The Zac Brown Band returned Saturday night to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, following up its sold-out appearance from last year with another scorching set of sunny summer fun.
For more than two hours, the seven-piece group — Brown on lead vocals and guitar, Jimmy De Martini on fiddle, John Driskell Hopkins on bass and guitar, Coy Bowles on guitar and keyboards, drummer Chris Fryar, multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook and percussionist Daniel de los Reyes — held the packed house in the palm of its hand, churning out new tracks, old favorites, some clever covers and plenty of extended jams. The party-hearty crowd and raucous performance often brought to mind another SPAC favorite, The Dave Matthews Band — a point brought home by the band itself on an early cover of “Ants Marching” that received some of the evening’s loudest applause.
The lights went out in the amphitheater just before 8:30, with the band hiding behind a large white sheet for the opening jam. Brown then stepped out on the catwalk to roaring cheers right before the sheet fell, and the band proceeded to open up with the appropriately titled “Jump Right In,” one of many songs played from last year’s Grammy-winning “Uncaged.” The speedy country strum of “The Wind” followed, with Brown grinning ear-to-ear as Bowles and the sizzling De Martini traded solo after solo.
After a few more electric songs, including the stunning ballad “Goodbye in Her Eyes” and “Knee Deep,” a five-song acoustic set actually brought the energy level higher. “Seven Bridges Road” and an all-percussion cover of James Taylor’s “The Frozen Man” brought the group’s intricate, multi-part harmonies to the forefront, while a new song, “One Day,” which has also been given an electric treatment on this tour, was a highlight of the evening. A tongue-in-cheek version of “Margaritaville” brought out the band’s easygoing nature, with Hopkins doing an exaggerated Elvis Presley impersonation during the song’s verses.
The full band came roaring back on “Keep Me In Mind,” and the remainder of the set continued a slow build to the finish. “Day For the Dead,” “Sweet Annie” and the summery anthem “Toes” stood out here, as well as a lengthy jam on a medley of John Mayer’s “Isn’t She Lovely” and “Neon,” which featured De Martini’s best solo of the evening. “Chicken Fried,” the band’s biggest hit, closed out the main set with a bang — only to be topped by an encore featuring a massive version of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”
Hard-rocking Southern quartet Dugas opened the show with an energetic 40-minute set showcasing namesake lead vocalist Sarah Dugas’ powerful vocals, at times evoking Melissa Etheridge or a cleaner Janis Joplin. While the muddy sound mix tended to obscure some of the finer points of the performance, especially the lyrics (a regular complaint with the opening acts at SPAC), the group’s passion and powerful instrumental interplay was on display on songs such as “I Want to Believe You” and especially the thundering “Easier,” which saw Sarah Dugas pushing her vocal range to its absolute limit.