahler, and, of course, the Allman Brothers. But I like all kinds of music, and knowing what to borrow.”

Brown’s biggest influence comes from Jimmy Buffett, and he has attempted to follow in his footsteps. A recent collaboration with Buffett on a CMT “Crossroads” show stands out as a career high point for Brown. “He is my all-time favorite. Buffett succeeded without being ‘someone else’,” Brown said. “Country music centers around story songs, and like Buffett, we try to make our music something people can relate to.”

One career factor that Brown acknowledges is his high level of participation in all aspects of the business. “I am very involved in the business end of things. We have a lot of great help, but we are still clearing our own path through the woods, so to speak,” he said.

Brown’s business acumen is well-documented, having owned a restaurant for a few years in the Lake Oconee area. A self-admitted foodie, Brown used his own recipes, which were recently pulled together into a cookbook entitled “Southern Ground: Recipes, Images, Lifestyle, and Lore”.

“Food, like music, is a southern tradition. Good meals are memorable things, it’s what pulls us together… like music,” he said.

Upcoming events in the life of the Zac Brown Band include the release of an star-studded live DVD filmed at the Fox Theatre at a fundraiser for the Georgia Theatre, a two-night stand at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park in Alpharetta on May 8 and 9, and Brown’s own “Southern Ground” ocean cruise sponsored by the Sixthman company on Labor Day weekend.

And sometime in the future, the opening of a summer camp for kids with special needs in Brown’s own north Georgia neighborhood. “I worked at a camp in Dahlonega with kids who had learning disabilities, autism and ADD. This is a goal of mine, to provide a place for up to 150 kids to go and have a good time, where their needs can be met,” he said.

Since the first single took off, Brown and his band have seen an amazing jump in their recognition and popularity, moving from the regional bar circuit to major national events and festivals. When asked how his southern demeanor plays in other areas of the country, Brown see it as a good thing.

“I think it is important to just be yourself, meet other good people all over the country, and share things with each other. We learn more that way. But we are proud to represent Atlanta and Georgia, and I think it gives us an edge.”

Concert preview

Zac Brown Band’s Breaking Southern Ground Tour

6 p.m. May 8-9, 2010. $25-$49. Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park, Alpharetta. 404-733-5397. www.vzwamp.com