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A Recap of Our Visit to the Southern Ground Music & Food Festival in Charleston

The Southern Ground Music and Food Festival hit the Charleston area on April 16 & 17th. VIP ticket sales were sold out for both days, and only a handful of general admission tickets were available for Sunday’s performances. Approximately 26,000 fans arrived to the MUSC Health Stadium to see their favorite bands over the weekend. People flew in from around the country to participate in this extraordinary festival that highlighted mouthwatering culinary delights as well as heart pounding music. Proceeds from all of Zac Brown Band’s concerts go toward the success of Zac’s non-profit for children, Southern Ground Camp.

Southern Ground Camp
Zac Brown’s passion not only lies in the music and food industries, but also in the health and well-being of children from varied backgrounds. He started a camp in the farmlands of Georgia that brings children with emotional, academic, social and other disorders together in an uplifting atmosphere. They learn life skills such as healthy diet, engage in various physical activities, and have access to the finest therapies available.

Typical children join those with learning disabilities like ADHD or dyslexia, Tourette’s, Autism, Asperger’s and other disorders to unite and utilize team building activities.

The 500+ acre facility is in the development stage and will include the following:

  • Adventure Center
  • Amphitheater
  • Aquatics Center
  • Art Center
  • Boys’ and Girls’ Lodges
  • Chapel
  • Fire Pit
  • Hiking and Nature Trails
  • Mountain Bike Trails
  • Music Center
  • Multipurpose Building
  • Organic Farm
  • Outpost Tent Area
  • Peterson Hall -dining hall
  • Respite Lodge
  • Shade Pavilion
  • Technology Center
  • Welcome Center

Charleston
Why pick Charleston for the SGMFF? Charleston is located on the coast of South Carolina and offers some of the most beautiful views in the country. Conde Nast has cited Charleston as the #1 Destination Spot in the US several years in a row. The climate, especially during this time of year, is temperate and still somewhat cool during the evenings. Downtown has gorgeous cobblestone streets lining up scores of boutique stores, high end restaurants, multiple coffee shops, and ocean views that are simply exquisite. The Battery and Waterfront Park also include the Charleston City Gallery, which features some of the top visual artists in the world. Visitors may wander through many of other galleries lining up the arts district and enjoy the expansive beauty emanating both naturally and in the artist’s mind.

Daniel Island holds its own in beauty and intrigue, as it lies just outside of downtown Charleston. With its ease of access, Daniel Island still maintains a sense of independence. The gorgeous landscaping as you enter the island is visually appealing, but you also have two large venues that host the biggest and most popular events in the Lowcountry – Volvo Open Stadium and MUSC Health Stadium. The Volvo Open Stadium (previously known as the Family Circle Stadium) hosts a tremendous women’s tennis championship annually, as well as showcasing touring bands that come through Charleston. The MUSC Health Stadium, used for the Southern Ground Music and Food Festival, sits beside one of the most comprehensive tech companies who offer products to nonprofits, Blackbaud.

Festival Atmosphere
The festival itself is a huge production with ten artists/bands playing per day and haute cuisine being provided on the main stage for VIPs. Tents are set up everywhere to supply the steady demand for beer, cocktails, wine and nonalcoholic drinks. With over 13,000 people arriving throughout the day, this must seem like an insurmountable task, but they manage to do this quite well. Food trucks and tents line up outside of the stadium to create a “food bubble” with vendors selling everything from fancy grilled cheese sandwiches to bbq. Other vendors sell their wares too, such as hats, t-shirts, and other festival items. Fruity cocktails can be seen everywhere, as fans stock up between sets on the way to the next stage. Stage A, inside the stadium, is where Zac Brown Band ends each evening with a raucous performance. Stage B, located in the food bubble, has a more intimate feeling and allows you to get closer to the musicians.

Food
Food is one of the important highlights of the event, as Zac Brown himself finds himself a foodie. At the heart of the festival are the highly anticipated stage seats where VIPs are served dishes created by some of the top chefs in the country. Wait staff is on hand with endless cocktails, and visiting chefs also join in on the fun. This year, three chefs joined Chef Rusty Hamlin in handling the event. We had a chance to talk to Chef Craig Deihl from Cypress and the Artisan Meat Share about his experience with the festival. He was delighted to be working with the SGMFF for the 2nd time this year, and looked forward to serving over 240 people in the on-stage seating areas. He said, “We work with a stage ramp and dumbwaiter, put trays of food on it, push a button, and up pops the food. Servers get it from there. During Saturday’s event, I’ll be making pastrami with cabbage, peas, caraway cream and onions, and potatoes … They have a kitchen outfitted for us to work with. This year is going to be a little different, they’ll use the trailer that (Hamlin) drives around in. It’s a mobile hotel kitchen on wheels and about the size of a shipping trailer. 75 feet, but full sized semi-tractor trailer …it’s big! It’s also fun because we get to cook with other chefs from somewhere else around the country. RJ Cooper who used to be up in DC is now in Charlotte. He’s done it every year and has been great to work with. Guests eat over the course of 2-3 bands and get dessert before ZBB comes out. Food service starts around 5 or 6, but the beverages are available throughout the day.”

