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Zac Brown Band hitting it out of the park

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Zac Brown Band is having one scorcher of a summer.

In June, the Grammy-winning Atlanta country (and everything else) act played a two-night stand at Boston's iconic Fenway Park, performing for a total of 70,000 fans. According to Rolling Stone, Brown said it was "the two best nights in our career so far."

Drummer Chris Fryar corroborates that statement. For him, playing at the home of the Red Sox saw a childhood dream fulfilled. Well, sort of.

"I wanted to be a ballplayer when I was a kid," he says. "I dreamed of playing in those stadiums. Now I can say I finally got to play Fenway Park, even if it wasn't as a ballplayer."

By now, Zac Brown Band -- whose ranks include Clay Cook, Coy Bowles, Daniel de los Reyes, Jimmy De Martini, John Driskell Hopkins and Matt Mangano -- is no stranger to stadiums. (The band can add Investors Group Field to the list when it headlines Winnipeg's inaugural MTS Prairie Jam Festival on Sunday, a day-long country music festival featuring Walk Off The Earth, Thompson Square, Kira Isabella and more.)

Over three commercially and critically successful albums -- 2008's The Foundation, 2010's You Get What You Give and 2012's Uncaged -- which spawned a staggering 11 No. 1 singles, Zac Brown Band has proved itself a leading light in the country music scene, venerated for both its musicianship and its refusal to be hemmed in by genre.

It doubtless was those qualities that piqued the interest of Dave Grohl. The Foo Fighters frontman produced a four-song EP for the band titled The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1, the first of two planned releases. The first EP was released digitally in late 2013 and physically via Brown's Southern Ground label this past spring.

The partnership came about thanks to a chance meeting between Brown and Grohl at John Varvatos's West Hollywood store, where Brown was picking up his outfit for the Grammys. "They ended up exchanging numbers," Fryar says. "Zac told him he'd love to work with him and they kept in touch."

Grohl and the band recorded the EP at Brown's Southern Ground Studios in Nashville during a week-long session last November. While the former Nirvana drummer was mostly behind the board for this project, he did take his place behind the kit for the track Let It Rain. (Which Fryar was totally OK with, for the record.)

"It was cool for me to work with him as a drummer," he says. "I was a fan of Dave's drumming years ago with Nirvana, and became a fan again through his work with Foo Fighters as a singer-songwriter. He's great to work with in the studio. He has a way of sifting through ideas and zeroing in on the ones that are worth spending time with. He got a lot out of us -- things that we weren't even sure we were capable of." (Southern Ground is one of eight American recording studios that will be featured in the Foo Fighters' upcoming HBO series Foo Fighters: Sonic Highways, slated to debut in October.)

Zac Brown Band has its eye on its next full-length studio album, which Fryar hopes will be out sometime in 2015. The recording plans are loose.

"We're big believers in letting the songs be what they want to be," he says. "We bring in a lot of different influences and then we'll experiment and see what happens."

That is, of course, if they find the time. The band has tour dates stretching well into October. "We do as many shows as we can squeeze in while remaining in the good graces of our significant others," Fryar says with a laugh. "Because we all have families at home, we'll go out and do three or four shows in a week and then come home for a couple days. It can be exhausting, travel-wise, but it's great to see our families.

"We're lucky to have a fan base that keeps us busy."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2014 G2

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