Country singer Zac Brown thinks something major is missing from the concert experience.
“The normal fare at a concert is a pretzel, a hot dog or a dry pack of corn chips with some Cheese Whiz. Why not be eating something amazing while you’re watching something amazing?” the frontman of the Zac Brown Band tells Rolling Stone. “In the South you’re always gathering around the food. I really think we can extend that experience all over.”
That’s the former chef and restaurant owner’s goal for the three-day Southern Ground Music & Food Festival, which runs October 21st through 23rd at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, South Carolina. Two hundred fans will sit onstage and eat a gourmet meal while the band performs a few feet away.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to enhance the concert experience and really give ’em the full sensory overload,” Brown says. “Our goal is to redefine and put all the elements of the South into this festival: the hospitality, the food, the music.”
The Front Porch Stage Boxes idea came to him while getting an oil change. “You pull in to get your oil changed and there are people beneath your car working on it. So, I thought, ‘That needs to be where the hospitality is carried, underneath the fans,'” he says. “Why not build a subfloor underneath the stage or the floor that the fans stand on? That way, you can get them all the concession and everything they want through dumbwaiters that come up through the floor.” General-admission audience members will be in front of the stage.
Food at the festival will be prepared by chefs Rusty Hamlin, Sean Brock, Mike Lata and RJ Cooper, all known for their authentic Southern cuisine, while each day’s lineup includes the Zac Brown Band. Festival performers include My Morning Jacket, Train, Brett Dennen, Fitz and the Tantrums, and Eric Church, alongside numerous up-and-coming artists on Brown’s record label, Southern Ground. Additionally, there will be an opportunity to make a donation to Camp Southern Ground, a project Brown is also taking part in which involves building a camp for kids with developmental disorders.
While Brown has hosted these festivals in the past, he says he’d love to do 10 a year throughout the country. “If I was a fan, this is what I would want to have happen,” he said. “This is the experience that I would want if I came to a show.”