Gary James' Interview With Peter Frank Of
The Zac Brown Tribute Band
They are commonly referred to as the "Nation's premier Zac Brown Tribute Band." We are talking about ZBTB out of Rochester, New York. ZBTB member Peter Frank spoke with us about his band.
Q - Peter, I realize that Zac Brown is a pretty popular band. I just never realized there was room for a Zac Brown Tribute Band. When did you put your tribute band together?
A - Our first practice was in the beginning of October of last year (2012). In trying to assemble the right team for this is really difficult. You need guys that really know their stuff and can sing. It's vocally prevalent. I started asking around in April (2012) to the people that I knew. I've been doing professional music in Rochester for fifteen years. I knew the specific guys I needed to make it happen and trying to convince them to do it was fairly challenging.
Q - So, why put a Zac Brown Tribute act together?
A - Well, number one, I love the music. It's very diverse. It's Country music, but it's really cross-over music. It covers a wide amount of styles of music; everything from slow ballads to finger-picking to really fast stuff that's really intricate and technical. I thought it would be something that would be really hard for anybody else to do. And additionally, I'm a businesses guy. I own a couple of companies or parts of a couple of companies. I'm a marketing and sales guy by trade. I picked it because I thought it was going to be easy to sell.
Q - Have you found that to be the case?
A - Oh, yeah. If you do it right? Absolutely. I've had more opportunity in the last eight months than I've had the other fifteen years I've played. I've played bigger shows in the last eight months than ever, in any other band I've played with. It's not that the talent wasn't there. It's just that you gotta draw people in. And how do you draw people in?
Q - If you can't afford the real Zac Brown Band, you get a tribute.
A - Exactly.
Q - You can probably play festivals now and theatres and cruise ships. You can open for national acts.
A - And all of that has already happened. It's happened in such a short period of time. We had a headlining spot at East End Festival in Rochester, (New York). That's the big deal here. You know you're band is good if they get to headline East End Festival. They close down East Avenue and they have four stages. It's the best of the best in a music town. They usually have three of 'em. They only had one this year and we were in it. It was amazing. We're also opening for Randy Hauser, which is a national Country act. We're doing that at The Keg in September (2013). I've never opened for a national act before. It was really exciting.
Q - What type of bands were you in before ZBTB?
A - I started doing original music. We did that for awhile, but it's tough to draw people because they don't know what you're playing. It's tough to book gigs. Nobody wants to risk an original act unless you have a really good name and the only way to have a really good name is to play for free all the time. I played in a Rochester show band called Nik And The Nice Guys. It's like a musical fraternity where let's say there's 130 members that all have different specializations, whether it be guitar or singing or piano or horns or whatever, and they all learn the same music. Essentially you're kind of grab-bagged. You never know who you're gonna play with, but most o the people who are playing with the organization are pretty good. That's actually where I pulled most of my team from, from former Nik And The Nice people. It was a great learning experience. I got to play some really awesome gigs. Nik And The Nice Guys would play at The Finish Line of The Boilermaker in Syracuse. That was the first time I ever played to 30,000 people. Very exciting stuff. But as we kind of progressed and grew up per se, it's really nice to have something that's ours.
Q - So, last year at this point, June 2013, you were rehearsing the band?
A - No. Last year at this point I was looking for a lead guitar player and I was looking for a bass player. I really had just started putting everything together. It took awhile to convince people. None of the guys in the band knew who Zac Brown was when I asked them to play. So, trying to convince them to be in a tribute band for a guy they'd never even heard of was pretty challenging.
Q - Does Zac Brown know about you?
A - He does these things called Eat And Greet. Prior to a show, he has maybe fifty lucky people that win tickets to an Eat And Greet. Basically they get to do a barbeque with the band. I had a very good friend of mine who lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, get into an Eat And Greet and talked to him about a buddy he has in Upstate New York who's putting together a Zac Brown tribute band. I know for a fact somebody's mentioned it to him. Whether or not he's bothered to chase it all and see if we're doing him justice or not. I look at it from the standpoint of hey, what would I do if I was him? If I was him I would just be making completely sure that they're not butchering my music, which by the nature of the fact, that we haven't heard from him, I'll assume that maybe he believes we're not butchering his music.
Q - When did this band play its first gig?
A - January 23rd of this year (2013).
Q - Where was that? Some small club?
A - Oh, it was a tiny bar. A place called Shamrock Jacks in Rochester. The place itself really holds about 100 people. We had a line out the door and they weren't letting anybody in 45 minutes before we started to play, maybe it was an hour. A long time before we started to play there was a line out the door and nobody was being allowed in. It was at that moment when everybody kind of looked at me and said, "Hey, Pete Frank might be onto something here." It was very exciting. We had a lot of local support. I promoted it. It was just by happenstance that it actually worked. (laughs)
Q - Was it difficult to find a place to premier the group?
A - Finding a place to premier was not that difficult because I'm socially networked up in the city of Rochester. I'm still friends with most of the people I was friends with in high school. They all know that I'm a good musician. Trying to find someplace to play our first gig was actually fairly simple. We did a great job with it. We actually got paid fairly well for it for a first gig. The people that believed in us from the get go were really awesome. It was just a mom and pop type bar. They have 'live' music all the time. As soon as we finished our set, the owners came up to me and said, "Listen. We have our 10th anniversary party coming this summer and we need you to play it." I was like, "I'd love to, but obviously this was our first time playing. We had some serious crowd issues with this place." "No problem. We are gonna get a permit and we're going to get a great tent and put it out in the parking lot. We'll put the stage out there. We'll do everything. We just want you to play." It's that kind of support and belief in the music that has been just amazing for us. We've kind of seen that across the board. We've just been tremendously supported.
