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Zac Brown Band and Special Guests Elevate Southern Ground Festival

Willie Nelson, Kacey Musgraves and Kenny Rogers add zest to fest.

photo courtesy Southern Reel Nashville/Shorefire Media

The musical lineup at this weekend’s Southern Ground Music & Food Festival, presented by the Zac Brown Band, was as diverse as the ingredients in Chef Rusty Hamlin’s signature jambalaya. Willie Nelson, Kacey Musgraves, Eli Young Band, Blackberry Smoke, California-rock troubadours Dawes and, of course, the two-night headlining Zac Brown Band all made for a musical stew over two days in Nashville. This year marked the second Music City installment of the festival, a music and food lover’s dream.

On Friday, two separate Kennys sat in with Zac: Kenny Rogers and Kenny Chesney. Rogers performed his psychedelic First Edition hit “Just Dropped In (to See What Condition My Condition Was In)" and his hallmark, “The Gambler,” while Chesney duetted with Zac on ZBB’s “Knee Deep” and the Tom Petty barnstormer “Runnin’ Down a Dream.” Both Kennys, along with fellow guests Amos Lee, Jason Mraz and Lennon and Maisy Stella, fit in perfectly with Zac’s band, who proved why they’re among the best players in Nashville today.

Saturday brought an even more far-flung lineup, with Dawes and folk-rockers The Head & the Heart, and the hypnotic Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. But it was a Texas legend who anchored the afternoon: Willie Nelson. Although still nursing an injured shoulder that necessitated the canceling of some tour dates, Willie played nearly 20 minutes over his scheduled hour, peppering his set with standards like “On the Road Again,” “Crazy” and “Night Life.” Southern-rock titan Warren Haynes was an adjunct member of Willie’s Family Band, providing tasteful electric solos to Willie’s own acoustic noodling.

Later, another Texan also proved country music’s breadth when Kacey Musgraves performed a tight set to an overflow crowd at the festival’s second stage. Her debut single, “Merry Go ’Round,” and the No. 1 hit she co-wrote for Miranda Lambert, “Mama’s Broken Heart,” were highlights. But it was the show-closing “Follow Your Arrow”—which Kacey announced as her new single—that elicited the biggest reaction with its message of acceptance.

If Zac Brown Band’s set on Friday night was eclectic, then their Saturday night finale was even more so. Opening with “Jump Right In,” the group tore into its growing catalog of crowd-pleasers, including “Keep Me in Mind,” “Whiskey’s Gone,” “Goodbye in Her Eyes” and a new song, the eerie “Day for the Dead.” But it was Zac’s choice of covers, like Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and TLC’s “Waterfalls,” that summed up the all-encompassing nature of the Southern Ground Music & Food Festival.

And special guest John Fogerty didn’t hurt either, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer performed Creedence Clearwater Revival hits “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” and “Bad Moon Rising,” and his baseball anthem “Centerfield.” 

A home run? You better believe it.

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