Zac Brown Band on the 50-yard line

Thursday, August 17, 2017

By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Stambaugh Stadium has seen more than its fair share of excitement. The home of the four-time national champion Youngstown State University football team –who fell one game short of a fifth title in January – has been packed with fired-up fans many times.

But it has never been the site of a major concert.

That will change in one week when the Zac Brown Band plays the stadium on the hill.

The Grammy-winning country act is happy to break in the Ice Castle as a major music venue, and it shouldn’t be difficult. After all, Youngstowners are used to having a good time at Stambaugh Stadium.

Jimmy De Martini, who plays fiddle for the band and also contributes vocals, wasn’t aware of the first-time status of the stadium but was kind of glad to hear it.

“We love playing new places,” said De Martini, in a phone interview last week. “There is a different kind of energy when you play in a football stadium. People have a relationship with that stadium, so there is a multiplier effect when you see a band that you like there. They’re always ready to have a good time when they come, usually expecting to see football, but this will be more of a party.”

The concert is billed as the inaugural Y Live music festival. About 18,000 seats are available for the show, which easily makes it the largest concert in the city in as long as anyone can remember.

The Zac Brown Band – firmly in the top tier of country acts – is touring on the momentum of its latest album, “Welcome Home.” The new release marks a return to the band’s musical roots after its more wide-ranging 2015 release, “Jekyll and Hyde.”

“Welcome Home” has already spawned the singles “My Old Man” and “Roots,” and will undoubtedly provide a few more by the end of the year.

Zac Brown Band has a knack for taking sturdy and smooth songs and elevating them into something more grand with a rich musical sound that never skimps on instrumentation.

If there is a moment in a song where a glockenspiel, Hammond organ or mellotron would provide the perfect sound, you can bet it will be there. And they never had to call in an outside musician to handle the role.

“We have so many musicians in this band, that between the eight of us, we can pretty much play any instrument,” said De Martini. “When most bands record, they have to get session musicians. But when the producer looked around the room, he knew somebody there could do it.”

That record producer was Nashville-based Dave Cobb, whom De Martini gave a lot of credit to for the success of “Welcome Home.”

It was the first time ZBB had used Cobb, or anyone outside its circle, as producer. “He’s also from Atlanta, and he produced some of our favorites, like Jason Isbell, so we looked him up,” said De Martini. “The reason we asked [Cobb] is because these songs are very personal, and he is able to get that emotion out of a band. I love how it was made, the songs, and it was really fun working with this producer. It seemed like he knows how we should sound.”

As the violin player, De Martini’s playing is prominent on every ZBB album, but especially the latest one. He incorporates violin riffs into songs in a manner that’s more like a lead guitarist.

The classically trained violinist said he learned to play bluegrass style only after he met Brown and joined the band in 2004.

Zac Brown Band is known for playing long concerts, and has even taken to inserting a 10-minute intermission in the show.

It is playing almost every song on the “Welcome Home” album on its current tour. The band improvises on some songs, said De Martini, but more often stays true to its records. “Our cohesiveness helps us sound the same as what we do on our records,” he said.

Fans who catch the band at Stambaugh Stadium should expect to hear songs that span all of the band’s albums, plus several cover songs.

In fact, ZBB has become known for inserting some surprising covers. Its set list for concerts this summer included the likes of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”

The covers keep things fresh for the band.

“We enjoy doing covers,” said De Martini. “We get tired of doing our own songs, and it’s fun for us to do songs that we love. We have fun on stage.”