CCMF Southern Rounds


The songwriters who brought us #1 hits like Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried,” “Highway 20 Ride” and “Colder Weather” are joining us this weekend on the Coca-Cola stage to give us a deeper look into the intimate moments that inspired our favorite, chart topping songs.

Whether it was a moment of clarity, heartbreak or pure joy, songwriters Wyatt Durrette, Levi Lowrey, Channing Wilson, Dave Kennedy, Clay Cook and John Driskell Hopkins are joining us to share the creative process behind creating these #1 hits.

• Friday: Wyatt, Levi & Kevin
• Saturday: Wyatt, Levi, Channing & Dave
• Sunday: Wyatt, Levi, Clay & John


Wyatt Durrette is an acclaimed singer/songwriter from Richmond, VA. Best known for his work with Zac Brown Band, Wyatt’s songs have garnered a record-setting collection of hits. Forty total song collaborations have led to 22 MILLION singles sold, 8 MILLION albums sold and 12 #1 hits, to be exact. His songs have secured 8 GRAMMY Awards and countless nominations. Wyatt has been presented with the incredible honor of the CMA Triple Play Award not once, but twice, as “Chicken Fried,” “Whatever It Is” and “Toes” were all chart-topping hits within a twelve-month period, followed by “Highway 20 Ride,” “As She’s Walking Away” and “Colder Weather.” Wyatt also received GRAMMY and Academy Award nominations in 2010 for “Where the River Goes,” a song written for the motion Picture Footloose. Furthermore, the song “Homegrown” co-written by Wyatt, was named Song of the Year by SESAC in 2015.

Levi Lowrey is a singer-songwriter from Dacula, Georgia. He has performed extensively as a solo artist, headliner and as the supporting act for well-known names including Mumford and Sons, Kid Rock, Alabama, Blackberry Smoke and Zac Brown Band. He is the great, great-grandson of Gid Tanner. Lowrey is one of the co-writers of the ‘Colder Weather’ performed by Zac Brown Band that went #1 for two weeks. Lowrey is also the co-writer of Zac Brown Band single ‘The Wind” from their #1 Billboard album Uncaged. He is a CMA nominee for “Colder Weather” 2012 BMI Country Award Winner Top 50 songs of the year Colder Weather. 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2016 voted Best Local Songwriter by Creative Loafing. Roughstock named Levi 13 of 13: Ones to watch in 2013.

“God could you throw this dog a bone. Let me turn the corner and be home. I’m tired of being on this road alone.” Real lyrics are what Channing Wilson is all about.
From a small town in Northwest Georgia, Channing learned about real life American good times and hardships. He’s not afraid to tell you about it either. From his songs like “Poor Man’s Cocaine” referring to methamphetamines taking over rural America, to songs like “Black Jesus” which is a story of two men, one young, and one older, finding friendship in spite of the racial stereotypes of the times. Channing’s voice and songwriting are widely considered in the top echelon of the “who’s who” in the Nashville community. Channing’s songs have been recorded by artists like Tyler Farr, Luke Combs, Jason Eady and more. He has shared bills with so many of his heroes such as Billy Joe Shaver, Steve Earle, Robert Earl Keen, Tony Joe White, Chris Knight, Dale Watson and many more including going out on the 2012 Country Throwdown Tour. He has just recently signed an artist/publishing agreement with Warner Chappell and Low Country Sound (Grammy award winning producer Dave Cobb).

After years of paying dues everywhere from dives to theaters, Dave Kennedy has descended on Nashville like a whirlwind. With a voice big enough to grab your attention and songs great enough to hold it, the singer-songwriter and East Tennessee native has spent years developing his craft both as a performer and prolific writer all around the Southeast, and is determined to take his place among the new wave of Americana and more traditional country music artists. His songs are equal parts heartbreak, redemption, whiskey and truth, which is why he’s quickly becoming a favorite of music fans, songwriters and artists alike. Dave has spent the last 10 years tirelessly playing and writing in search of the voice and statement he wants to bring to the music he loves. With ear and heart ever faithful to the country traditions and journeys of those who came before him, his ability to connect with an audience through both his words and performance is a testament to both his traditional roots and his soulful voice, which resonates with or without a microphone. He spent much of 2017 touring nationally as opening support for his good friend, Drake White, and is looking forward to recording his first full length solo album this year. No doubt there are great things in store for this talented artist.

I was born on April 20th, 1978 (send cash, not presents) in Atlanta, GA. Had a relatively simple, suburban upbringing. My interest in music was a little out of the ordinary for most five-year-olds. I was actually PLAYING guitar by 7. While everyone else was playing video games, I was practicing scale fingers & chord changes. I am still good at Tecmo Bowl though.

Fast forward 10 years. They don’t let you take ‘guitar’ in public school. So, I gave up on being a 5’8″ white boy in the NBA. I picked up drums in the fine arts department in high school. By the time I was auditioning for Berklee College of Music, I changed my principal instrument BACK to guitar.

