Zac Brown Band to headline Southern Ground Music and Food Festival in Charleston

Special to Lowcountry CurrentOctober 17, 2012 

Zac Brown Band is one of many playing the Southern Ground Music and Food Festival Oct. 20 and 21 on Daniel Island.

SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • The Southern Ground Music and Food Festival is noon Oct. 20 and 21 at Blackbaud Stadium, 1990 Daniel Island Drive, Daniel Island. Musical acts include Zac Brown Band, Gregg Allman, John Mayer, The Avett Brothers, Charlie Daniels Band and Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. Tickets are $67.50-$79.50 for a one day pass; $109-$139 for a two-day pass. Details: www.southerngroundfestival.com

Two years ago the Zac Brown Band earned a Grammy for Best New Artist -- an honor once thought to be a career-killer, what with former recipients-cum-cautionary tales Marc Cohn, Paula Cole and Milli Vanilli.

Of course, like a lot of Best New Artist winners and nominees, the Zac Brown Band was hardly new when it won the award. Rather, the Atlanta country troupe had six years and three studio albums under its belt when it earned the first of now two Grammy awards (it won another a year later for the Alan Jackson collaboration "As She's Walking Away").

Since then, the Zac Brown Band has released two more albums -- including 2012's "Uncaged" -- and been a regular draw on the touring circuit.

As the band is set to play the Southern Ground Music and Food Festival on Oct. 20 and Jacksonville's Veterans Memorial Arena six days later, we spoke to founding Zac Brown Band member/bassist John Driskell Hopkins about the so-called curse of the Best New Artist, whether he gets recognized like his band's namesake and his obfuscating middle name.

Question. The Zac Brown Band has done records at least every other year since its debut "Home Grown" in 2005. Do you feel like a prolific band?

Answer. Yeah. I think what happens is when you're fortunate enough to (have) some success, like this, people expect the records to come more quickly. The sophomore slump is the kind of thing where all your best songs were used on your first record, and you have to figure out something else to do because you love (what you're doing). But we've honestly got so much material that I feel like we're kind of set for a while. Not everything is going to be perfect but we've been very fortunate to have some very talented guys writing in this band.

Q. You mention the sophomore slump. There's a big misconception that when an artist wins the Best New Artist award at the Grammys -- like you did in 2010 -- it's the kiss of death. But for every Milli Vanilli, there are even more Adeles and Maroon 5s.

A. I think that most of the kisses of death have been to those who didn't (already have an) established presence. The kiss of death for us would have been for us going back to Atlanta and (to play) sold out 5,000 seaters. Our kiss of success is playing for 25,000, so it's like, "Wow."

Q. Being that you're not Zac Brown, do you still get recognized?

A. Yeah, but it's not really often. I've got an abnormal beard. So, (there's) having that up against a general stare of, "God, that's a weird beard," and then someone actually knowing who I am. I get looked at, but I think get recognized less often than I get looked at.

Q. Do people come up to you asking for an autograph because they think you're famous but aren't sure why?

A. No, I think by the time they actually have the gumption to come up and ask for an autograph, they've figured it out. By then, they're not sure if I'm a biker or in a band.

Q. Have you ever been mistaken for the Zach Braff Band?

A. Does he have a band?

Q. He does not.

A. Some people have said Jack Brown. That was back in the day. I've heard a couple jokes about Jack Brown, Zac Efron, Zach Braff.

Q. Did you add the middle name to your stage name, so you wouldn't be confused with Johns Hopkins?

A. I always felt like I was going to be doing something professional, stagewise. I actually almost changed it to Jay Driskell or J. Driskell. I didn't because it was kind of a hassle, but I do believe that having the name in the middle helps me. It's basically because I'm trying to sell myself as an artist and a songwriter, as well. So if someone is Googling for my music or maybe I got a show, I don't want them to Google John Hopkins and get the hospital.

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