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Zac Brown Band zoomed to top in 2010

Gainesville native Hopkins reflects on success of North Georgia country group

POSTED: January 6, 2011 12:30 a.m.
/For The Times

The awards and accolades kept coming in 2010 for the North Georgia-based Zac Brown Band.

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John Driskell Hopkins of Marietta, a graduate of Gainesville High School and vocalist and bass player for Zac Brown Band, has had one terrific year.

The band began 2010 with a Grammy win Jan. 31 for Best New Artist.

"We won a Grammy. We got to play at Red Rocks. We went to Iraq. It's just been a crazy year," Hopkins said.

After the Grammy win, it seemed that almost every month of 2010 would bring a new success to the North Georgia-based band.

In March, cable channel CMT aired a Crossroads special featuring the band and singer Jimmy Buffet, who is now the group's close friend.

In April, the group's single "Highway 20 Ride" reached No. 1 on the Billboard Charts, and "Pass the Jar," the band's CD and DVD combo, hit stores in May.

In June, the band got a chance to perform at Bonaroo in Manchester, Tenn., with Dave Matthews Band, a group long admired by ZBB that helped inspire the band's name.

"I think one of the biggest things that we have enjoyed has been playing with the Dave Matthews Band," Hopkins said. "We got to open a dozen shows with them, and they're just outstanding players, musicians and people."

In July, the band participated with Buffett and Kenny Chesney in benefit concerts to support residents of Gulf Shores, Ala., after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Then, in September, ZBB's newest album, "You Get What You Give," featuring collaborations from Alan Jackson and Buffet, hit store shelves, reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 and selling 153,000 copies.

The same month, the group also headlined its own sold-out cruise, "Sailing Southern Ground."

In November, it was another win for Best New Artist at the Country Music Association Awards, where they were nominated for four awards in all, including Entertainer of the Year.

The award may have come as a surprise to fans of the band, since their first hit, "Chicken Fried," gained success in 2008.

"I think, once you take the plastic off, it's not new anymore," Hopkins said.

"But we were certainly thrilled to be recognized and to have received the award. I'm not sure what their parameters are, but the award shows all have different parameters as to who is eligible, and sometimes it can be confusing. But we certainly are excited to have won it."

The group celebrated Thanksgiving together with family and friends, a tradition they've continued for several years on the Sunday following the holiday.

Brown, a former chef who has also published a cookbook, was host of the event.

"We went out to (Zac's) house and did it there, and everybody brought sides, and it's just a great time to be together," Hopkins said.

"It's a nice chance for us to visit."

On New Year's Eve, the band rocked in 2011 at Philips Arena, a gig previously performed by Widespread Panic. The concert was an appropriate way to end a year of success and begin a new year close to home.

Speaking of home, Hopkins, who grew up in Gainesville since age 2, said he tries to make it back as much as possible.

"Home is always home, you know?" he said. "Sometimes, if we get a chance to stay longer than just a day ... some of my old buddies, we'll go down to The Monkey Barrel or something, or we'll go to Wild Wing and just kind of hang out and see everybody.

"I grew up on the lake just water-skiing and all that stuff, and Gainesville will forever be home for me," said Hopkins, whose parents, Ralph and Joan Hopkins, still live in Gainesville.

Hopkins' family also includes his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Sarah Grace, 2.



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