Berklee was great. You get out of it what you put into it. I met some lifelong friends there as well. I spent two years there and decided to leave school with my then current bandmate, John Mayer. John and I moved from Boston to Atlanta & started writing songs together. That faded away and I joined my Uncle’s band: The Marshall Tucker Band. I learned SO much while touring with them.

I left that group to play bass in the first line up of Sugarland (a lineup that looks almost nothing like today’s duo). During this time, I also started producing and engineering records in the Atlanta area. Throw a nice long run with Shawn Mullins in the mix and fast forward to late 2008: I join Zac Brown Band full time. ZBB allows me to stretch out on a bunch of different instruments. It’s funny, but I feel that my whole life has been preparing me to be in this band.

Anyway, I REALLY enjoy being in ZBB. Not sure how life could get much better… but nothing will surprise me at this point – well, maybe if Zac’s head opened up & an alien popped out… actually, never mind. That wouldn’t surprise me.

John Driskell Hopkins here. I was born in San Antonio, Texas on May 3, 1971 at Lackland AFB and I was raised in Gainesville, GA. Go Big Red!

I have been singing since I could talk. Like a lot of us who grew up in the South, my earliest musical experiences were in the church choir. Choir was a great place to gain a real understanding of vocal harmony and musical structure. In fifth grade, I started piano lessons and began to learn about music theory in its simplest forms. Later, I applied what I had learned to my Dad’s old Martin guitar knock off that I found under the bed. I started playing guitar and bass in high school and formed my first band with my buddies. We were called Only for Tomorrow and we played mostly U2 and REM covers. Poorly.

Having always been heavily involved in the theatre throughout high school, I went on to graduate Florida State University with a degree in General Theatre in 1993. My band at FSU was called The Woodpeckers. We played every bar in Tallahassee, I think, and later released a CD under the name Distant Relatives. I was the lead singer. I will always treasure that experience and the guys I played with. Being in that band showed me that a life in music was not only possible, but attainable and sustainable.

After college, I moved home to Atlanta and formed the band Brighter Shade with great guys that I still play with today. We have released two independent albums and played countless gigs. When Brighter Shade’s gig schedule slowed down in the early 2000s, I began to focus more on producing and writing in my studio which I named after the band. I recorded, produced and performed on many different records with many different artists during those years. One of them was named Zac Brown.

I met Zac at CJ’s Landing in Buckhead in 1998. I was hosting their Tuesday night open mic night and Zac came to perform. I met Sonia Leigh there as well, coincidentally. It was a fabulous platform for new talent. Borrowing from Eddie’s Attic, we made the open mic a small competition and I awarded winners a small cash prize and a song in my studio. Sonia actually won one of them…

Zac and I remained friends over the years and in 2001 we began recording together on what would eventually become his Home Grown album in 2003. We chipped away at it piece by piece as he was already very busy with gigs both in the Atlanta area and regionally. It was in the studio with Zac and Shawn Mullins in February of 2005 that I heard the beginnings of “Toes.” Zac had come in to demo the song and work through some of the kinks. I’m a pretty good kink straightener. It was then that I learned that Zac was in need of a bass player. I volunteered to sit in until he found a permanent player.

I truly believe that my intentions at the time were merely to get out and have some fun with my buddy and step aside when he found someone to play bass. I have always known that singing harmony comes very naturally to me and I’m a very meat and potatoes bass player that loves following the kick drum. What I didn’t really expect is that we would all play together so effortlessly. After a few weeks, I said to Zac “If you’re not still looking, then I’m staying.” The crowds were becoming rabid. One time, this huge guy got so into our performance, he repeatedly smashed his hand into an already broken glass on the front of our stage. We played six nights a week and packed the bar every night. Jimmy and I exchanged glances while opening for Angie Aparo and I remember thinking, “Damn. We’ve really got something here.”

The next three years were sometimes brutal, sometimes hysterical, sometimes glorious, but always magical. We were going to call it Zac Brown and The Grit, but instead we named it Zac Brown Band. We played over 260 shows in 2006. We recorded half of The Foundation at my studio and half in Nashville. Some weeks we made negative money and other weeks we made up for it. We rode in an airport shuttle death trap up into the Rockies and back down to Miami. Guys got divorced. Guys got married. Babies got born. Families got built. Dreams got realized. When Chicken Fried made it to the radio in 2008, the sky opened up.

Being in this band has taught me so much about myself. It has made me realize a lot about who I am and who I want to be. It is a band where anything is possible and there are no limits to what can be achieved. The music that we write and perform has a Southern identity, but is in many ways without genre. We never come to the table with a preconceived notion of what the music should or shouldn’t be. We debate. We disagree. We celebrate. We rejoice. In the end, we stand together, and we often marvel at what has come to pass this far. It’s an incredible journey filled with incredible people, and it has only just begun.

We can’t wait to hear these stories and see YOU at the beach!

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