Q - Did you do that first gig for a flat fee or did you play for the door?
A - Our first gig we did it for a flat fee. Even when he told us, "We don't pay bands this much." I said, "We have professional sound that comes in. We have seven skilled musicians that need to make a little something, at least enough to cover how much they are going to drink."
Q - He didn't give the band free drinks?
A - Well, he did by the set break. By the set break they were running out of beer so they were very gracious about giving us beer. But they didn't know that when they agreed to pay me what I was asking. They didn't know they were going to have that kind of turnout. It was a risk for everybody. It's still a risk. Live music is a risk for anybody.
Q - You are also acting as the groups agent and manager?
A - Constantly. It drives everybody in my life crazy when they realize it's really affected my dating ability because I do band stuff three hours a day easy. If I don't do it during the day while I'm working, I do it at night. It just eats up a lot of time. It's just a lot of phone calls to get stuff together. Just getting a gig is the hard part, but once you have that gig then there's all sorts of back-end stuff like logistics. You need to hire a sound company. You need to make sure the sound company is going to be there on time. You need to make sure all the players understand where the gig is, what's going on. There's a whole day sheet that gets filled out. Luckily we spread some of that stuff around, but all the marketing and promotion stuff, that falls on my lap. We couldn't have done any of this without Facebook. It's amazing what a tool, what a free tool that is. You really connect with your social network and tell them what's going on in your life.
Q - Why do you need a soundman?
A - We always have professional sound. One of the big challenges of having a band that has five vocal harmonies at times and a ton of acoustic instruments is that you just have to have a sound guy. There's no if's and's or but's about it. We have $300 factored into every gig just for sound. A lot of people don't understand that. We get the question, "Why can't you just bring a P. A.?" Basically we can't. We really just can't. A sound company is not just, "Hey, I need to borrow some equipment." Hey, I need somebody on the board, somebody who is going to have their finger on the board at all times. If you want to sound professional, it's critical because that's what the professionals do.
Q - Did you have a soundman at that first gig you did in that small bar?
A - Absolutely. We determined real early that listen, we're going to do this the right way. And the sound guy took a lot of what we got paid. Again, everybody walks out of there going, "Oh, my God!" That's what we needed, the "Oh, my God!"
Q - Do you try to copy the look of Zac Brown?
A - Here's my challenge with it: yes and no. We try to dress Country. We played at Mickey Ratt's in Angola at a beach gig. We kind of went away from it for that gig. In general, yes, we try to look the part. I almost always wear a Zac Brown style knit hat, his little beanie hat thing. My challenge is for the life of me I can't grow a beard. I can, but it looks horrible. (Laughs). I'll never look just like him.
Q - Why not buy a fake beard?
A - Okay. The other question is, do I costume up like that? The minute I start wearing a fake beard at a show, the people that know me are going to say, "He's not being Pete. He is trying to be Zac." I know it's a tribute band, but I'm playing Zac Brown's music, I'm not pretending to be Zac Brown. My guitar players are way better than I am and they do all the intricate stuff Zac does.
Q - Well Pete, there are some purists out there who are looking over the band to make sure everything is exactly like Zac Brown.
A - I guess if it presents itself as an issue as far as moving forward. We are just starting out. I can go to the costume shop and get a beard and use that gummy stuff and put it on. I don't feel we have to quite yet. We're getting gigs where they want to hear the music and they are not completely infatuated with the look of the band. But we all Country it up. None of us are Country folk, but we all Country it up. I wear shirts that are identical to shirts Zac wears. Essentially, we are trying to sing the notes right or play the music note for note. The bass player in Zac Brown has a very, very known giant beard that he points out in two different directions when he plays. I don't think we're ever going to take it to that point unless we get paid well to do it.
Q - So far you have been playing in the Central New York area. You obviously want to go beyond this part of the country, don't you?
A - Yes. Absolutely. And everybody is prepared for it. I'm the only one in the band who doesn't have at least a Bachelors Degree in music. My Bachelors Degree is in Business, which is the piece that is making this all happen thus far.
Q - What are you doing to make this dream a reality?
A - We are playing Watkins Glen for the NASCAR weekend. We're hoping that after a proven show there, we're going to be picked up by the NASCAR circuit and be able to play at different NASCAR events throughout the country. I think it would really be a good fit for that. It's just about strategizing where we would be a good fit and going after those. Also, Toby Keith owns a number of bars, one of which is in Syracuse. We have a show booked there and we see that as a gateway to play throughout the empire of Toby Keith.
Q - Are you in fact the only Zac Brown tribute group out there?
A - When we did it, we were the only ones I could find in the country. I'm excited to see how that builds. It's good to be one of the first to market in a big area.
Q - Nobody else at this point is doing what you are doing then?
A - I did see one pop up in March (2013). They're out of North Carolina or something. But we have zacbrowntributeband.com. The other band is a five piece, not a real seven piece. Zac Brown now I think is rolling eight piece because they picked up a new percussionist. We are true to form, a true seven piece just like the real band.