At Summerfest, Zac Brown Band can and does play almost anything you can imagine

Erik Ernst
Special to the Journal Sentinel
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Early in Zac Brown Band’s two-hour set Sunday night at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater, palm trees swayed across the on-stage video screens and the bouncy Caribbean grooves of “Knee Deep” filled the air.

As the eight-piece band added a syncopated breakdown, Zac Brown stepped forward and said, “Let me have it.” The capacity crowd responded in full voice on the beachy refrain. “What a beautiful night to get lost with you all out here tonight,” Brown added.

But this musical road trip wouldn’t be a meandering or misguided one. Instead, Brown and company are a well-oiled machine that took fans through the opening country bounce of “Homegrown,” the brooding rock of “Someone I Used to Know,” a cover of the Wood Brothers’ “Shoofly Pie” that stretched into a jam tracking playful solos across the stage from Jimmy De Martini’s dancing violin to Clay Cook’s organ melodies, and the soaring impassioned vocal pleas of “Quiet Your Mind.” And that was all during the night’s first of two sets.

Zac Brown Band headlines the American Family Insurance Amphitheater on June 30, 2019.

How brilliantly chameleonic is this band? They stretched from a thrashing – and remarkably convincing – cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” directly into a tender take on James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” – picked via a spin of the “Wheel of James” by a young girl from the crowd – that began an intimate mid-pit, pre-intermission acoustic set. No one would’ve second guessed the choices.

Experimental, playful, and humble, the band carried the dulcet longing of “Goodbye in Her Eyes” from its simple acoustic guitar-percussive introduction into a thumping emotional crescendo. “Warrior,” one of a handful of new songs from an upcoming album, paid tribute to veterans with a thundering electric stomp. And, in the slow refrains of “Colder Weather,” as the song added an interlude of the Eagles’ “Take it to The Limit,” Brown eschewed the typical random audience high fives in favor of eye contact-filled handshakes with dozens of fans along the catwalk.

By the time the crowd had carried the chorus of a romping “Chicken Fried,” Brown was ready to turn the band into Summerfest’s most potent cover band as they bounded through pieces of Dire Straits, White Stripes, Def Leppard and Van Halen tracks before closing with De Martini rapping Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls on Parade” against a backdrop of thrashing guitars, flashing lights and an amphitheater full of fist-pumping fans. What a ride.

Drake White opens for Zac Brown Band at the American Family Insurance Amphitheater on Sunday.

As Drake White took the stage for his 50-minute opening set, he was introduced as the “countriest and funkiest man in show business.” It wasn’t hyperbole. Since making his Summerfest side stage debut in 2013, White has become one of country music’s most energetic and engaging live showmen.

Fitting his introduction, the funky stomp of the opening “It Feels Good” was highlighted by a bit of James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good).”

Late in his set, White stepped toward the front of the stage and asked who was ready for Zac Brown Band. When the crowd cheered, he joked, “Well, tough. I have two more songs and he’s just going to have to wait.” With the big energy White and his Big Fire band revved up in a closing cover of Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” – with White taking a beer from the crowd and punching the air like a prize fighter. Brown and company likely didn’t mind the wait.


  • In a fun video, Zac Brown Band built anticipation for the beginning of the show by taking fans behind the scenes of the setup of the tour’s stage and the band’s typical pre-show preparation – including a bus warmup session.
  • Zac Brown Band percussionist Daniel De Los Reyes deserves extra credit for being the hardest working man at Summerfest Sunday. In addition to his headlining spot on stage, he also played a full set with opener Drake White and the Big Fire and took the Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard stage (and their subsequent mid-crowd jam in the crowd) with Ozomatli in the afternoon.
  • Drake White put any Zac Brown Band fans who were unfamiliar with his work at ease. “I realize some of you don’t know who I am,” White told the crowd before a tender solo acoustic performance of “Story.” “That’s all right, because I don’t know who all of you are either,” he added with a smile.

RELATED:Not sure what to see at Summerfest 2019? Plan your visit with our interactive schedule.

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