Scene and heard: Zac Brown Band ‘an inspiring place to be, says Coy Bowles

Coy Bowles, second from left, plays the guitar and organ for the Zac Brown Band, which headlines Country Jam on Saturday, June 23. Country Jam runs Thursday through Sunday, June 21–24.

Music is in the hot, dry air.

June signals the start for many of the area’s must-see outdoor musical events because of the popular combination of the Colorado scenery/climate with quality entertainment.

Whether you are a country, bluegrass, rock or jazz fan, there is an event for you in the weeks and months ahead.

Two of the area’s biggest concert scenes, Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Music Festival and Major Mortgage Country Jam USA, are set for June 15–17 and June 21–24, respectively. In an effort to learn more about several of the acts scheduled to appear at these festivals, I tracked down three musicians: Zac Brown Band’s Coy Bowles and the band’s special guest Sonia Leigh, who both will play at Country Jam on Saturday, June 23, and Grant Farm’s Tyler Grant, who will perform Friday, June 15, as part of the Palisade Bluegrass and Roots Music Festival.

Here are those interviews. (Find the Q&A with Grant on page 18.)

As the seven members of the Zac Brown Band headline on Saturday, June 23, at Country Jam in Mack, look for Coy Bowles.

He’s the guitar and organ player. He also is a children’s book author. In a recent interview, Bowles spoke about his route to becoming a musician and author.

Melinda Mawdsley: Country Jam is a large, outdoor music festival. Did you attend similar-type festivals at some point in your life?

Coy Bowles: My first concert that I went to was Lollapalooza when I was 15 years. I did a lot of listening to music. I still go listen to music every night. We went to see Dave Matthews last night. (This interview was on May 23.) I don’t have a wife or kids so I’m a lot freer to do that. If we’re at a venue and have a day off, we try to see who’s around.

Mawdsley: Zac Brown Band is headlining Country Jam. Do you remember headlining your first show?

Bowles: We’ve been headlining for a long time in the Southeast. We did very little opening considering how it normally works. As soon as the albums started doing good, we had the option to start opening up for bands or start doing our own things. (Zac) took the approach of opening very little and doing our own thing. We (did open) for Sugarland in Atlanta. That was such a big show. (The) Fox (Theatre) in Atlanta is kind of legendary.

Mawdsley: What’s it like to be in such a large, touring band?

Bowles: It’s actually amazing. There are so many different types of bands. There are some where you are a hired-gun as a musician. This band is more of a band. It’s a group of guys who all have input. The guys in the band are my best friends. I’d take a bullet for any of them. We’re all growing as musicians, and Zac is a very good leader. He’s very confident in who he is and isn’t scared of anyone stifling him.

It’s a very freeing, inspiring place to be, but there’s definitely a lot of grind to it. It’s not a grind that we don’t enjoy every aspect of it, from the flights to the crazy schedule, but compared to everyone else’s lives it’s a lot of moving pieces, but you get to play in front of thousands of people and inspire them.

Mawdsley: What song gets the most response from the crowds?

Bowles: I think there are a couple songs. “Chicken Fried” has become kind of an anthem. And, “Colder Weather,” basically every time (we play it) there is a weird mood that comes across the crowd. And by weird I mean it’s a cool connected (feeling.) There’s a piano intro, and the song is a deep song. There’s a peak in the song and then it drops down, and then it’s just Zac singing.

Mawdsley: That song has the word “Colorado” in it.

Bowles: Yeah. When we are in Colorado, that’s kind of our Colorado song.

Mawdsley: You are the guitar and organ player for the band. When did you learn to play organ?

Bowles: I was self-taught my entire life basically. Somewhere around 22, my friend left his crappy keyboard at my house, and I tried to figure out how to write music and learn theory. Later on, I went to college and got a degree in music and had to take piano lessons. Then, I talked my dad into buying a piano and drug it around to every gig. If you can’t play it live, then you can’t play it. Same with guitar.

The next step of that was to buy a real organ. I had a keyboard that did organ sounds, but there’s a difference between a keyboard and a real organ. I ended up saving up money and got a real organ, and I think it has forever changed how the Zac Brown Band sounds. It adds a lot of soul and gospel to the music.

Mawdsley: A couple years ago you released a children’s book, “Amy Giggles.” When did you find the time to write that? Have you found your career after music?

Bowles: Kinda sorta not really. It took years to do the book. I met with a bunch of different illustrators. It took us a long time to actually create the main character, and it’s a combination of all the kids of the guys in the band… As an ode to a mentor, I decided to be more creative outside of music. I made a promise to myself to step outside of music a little bit ... I took a writing retreat up into the mountains by myself to do some creative writing and get some stuff out and keep my writing skills sharp. I sat down and 15 minutes later the story was written ...

I decided to I read it to Zac and his wife, and I think they had like three kids at the time, and he said: “This was really good. You should do something with it.” I helped Zac write the cookbook he did, so that was my first endeavor. This book ended up being the next thing.

Mawdsley: It was a cute story. I have a really loud laugh, so I could relate to the character. What about you?

Bowles: It’s actually a true story. I had dinner with a girl who’s now married with a kid, and she’s a friend of mine. During the dinner, one of my friends was cutting up with her and she started doing this snorting thing, and I had never seen anyone do this before. I asked her later what’s up with that, and she said kids made fun of her, so she holds (her laugh) in. I walked around for a month mesmerized how someone could change their laugh. I didn’t know you could actually change a laugh.


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