The upcoming Bottle Rock Festival will take place in California’s scenic Napa Valley from May 9—12. Among the headliners is Zac Brown Band whose drummer, Chris Fryar, took a few minutes to talk with us about the festival experience.
What are some of the unique challenges to playing festivals as opposed to any other live performance?
Playing festivals can be a huge challenge sometimes, mostly due to load-in and set times. If we are headlining, we almost always have to do our load-in and line check first thing in the morning. It's difficult for our techs and crew, but we are blessed to have an awesome team that takes really good of us. Often we find ourselves doing some radio or TV interviews during the afternoon, along with photo ops and meet-and-greets. Your time can get away from you if you’re not careful, so I like to check our day sheet to plan my day accordingly. This is a real necessity when you’re trying to plan for meals, showers, and warming up. If it’s a large festival, the locations of all those things can get pretty spread out from each other, which means that you must keep track of your time very carefully. The most interesting challenges all have to do with Mother Nature. Sometimes the stage faces directly into the sun when the performance time is a hour before sunset, sometimes the weather can get crazy – too hot, too cold, too windy, rain – but if the crowd is there and willing to endure the weather, then so are we!
What’s the largest festival crowd you’ve ever played to?
I think one of the largest festival crowds we've played to was upwards of 70,000 at CMA Fest 2012 in Nashville. We’ve also had big crowds for the Final Four in Atlanta, and in the UK opening for Kings Of Leon at Hyde Park (which may not have been an actual festival, but there were several different bands on the bill).
Do you depend on any backline gear at festivals or do you supply everything yourself?
Sometimes we have to use backline gear. It really depends on the touring schedule as to whether or not we can use our own gear, which we always prefer to do. Occasionally it just makes good sense to use backline gear. We’ve been really lucky in that regard – we tend to get really good gear to use that is very comparable to our regular gear.
What piece or pieces of gear would you never show up to a festival without?
For the other guys in the band that would be their guitars. For myself – my stick bag! I keep a small survival kit in it – extra felts, parts, drum keys, tools, etcetera. A lot of other drummers might bring their pedal, cymbal bag, or snare drum, but as long as I have my sticks in my stick bag, I can feel really comfortable behind almost any kit.
Is getting adequate sound checks and rehearsal time more or less difficult in a festival environment?
Because we're so blessed to have such awesome techs, we typically don't do full blown sound checks at festivals. Our techs take care of doing line checks and making sure all the gear is in order. When we’re able to use our own gear, it’s really easy to get away with not doing sound check. As far as rehearsing goes, there generally isn’t time or space to have any kind of big rehearsals in a festival setting. Typically we will go over things during our warm-up time, playing through things using acoustic guitars and sticks on a pad. We spend so much time together on the road that we usually can just talk something out during warm-ups and then go hit it on stage that night. It takes a lot of trust to go about it that way, but we have that high level of trust in each other.
What is your best festival experience to date?
Easy answer: The Southern Ground Music and Food Festival 2012 in Nashville. We not only hosted the festival, but also were headlining. We managed to bring in some special guests to perform on stage with us, which was a very special feeling. Last year we were joined by John Mayer, Gregg Allman, Sheryl Crow, Darius Rucker, Alan Jackson, and Dwight Yoakam.
Worst festival experience?
I don’t know if I have a worst festival experience, but if I do, I’m certain that it was bad enough that my subconscious mind has deeply suppressed the memory of it! I do recall one festival where the temperature was so cold, I could barely move my arms and hands to play, but I don’t think it was the absolute worst. Generally speaking, every festival has potential to be an awesome experience — the only thing that is ever a drag for me is when the food in catering is not on par!
Do you try to check out other bands sharing the bill with you at festivals? If so, who are you most looking forward to seeing at Bottle Rock?
It depends on who is on the bill. If there is someone that I really want to see perform, I will make every effort to check them out. Sometimes the schedule just won’t allow for it, which can be frustrating, especially when there is a great drummer that I really want to see and hear. I hope that time allows for me to check out some of the other music and musicians at Bottle Rock. I’m particularly interested in seeing Kings Of Leon, The Black Keys, Jackson Browne, and The Black Crowes.