Country music will be featured on Saturday Night Live for the second time this season when Zac Brown Band serve as musical guest on March 7th. Actor Chris Hemsworth (Thor) will host the episode, which comes hot on the heels of the NBC comedy sketch show’s recent 40th anniversary special. Presumably, Zac and company will perform their latest single, “Homegrown,” during their appearance.
With this latest news, viewers may start wondering if SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels has had something of a country-music conversion, since throughout the long run of the series, relatively few country acts have appeared as musical guests and even fewer have hosted the program. But just last month, The Voice coach Blake Shelton did both. Prior to Shelton’s stint, the most recent country artist to appear as musical guest was Lady Antebellum, in October 2011. Former country star Taylor Swift pulled double duty during the series’ 35th season, in November 2009. During season 34, Swift was the musical guest when Neil Patrick Harris hosted, and late in 2008 Tim McGraw hosted the show, making that the last season in which more than one country artist appeared in some capacity.
Other recent seasons that featured more than one country performance: Season 32 (2006-2007), when both Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood appeared, and season 28 (2002-2003), when Faith Hill and Dixie Chicks were musical guests. Interestingly, while not a single country artist performed on the show in the season prior to that one, three of the hosts did dabble in country music: Oscar winners Billy Bob Thornton, Gwyneth Paltrow and Reese Witherspoon.
In the early days of SNL, musical guests included such folk-country artists as John Prine and Loudon Wainwright III. Anne Murray was musical guest in 1976, during the show’s second year, making her the first bona fide country artist to serve in that capacity. Willie Nelson followed in 1977. Other country artists who have served as musical guest, host, or both, include Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton and Rosanne Cash.