by Max Stewart
Georgia’s own Zac Brown Band have been a mainstay in the country music world since 2009, bringing an authentic spin to a mainstream country genre that oftentimes feels watered-down and uninspired. With hints of bluegrass, rock (see collaborations with Chris Cornell and Dave Grohl), reggae and even soul, Zac Brown Band always seem to deliver something with a bit more purity and heart than other country acts that sell out stadiums. I recall watching the Foo Fighters’ HBO documentary Sonic Highways in 2014 (when the Foo Fighters recorded a song with the band in their Nashville studio), and I was in awe of Zac Brown Band’s comradery and cohesiveness. Besides their clear musical chemistry and great catalogue of tunes, it was clear the band has a good time with each other both on and off stage.
Zac Brown Band’s members are a mix of unique musical flavorings with folks mostly hailing from across the great state of Georgia: Dahlonega’s Zac Brown, Snellville’s Clay Cook, Thomaston’s Clay Cook, Marietta’s Jimmy De Martini, and Gainesville’s John Driskell Hopkins. To round it out, percussionist Daniel de los Reyes was raised in Las Vegas, drummer Chris Fryer is from Alabama, and bassist Matt Managano met fellow member Clay Cook at Boston’s Berklee College of Music after moving from California. It is safe to say they all now claim Georgia as their homebase and greater Atlanta as the launch of their wildly successful career.
It was Hopkins, however, that has always has stood out to me in the band when I discovered them years ago. The epic facial hair and western hats. The voice that sounds like he could moonlight as a viking. The covers of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” with him on vocals. He always seemed like a righteous dude amongst a righteous band. I also happened to meet him at a Christmas concert at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center in Atlanta a few years ago, where he performed holiday hits with his daughters singing by his side. He could not have been nicer. The man can do it all.
When the band returned for their hometown Friday night show at Truist Park (home of the Atlanta Braves), there was somewhat of a somber tone to kick things off. It was revealed a few weeks earlier that Hopkins was recently diagnosed with ALS, a disease that does not yet have a cure. In announcing this, Hopkins went ahead and set up a foundation called Hop On A Cure which is “committed to supporting research to prevent, reverse, and cure ALS while raising awareness, building a compassionate community, and unleashing the healing power of hope.” Please visit here to learn more and scroll to the bottom of the article for further information.
Given that news, the band decided to do a ‘Blue Out’ of the audience at the show and sell blue t-shirts to benefit the Hop On A Cure. This seemed to be a rousing success as the merchandise vendors I spoke with said they were selling t-shirts in droves (many concertgoers put them on right away) and there were lots of signs sprinkled throughout the audience offering support for Hopkins. You can get that t-shirt here!
Ultimately, the joy of live music kept spirits high as the band played as the sun set over a Friday summer night in Georgia. It was amazing to see Brown start the show wearing a Braves World Series 2021 Championship ring, while still managing to strum a guitar for the opener “Toes.” The band played a diverse set of song’s from their extensive career, including “Colder Weather”, “Homegrown”, “Jump Right In”, and “Chicken Fried.” In fact, towards the end of the show, the band played a medley of covers with impressive renditions of “Sledgehammer” by Coy Bowles and “Brick House” by opener and slide guitar legend, Robert Randolph, to name just a few. It was all smiles and thousands of happy fans on their feet.
When hit with tough news, all we can do is march forward with a positive frame of mind. In this case, we can also focus our resources to help find a cure thanks to Hop On A Cure. As Hopkins sang Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long” during the medley of covers, it was a reminder to savor every concert and experience with loved ones, looking forward to the many fun nights to come.
We can’t wait to see Zac Brown Band and Hopkins on the road this year and beyond!
Go see the band on tour, and buy a t-shirt! https://zacbrownband.com/products/hop-tee-shirt
Additional information on how to donate (from Hop On A Cure website):
ALS is a neurological disease that affects the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement (the muscles we have conscious control over). The disease is progressive, meaning the symptoms get worse over time. Individuals affected lose their strength and the ability to control those voluntary muscle movements which include speaking, eating, mobility, and even breathing. Although the disease can strike at any age, symptoms most commonly develop between the ages of 55 and 75. For unknown reasons, men are more likely than women to develop ALS. The life expectancy of those affected is usually 3 to 5 years from when the symptoms first appear. However, about 10 percent of people with ALS survive for 10 or more years.
ALS is an uncommon disorder, though as the population ages, its occurrence is increasing. The worldwide number of people living with ALS is expected to rise more than 40% in the next decade. For all of these reasons and more, there is an urgent need to move fast to find ALS therapies.
John Driskell Hopkins (Hop), a founding and active member of Zac Brown Band, was diagnosed with ALS in December of 2021 and immediately went into action by creating Hop On A Cure Foundation, Inc.
There is no cure for ALS and no effective treatment to halt or reverse the progression of the disease. Currently, a severe deficit exists in this funding which is needed to identify and understand the cellular mechanisms and risk factors of ALS. By understanding the mechanisms that occur on a cellular level with ALS, scientists can identify exactly what is causing the motor neurons to degenerate which dictates the approach used in developing effective treatments. In order to achieve these goals, and put an end to ALS, there is a great need for funding and continued research. Hop On A Cure aims to lower this deficit by funding research that will make ALS a thing of the past.