- Grammy-winning musician wanted a better experience for some fans at his shows
- Brown: "We're eating with them and serving them, hanging out with them"
- Chef Rusty Hamlin thrives on pressure of whipping up meals for 150
- No pictures or autographs; Brown says it takes away from really listening to each other
Zac Brown is a foodie. He sings about fried chicken, pecan pie and cold beer. Food and music are two things that are very close to this Grammy-award-winner's heart.
"I grew up singing as soon as I could talk. I grew up in the kitchen as soon as I could stand." Brown told CNN while sitting in his tour bus strumming his guitar before a recent show at Chicago's Wrigley Field.
It was his love of music and food that got Brown thinking about a better experience for some fans at his shows. He thought the traditional "meet-and-greets" were impersonal and did not allow for a performer to really know fans. So, he teamed up with his friend and chef, Rusty Hamlin, to create the "Eat & Greet."
"What we love about the Eat & Greet is that it completely turns the table around on the fans" Brown said "We're eating with them and serving them, hanging out with them. That is the best fellowship we can create."
So where does chef Rusty get enough food to feed 150 selected fans in a strange town with only a few hours to prepare?
"My forte is to make a huge meal for a lot of people off the top of my head" Hamlin explained as he headed in to the open air Greencity Market in Chicago.
"It is nerve-racking and it's very challenging, but why make it easy? This is my life, this is what we do."
For nearly five hours the chef bobbed and weaved through the various tents sampling fresh ingredients and looking for inspiration for this night's feast.
"Got some black garlic...it's fermented garlic"..."It's a rat-tail radish...It's got a really spicy kind of radish bite to it."
Finally some inspiration rolled over Rusty and he dialed up one of his assistants back at the kitchen outside Wrigley.
"How are you, buddy?" he asked the voice on the other end of the phone "We're gonna do a mixed beet salad today so I'm gonna need one of those large pots of water going."
In his phone Rusty carries the menus from every Eat & Greet since 2009. He mixes and matches to come up with something new every night)
Hamlin's stage is 54-foot semi that has been converted in to a state- of- the art kitchen with all of the bells and whistles. Her name is "Cookie". Throughout the afternoon, Hamlin directs a staff of cooks as they start making the meal that will feed 150 people before the concert. It is a show in and of itself.
"Rusty's personality is way too big to be stuck back in a kitchen some place." Brown said when describing his friend before they went out to talk to the gathered crowd who would enjoy this meal.
For over an hour band members stand behind tables spooning large helpings of Rusty's food on to fans plates and Zac Brown stands at the end of the line talking to each and every person as the pass by. They are not curt conversations. People linger and talk food and music. There is one rule. No pictures or autographs. Brown says he thinks that takes away from really listening to everyone.
"I love that connection that is made and hopefully it's something they remember. A lot of times I'm playing and I walk out to the edge of the stage and people are looking at me through their phones so they're filming instead of being in the moment." Brown reflected. "It's kind of like going back to analog interaction, which I love."
And for fans lucky enough to break bread with the Zac Brown Band a picture is the last thing they needed to take away. Lisa Dent who attended the Wrigley Eat & Greet had a rave review.
"They had a rat-tail radish. I've never seen one, I've never consumed one. It was awesome!"
When the lights dimmed and the band walked through the ivy covered walls of the 100-year-old Wrigley Field it was time put down the plates and pick up instruments and play. After nearly three hours the band was playing the last song of the night and, once again, singing about fried chicken, pecan pie and cold beer.