Southern Ground Music and Food Festival at The Lawn at Riverfront Park, 9/21/12



The Lawn at Riverfront park is a sweet spot to see a show. With the Nashville skyline to your left and the pedestrian bridge to the right, it's hard to sit on that hill and not be awestruck — hard to not just sit there and think, "Goddamn, we love this city." And that's The Spin talking — we hate everything! Or almost everything. Most things, at the very least. Shit, we'd even go so far to say that it's such a beautiful spot that we don't even care who plays there, we're going to The Lawn. The Spin went to see Zac Brown's Southern Ground Music and Food Festival on Friday, and that is not something we'd ever thought we'd be interested in. But we had a great time. Clearly, the embers of the thermal plant infused The Lawn with some really good vibes. Or something.

Now, we're not exactly ZBB fans — we caught Brown & Co. once at Bonnaroo while stoned out of our gourds and actually enjoyed it thoroughly, but we couldn't name a ZBB song for the life of us. Still, we're fans of the way those dudes throw a party. The two-stage set-up, alternating between name-brand acts and up-and-comers without the need for huge crowd shifts, was really cool — the sound on both stages was loud and clear enough that no matter where you were on the festival grounds you could hear them rather well. The change-overs between acts were seamless and, according to our watch, the whole kit and caboodle was only running about 15 minutes behind schedule — which, for the first night of a first-time festival in a brand-new venue, is nothing short of miraculous. The layout and the crowd-herding security measures were apparent enough to make us feel safe, but casual enough that your average crowd member wouldn't notice he or she was being herded.

Top to bottom, it was a really well run, well executed festival. Our only real disappointment was that the Biscuit Love truck had run out of their hot chicken biscuit right as we made it to the front of the line. Well, that and we couldn't run fast enough to escape a surprise appearance by John Mayer and his “white supremacist" dick. But these are not things Zac Brown and his crew can control, so we're not holding it against them. Well, they could have not invited Mayer or the ever-leathery Sheryl Crow. But it's the Southern Ground Music and Food Festival, not the Zac Brown Caters to Music Critics Who Would Rather Be at a Dingy Moped Shop Festival. We knew what we were getting ourselves into when we volunteered for this gig, and we were actually surprised that seeing two of our least favorite artist of all time was less gut-wrenching than we figured it would be.

Overall, the music was actually pretty cool. Maybe it was the perfect weather, maybe it was the perfect location, but even The Spin — the last folks who you could imagine diggin' on some country-jam tunes — was feeling it. Amos Lee makes neither cookies nor blue jeans, but he does make some laid-back, rootsy grooves that fit perfectly with a sunset and a glass of single-barrel on the rocks. Nic Cowan somehow made ukulele-reggae seem like a thing we could listen to on the regular, and Zac Brown Band was, well, just as pleasant and enjoyable while we're sorta-sober as they were when we were stoned out of our gourds in Manchester. Clearly, it's music that doesn't require drugs to be fun, though a bag of mushrooms would have been the perfect compliment to the gorgeous light show they had. While their pop-leaning country tunes aren't quite our bag, they have some really gnarly guitar tones, and we probably could have watched those dudes trade licks sans lyrics all night.

And Alan Jackson! Sure, he was only onstage for a couple of songs, but the man's presence was enough to make us to swallow the fact that we had to sit through two Sheryl Crow songs. It wasn't enough to smooth over the fact that Mayer made an appearance, but that's why concerts have exits and that's why we use them. Seriously, it was a great night even if we had to look at Mayer's supremely punchable mug for about 15 seconds.

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