Chef Hamlin had a food tent with his famous jambalaya available for those with General Admission tickets, and trucks such as Roti Rolls and Hometeam BBQ joined many other delightful culinary options to all of the guests. The VIP upgrade for general admission allowed visitors into a tented area filled with bbq, cocktails, snacks and treats throughout each day. One thing is certain at SGMFF, you will not leave hungry!

Artists
Every year brings a new collection of well-loved musicians into the festival, and this year was no different. From Grammy winning artist Sam Bush to popular Clay Cook, the lineup was filled to the gills with incredible talent.

Saturday’s lineup included:
Jamestown Revival
John Driskell Hopkins
Cam
Drake White and the Big Fire
Sam Bush
Old Dominion
Michael Franti & Spearhead
Coy Bowles & the Fellowship
Thomas Rhett
Marshall Tucker Band
Zac Brown Band

Sunday’s lineup included:
The Archetypes
Muddy Magnolias
The Packway Handle Band
Bruce Hornsby & the Noise Makers
Clay Cook
Kasey Musgraves
A Thousand Horses
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Hunter Hayes
Zac Brown Band

Collaborations
Interesting to note during this year’s festival was the collaboration between Doug Gray from the Marshall Tucker Band and his son-in-law Clay Cook from Zac Brown Band. Cook sat in on a few songs throughout Marshall Tucker’s set. What most people didn’t know was prior to heading to the stage, he was handed Toy Caldwell’s guitar. Caldwell was instrumental in the creation and success of the Marshall Tucker Band and was a huge influence on most of their original songs. As a writer, he created many of the catchy hooks so well known today. Ultimately, Toy left the Marshall Tucker Band to create a band of his own, The Toy Factory, and unfortunately passed away on February 25, 1993. There was no bad blood between the band and Toy, and they remained friends until the end. When Cook picked up that guitar, you can only imagine the pride and joy he felt while jamming on set with the guys.

Sound Bytes
The South Carolina Music Guide was able to interview a few of the artists over the weekend. Here are some sound bytes from the bands.

Sam Bush
“I am always looking to generate and build new audiences.”

“I’ve got a new collaborative album coming out in June. The songs were performed by me and many of my friends.”

“This will be my 43rd consecutive appearance at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.”

“I love Charleston. I played at the Charleston Music Hall a few years ago. Isn’t that a pretty place? I was playing with Mark Bryan and Edwin McCain for ‘Live at the Charleston Music Hall’. It was a blast.”

Doug Gray – Marshall Tucker Band
“We play all the time. On average, we do 118 tour dates per year.”

“We have to be savvy with our business in order to keep ourselves relevant with digital downloads. The average age of those downloading our music is 17-37.”

“Man, it’s always about the music. This is what keeps us going.”

Ross Holmes – Bruce Hornsby & The Noise Makers
“I’m spoiled, because I’m the only one who gets to see Bruce (Hornsby’s) hands when he plays. I can see where he’s at on the keyboard with his hands.”

“There is no time for a sound check and barely a chance for a line check in a festival like this.”

“I was in Mumford and Sons for 4 years. I toured with them and did all their string arranging for their record label.”

“I met Bruce years ago. He and Ricky Skaggs tour all over the place. We are on the same label. Bruce got my number and asked if I wanted to be in the band.” (on how they met)

Jessy Wilson & Kallie North – Muddy Magnolias
Kallie – “I was a photographer in the Mississippi Delta for the past 10 years, and I took a picture of an old run down juke joint piano. I gave it to someone as a gift. He worked on Music Row in Nashville, and he put it on the edge of his desk. She walked into the office to ask a question, as she had just moved to Nashville, and saw that photo. She said, ‘It’s so beautiful! Who took that picture?’, and he says ‘It’s Kallie North. She just moved here also.’ That’s how we met.”

Jessy – “We were in a new city, and we both had something in common, which was an adventurous spirit. So, we were like ‘Oh, you’re different!’, and ‘Oh, you’re different!’, so we just latched on to each other. We do everything together – dinners, drinking and finally song writing.”

Jessy – “We have an amazing working relationship.”

Kallie – “She was coming into the country world but had an R&B background. The first song we wrote together was a country R&B song. It was crazy, but it worked.”

Conclusion
In conclusion, the entirety of the Southern Ground Music and Food Festival is an experience that you’ll not soon forget. With talented geniuses performing in the background as chefs to spirited and Grammy winners joining Zac Brown Band on stage, there was an unlimited amount of fun to be had. Each artist, culinary and musical, gave a piece of their heart and soul to thousands of people in attendance. In reaching so many people, some who had flown in from states as far away as California, the festival’s mission extended to all parts of the United States. Zac Brown has successfully managed to incorporate all of his passions into one huge project that will serve to enhance and change the lives of many children, and adults, for the foreseeable future. Congratulations, Zac. We can’t wait to see you and your friends again next year.

For more on Southern Ground, please visit – Southern Ground

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