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Rick Welch, owner of Rick's Cafe, remembers the first time he met Zac Brown.
Brown came to the cafe not just as a performer, but as a fellow restaurant owner, Welch said. At the time, Brown was the co-owner and operator of Zac's Place on Lake Oconee in Georgia, and Welch said Brown was measuring the tiki chairs and sending pictures of them to his father, hoping to replicate them at Zac's Place.
"I bet he can afford to buy them now," Welch said. "I'm very proud for my friend Zac for his success."
The Zac Brown Band will perform at the Mississippi State University Amphitheatre April 14 at 7 p.m.
Limited amounts of tickets are still available, and cost $29.50 for students, $39.50 for general admission and $49.50 for one of 1,000 VIP spots directly in front of the stage. In the event of rain, the concert will move to Humphrey Coliseum.
The band won a "Best New Artist" Grammy in 2009 after their major label debut album, "The Foundation," sold more than two million copies and yielded five number one singles, including "Free," "Chicken Fried" and "Toes," on the Billboard country charts. They won another Grammy together with Alan Jackson for Best Country Collaboration With Vocals for the song "As She's Walking Away," and their latest album, "You Get What You Give," debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart.
Welch said he remembered six or seven occasions where the Zac Brown Band performed at Rick's Cafe, with the most recent one being on February 20, 2009, three months after "The Foundation" was released. The first time he saw them perform live, he said, he knew the band was destined for superstardom.
"It was only a matter of time," Welch said. "They're one of the few bands I've ever had where I've listened to a CD they sent to me and decided to book them just from listening to that CD."
Jimmy DiMartini, fiddler and vocalist for the Zac Brown Band, has been with the band since its inception seven years ago, and he said he remembered the gigs at Rick's Cafe.
"They were always good shows; we love playing in Starkville," DiMartini said. "This'll be the first time in years that we've been there, and we're pretty excitied. We've grown a lot musically since we've been there. It's just a better show now. Maybe some people remember seeing us back in the day."
Welch, however, said the band has always had the key ingredients to their success: strong harmonies, great lyrics and high-energy stage presence. He said their old material is as good as their newest.
"All their songs are pretty in line with the rest," Welch said. "It's just good, solid music."
Like Welch, DiMartini said the band's energy during their live performances had been key to their success, adding that Brown's own energy stood out in particular. He also said live performance is key for any young musicians who want the success the Zac Brown Band has found.
"Learn how to work a crowd, because when you have an opportunity to play for anyone big, then you need to blow them away with just yourself and a guitar," DiMartini said. "That's where we made a name for ourselves is our live show. Also, I feel like the band we've put together is one that doesn't really compromise, not a bunch of hired guns. It's just a very organic musical band we have together."
Jackie Mullen is the assistant director of the Colvard Student Union and staff advisor to Music Maker Productions, the student organization that brought the Zac Brown Band to MSU. Mullen said several students had expressed interest in bringing the Zac Brown Band to campus, and between this high demand and all that the band has achieved, the band is one of the biggest MSU has ever seen.
"In production and ticket sales, it's one of the largest concerts we've done in the past 10 years," Mullen said. "We have been working on this since last summer."
Mullen said MSU has been pursuing talent to appear on campus more aggressively in recent years, with Jason Mraz appearing at Bulldog Bash in September 2010 and the Zac Brown Band scheduled less than a week after the Old Main Music Festival featuring Robert Randolph. She said the timing of concerts depends on when artists are available, and doesn't necessarily happen on an annual or per-semester basis.
"We have to sell these performers on the market of MSU, Starkville and the state of Mississippi, and any time you do that, you have to hope they'll select your venue for their concert," Mullen said.