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Zac Brown Band's 'overnight' success took decade

Zac Brown Band
Zac Brown Band

Just 18 months ago, bass player John Driskell Hopkins and his bandmates in the Zac Brown Band were playing bars and driving themselves from gig to gig.

Then came the release of "The Foundation" in November 2008. In almost head-spinning fashion, the Zac Brown Band skyrocketed to phenomenal success, collecting numerous awards and accolades along the way.

And just when it seemed like life couldn't get any crazier for the sextet from Georgia, in January, Brown and crew won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

"It indeed has gone into overdrive," Hopkins said, describing how crazy the past 18 months have been. "You notice it especially after you get home. When you're locked in the bus it's harder to notice. You get home and start watching TV, it really comes to light. It's been a complete roller coaster. It's been absolutely crazy. But it's been good every second."

Backed by the singles "Toes," "Chicken Fried," "Whatever It Is" and "Highway 20 Ride," the Zac Brown Band emerged as one of the big breakthrough artists of 2009, with its blend of country crossing over the charts in several musical genres.

For many people, the band seemingly came out of nowhere to become an overnight sensation. In reality, Zac Brown started about a decade ago, and its members, as Hopkins puts it, are "lifers" in the music business.

"We've had really good club success to really good radio success to present day. I've really gotten to see every aspect ... really gotten to see how overnight success takes 20 years," he said.

Those years of touring clubs did a lot to prepare the band for its current-day success, Hopkins said. Today, the band is known as much for its live performances as its radio chart success.

"We've never played for less than three hours except for rare occasions," he said. "Zac is a master at keeping the crowd entertained and occupied. He never lets them stop. It really has prepared us for the bigger crowds. It's just like playing to 10 smaller crowds, you break the crowd into sections."

If touring and hit singles weren't enough to keep Brown busy, he has two steak sauces and a cookbook about to be released. And each band member has their own charities, ranging from helping children with autism to running a camp for children.

For Hopkins, this will be his first time performing in Utah. But he has been here to ski before. And with a scheduled day off happening while the band is in town, Hopkins admits he'll have his ski boots with him on the bus.

"Man we're just excited about the next three weeks," he said of the current West Coast tour.

After the current tour, the Zac Brown Band will head back to the studio to finish up an album that the group's been working on since January. Then they hit the road again, including an opening slot on the Dave Matthews Band's summer tour.

If you go...

What: Zac Brown Band, Nic Cowan, Levi Lowrey, Sonia Leigh

Where: The Rail Events Center, 235 N. 500 West

When: March 6, 7 p.m.

How much: $36

Phone: 801-467-8499, 800-888-8499