Which artist or group has the best meet-and-greet? We nominate the Zac Brown Band

Zac-Brown-Band

Image Credit: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

What’s the best meet-and-greet you’ve ever been to before a concert?

If you think posing for a picture with the artist in front of a banner advertising their tour sponsor qualifies, you haven’t attended one of the Zac Brown Band’s eat-and-greets. I recently caught one at the New Meadowlands in New Jersey, and here’s what it entailed: The band formed a receiving line to shake the hands of all 150 guests.

Then, while Zac chatted up folks standing in line for the buffet created by Southern Ground Executive Chef Rusty Hamlin, the other members actually served you before making their own plates and joining you at the tables. So three hours later, when you’re watching fiddle player Jimmy De Martini wow 55,000 people during their cover of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” you keep thinking He handed me my plate. And when Clay Cook belts out “America the Beautiful” before Zac launches into “Chicken Fried,” you’re thinking He’s the guy I told, ‘I don’t like tomatoes, but I really want to try the moonshine vinaigrette’ on the heirloom tomato salad with smoked corn, edamame, and pickled cucumbers, and he reasoned that I should just take some from him and eat around the tomatoes because they’re red and easy to spot. 

That’s the other thing about the eat-and-greet: Sure, this summer’s have been sponsored by Kingsford Charcoal, but you’re not being served hot dogs and hamburgers.

Chef Rusty’s menu at the Meadowlands tailgate: White Marble Farms pork tenderloin with Zac’s Southern Ground Grub Love Sauce; Creekstone Farms beef tenderloin with Zac’s Southern Ground Grub Georgia Clay Rub; grilled cauliflower, broccoli and okra with a saffron Chardonnay butter; wild mushroom and snap pea spoon polenta with smoked gouda; braised brussels sprouts with country ham and red-eye gravy; pocketknife coleslaw (as featured in Zac and Rusty’s Southern Ground cookbook); that heirloom tomato salad with smoked corn, edamame, pickled cucumbers, and moonshine vinaigrette (which Chef Rusty made by sneaking onto Zac’s bus and borrowing a couple cups of Junior Johnson’s legal Midnight Moon moonshine); fresh bread with agave fig butter; and chocolate peanut butter biscuit pudding. The hour is worth the $50 fan club members pay for it, even if you’re not allowed to take photographs or get autographs because the band would rather be eating and visiting with you than posing and signing.

We phoned Hamlin and asked him to explain how the eat-and-greets started. He met Zac Brown in 2001, when he hired songwriter Wyatt Durrette (who’d go on to cowrite most of ZBB’s hits) as the head bartender at his restaurant Atkins Park outside Atlanta.

Durrette invited him to hear his buddy Zac play (back then in front of 100 people), and Rusty and Zac discovered a shared love of cooking. “Next thing you know, we’re hanging out,” he says. “We’re startin’ to go to each other’s houses. I’d spend the weekend over at his house cookin’, we’d do breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and be creative. He’d buy some crazy stuff off the Internet and surprise me with it, like some kind of Himalayan pink sea salt that came from whatever, and I would come back with some raspberry jelly that the bees actually fed on the raspberry bushes and flavored the jelly. We’d go back and forth with each other.” Around 2003, they started talking about Zac’s dream of combining music and food, and hoping one day they’d have the means to do the eat-and-greets on a large-scale to bring fans closer to the band. “Zac said he wants their fans to come to the concert and think they’ve got robbed every other time they went to one,” Hamlin says.

They started off with a 14-foot trailer they called Miss Treated. “Bless her heart, she was old when we got her,” Hamlin says, “and we put a stove and an oven and a couple home refrigerators in it, and started out like that. Just going out around the country and surprising people with the eat-and-greets. Nobody really had any idea what was gonna hit them when they got there. At the beginning, it wasn’t about the food with them. It was more about, ‘Hey, we get to hang with the band and we’ll eat a little somethin’ somethin’.’”

