SARATOGA SPRINGS — Zac Brown’s chicken-fried country-rock revved up one of SPAC’s biggest crowds Saturday: three-and-a-half hours of high-octane hometown happiness chased with roadway rumbles.
Brown’s big voice boomed in tunes of home — the opener “Homegrown,” the welcoming “Family Table,” the rousing set-closer “Chicken Fried” — and leaving it — the desolate “Colder Weather,” the ambivalent road-dog lament “2 Places at 1 Time” from the new album “Welcome Home.” He cut deeper on “Sweet Annie,” the exotic “Day for the Dead,” the wistful “Settle Me Down.”
Since success blew up Brown and his band from Georgia bars, they’ve kept their barstool comfort while learning licks and songs. Kings of Leon’s rocking “Use Somebody,” the Dave Matthews Band’s “Ants Marching” (Brown and band are the country-politan DMB) and Travis Tritt’s happy “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” rocked like club-band covers expertly super-sized to arena power. Brown’s own surf-and-sunscreen flow of “Jump Right In,” “Castaway,” “Where the Boat Leaves From” and “Knee Deep” had a Jimmy Buffett-like bounce.
RELATED: Smile gallery
Some borrowings stalled. The Allmans’ “Whipping Post” and an overlong guitar duel between Clay Cook and Coy Bowles, a menu of Led Zeppelin, Van Halen and Deep Purple riffs with a side of “Star Spangled Banner,” felt slick but slack. They recovered: A spunky “Toes” brought the energy back up after “Whipping Post” and set up the power-glide of “Chicken Fried.” The encore guitar wankery (after a mostly solo, sincere Brown croon through John Prine’s “All The Best”) set up Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Paradise City” to close hot.
Strong-voiced Caroline Jones introduced herself with charming confidence in just 20 minutes to start, pumping up ABBA’s “Mamma Mia!” and originals from her debut EP “Bare Feet.” Her closer, “Tough Guys,” hit hardest on zippy dobro runs. Second on the bill, then a frequent guest in Brown’s set, Darrell Scott started solo at first, fighting for the crowd’s attention after Jones’ four-piece band gusto. Members of Brown’s band, then Brown himself, came on to beef up Scott’s well-made, persuasively sung country crooners. Sitting behind Scott with his own band around him, Brown played a lot and sang some, joining Scott’s voice in “Long Time Gone” into The Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek.”
Brown engaged easily with sincere generosity and big-show musical/production, never missing a note shaking fans’ hands in the seatless front section. For a three-act show, breaks felt efficiently short, speeding fans’ bar runs. Scott played and sang about half of Brown’s set, while Jones came on to duet with Brown in “Tomorrow Never Comes” and Floodwood guitarist Chris Eves guested powerfully on “Keep Me in Mind.”
Brown spotlighted his Southern Ground philanthropy for returning vets, citing his “higher purpose.” For most in the huge, happy crowd that bounced and danced from four songs in, Saturday was a party, leaving spectacularly trashed grounds, and people, as booming echoes of SPAC’s last 2017 show faded away.