'Chicken Fried' helped the Zac Brown Band step up to the plate

The Zac Brown Band have conquered the United States, but the group is still making inroads overseas.

The Zac Brown Band have conquered the United States, but the group is still making inroads overseas.

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The Zac Brown Band spent a lot of time performing in small venues before the group began headlining theaters and arenas. But when the song "Chicken Fried" became a hit in 2008, things happened fast.

"We're very blessed in that regard," says Zac Brown Band drummer Chris Fryar in a call from his home in Birmingham, Ala. "There are artists who struggle for their entire careers and never get to enjoy that kind of a leap in terms of fan attendance at a show. We love playing music and we'd be making the same kind of music and doing what we do in front of 500 people at a bar or at a venue with however many people decide to show up."

The group was started in Dahlonega, Ga., in 2002 by singer-songwriter Zac Brown. The band's first album, "Far From Einstyne," was self-released in 2004. The following year the group released the album "Home Grown," which contained the original verison of "Chicken Fried." However, it was 2008 when the group released "The Foundation" after signing with Atlantic Records that things really began to take off. That disc yielded the country radio hits "Chicken Fried" (re-recorded), "Whatever It Is," "Toes" and "Highway 20 Ride." That same year, Fryar replaced the group's original drummer.

He joined in as the group was on a fast upward trajectory to headlining arenas.

"It does take some adjustment, because the energy is totally different," says Fryar. "Playing a small venue in a very intimate setting carries with it a certain vibe. You can get away with a lot at a small venue that may not translate as well in a larger venue and vice versa. When we first started having a bigger stage, it was almost as if everyone stayed huddled up together. Now everybody is really comfortable and can walk around the stage — well, I don't. I sit there on the same place all night!"

The group recently did a short tour of the United Kingdom where the members got to experience both large and small audiences. The band opened for Kings of Leon at large venues and did one headlining show at a small theater.

"It was definitely a small show," says Fryar. "But the intimacy of it really appealed to us."

The group met fans from Denmark and France who had traveled to England specifically for the Zac Brown Band's headlining gig. "Realizing that our music does get to places other than America, that's a really good feeling."

The band's most recent album, "Uncaged," was released in July 2012. It entered the Billboard 200 at No. 1 and spun off two hit singles, "The Wind" and "Goodbye In Her Eyes."

Fryar says there's a lot of life left in the album.

"We're always writing new material and working out the kinks as we go, but we probably won't start working on a new record until quite a while. We'll let this one sit out there for at least a year before we start figuring out what we want to do for another one."

He says the group tries to tour in a way that allows them to spend part of the week at home with their families, although the group does have a tour of Australia on the schedule soon.

He says there aren't too many misconceptions and misinformation about the group.

"A lot of times we all get asked what Zac's got up under that beanie that he wears. My answer is there's always a whole lot going on under that beanie!

"We try to be good people and let everyone see that we're just regular guys who do everyday things. We're just blessed to do what we do for for a living. ... To us, it's about making the music and expressing ourselves musically and artistically and enjoying that. Thank the good Lord that other people enjoy watching us do it."

Zac Brown Band

With: Blackberry Smoke and Levi Lowery

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27

Where: Thompson-Boling Arena

Tickets: $64.50, $55, $47.50 and $29.50, available at Knoxville Tickets outlets, 865-656-4444 and www.knoxvilletickets.com

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