But now, he laughs, “It’s oh my god, I can’t wait to go get dinner, and it just so happens I’m gonna be sittin’ across from Zac Brown having dinner with him.” They’ve been doing the eat-and-greets on the current scale for two years. Now, Rusty has his own customized two-story 53-foot trailer he calls his “life partner.” For him, it’s a chance to support and promote the local farmers he buys ingredients from, which is important to him, and to bring Southern cooking to fans who may not have experienced it before. “

We went to Boston, and I brought in stone ground grits from North Carolina, collard greens, fried green tomatoes with pimento cheese, all this stuff. You could see it on their faces when we announced the menu, they were just dumbfounded,” he laughs. “I just said, ‘I see your faces. I know what you’re thinkin’. Do me a huge favor: just grab a spoonful of everything and try it. Please, try it, and if you don’t like it, I’ll go cook you somethin’ else. I’ll do anything for ya, I just want you to try this.’ I can’t believe the reaction I had. People were like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve heard about this stuff. I’ve never been able to get it. We don’t cook like this up here.’ One guy walked up and was like, ‘Man, that grit was amazing.’ He didn’t know that one spoonful has like 10,000 pieces of grits on it. So he said he only had one grit.”

Your turn. What’s your best meet-and-greet story?

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Comments (11 total) Add your comment
  • Julia

    I’ve never been to a meet and greet, but from all the pictures I see of Rihanna’s it looks like they’re a lot of fun.

  • Lance

    Britney Spears…best $1000 I’ve ever spent.

  • Brendan

    Seeing Weird Al after his show was awesome. You waited for an hour or so in a line to go up and get his autograph. While we waited, his other band members came up to the line and mingled and signed autographs. When we got to Weird Al’s table, my buddy was wearing a “Poodle Hat Tour” hat. He said to Al, I love my Poodle Hat…Hat. Al just looked up, laughed, and signed our t-shirts. haha

  • G.R.

    After my first They Might Be Giants show, in the summer of 2004, singer-guitarist John Flansburgh was manning the TMBG merchandise table. Just before I bought an ‘Indestructible Object’ T-shirt from him, I asked him if he would be giving autographs — he said he would after he was done at the merch stand.

    Sure enough, after people were done buying stuff, Flansburgh stuck around to do the meet-and-greet thing. He autographed my ‘Dial-A-Song’ anthology booklet, and I had my picture taken with him — he was a total sweetheart, and squeezably soft…

  • Germy

    I went to a ZBB concert w/ my sister & she forked over the money for the eat & greet. I had a great time at the concert, but she had an even better time. I can’t help but think her reaction to the band was so much better b/c of the eat & greet. If/When I go again, I’m definately doing the eat & greet.

  • Zac M

    I’ve been to two of Keith Urban’s Meet and Greets. He was super sweet to all of his friends, shook their hands, offered hugs, and then took the photos, and then wished us each goodbye by our names, and then everyone got to sit around camping style around him while he played his meet and greet only song Jeans On! He never plays this on tour anymore and its just the coolest feeling singing along with him and being the backup vocals when you can actually hear yourself and him at the same time. At the other meet and greet I went to and got another photo with him, we also got to ask him questions about his tour and life and he genuinely enjoys his fans and audiences. And I’ve met a lot of artists, and I have to say he is the nicest of all of them, with Wynonna and Dianna A from Glee being a close second.

  • PN

    The country artists are known to be nice with their meet and greets. Some pop singers don’t do it as much; they get on the bus and head to the next city. And Bon Jovi is known to meet and greet with their fans after their performances near their tour bus. Ever since the ’80s. It’s more of a friendly atmosphere than this I’m a star trip. Beyonce always likes to meet with her fans after her shows.

  • Tom

    Ran into Jon Anderson of Yes at our hotel lobby in KC when we went to see them on their Masterworks tour a number of years ago. After my wife forced him to meet me, he generously offered us the Meet and Greet after the show. At the M&G, he obviously wanted to leave, but had to wait on other band members, so since we were in the same hotel we offered him a ride back in our limo, which he accepted. Had a nice private ride with him and keyboardist Igor K back to the hotel, where we had drinks with Chris Squire as well. Ran into them on the plane to Dallas next day, and long story short same thing occurred. Did it again in Indianapolis, which let to a private lunch with Jon in Cincinatti, and an all access pass to that night’s show. A wonderful memory…

  • kyla

    I have been to a few meet-n-greets…. BY FAR the worst ever was John Michael Montgomery… Meet and greet was supposed to start at 6, he finally decided to bring his sorry rear off his tour bus at 6:40, the lined us up herded us through like cattle, with a quick autograph and pose for pic… he didnt even so much as a hey thanks for coming how are you! PLUS HE GOT DRUNK AS A SKUNK DURING THE SHOW…. WILL NEVER PAY TO SEE HIM AGAIN!

  • RC

    ZBB was the BEST ever! The Eat & Greet is by far the best concert experience that a fan could ask for. The food was excellent, the guys were super friendly and the memories are unforgettable!

  • viviennewestwoodjewellery

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