Zac Brown Band’s shows at Fenway Park have become a summertime tradition. This weekend, the roots-country-jam-pop act will play its 10th and 11th headlining shows at the Red Sox’s home.
For bassist Matt Mangano and multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook, though, the band’s Fenway shows are a return to one of their college haunts. The two former Berklee students would attend baseball games — “When we were there, Nomar was there,” notes Cook — as a respite from school.
In 2014, Zac Brown Band headlined Fenway for the first time, a two-night stint filled with covers (Metallica, Dropkick Murphys, Billy Joel, and the cameo-ing Doobie Brothers were among the artists whose tracks the band borrowed) and their own hits like the shuffling “Chicken Fried” and the sun-dappled “Toes.” It was a heady experience for Mangano and Cook.
“Stepping out for that first time, there was so much nostalgia wrapped in that city for me,” Cook recalls. “A year prior, I got to see [Bruce] Springsteen, and I was sitting in the first row of seats in Fenway [then]. So I had a dual perspective.”
“I actually spent a good portion of the time trying to not look out, because it was so overwhelming,” says Mangano.
That show and the ones that followed over the ensuing years were, to borrow a metaphor, home runs. With its wide fanbase in New England, Zac Brown Band has proven to be one of the summer concert season’s most reliable draws. The band’s hooky hits, which topped the country charts even as they play with the genre’s constraints, are a huge part of their appeal, but repeat concertgoers know that they’re adept at turning out varied setlists that show off their chops as a band and as individual players.
Part of that flaunting comes from the covers the band chooses, from 2014’s Doobies-assisted “Black Water,” to last year’s barnburning, Cook-led version of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” that would have taken the roof off Fenway if it had one, to that show’s breakneck closing medley, which led off with Living Colour and went through a slew of other classic-rock staples before closing out with the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.”
“We really enjoy [playing covers], because we all came from playing in cover bands in some ways,” says Mangano. “That’s how a lot of players get their start — you’ve got to play other people’s songs. That is what makes us who we are as musicians. The fact that we had to learn all these songs, and our music is modeled after the musicians, writers, and players and artists that came before us. It’s our way of paying tribute to that.”
In September, Zac Brown Band will release its sixth album, “The Owl.” If the singles released from it so far and its roster of collaborations — which includes EDM mastermind Skrillex, pop kingpin Max Martin, and Nashville up-and-comer Andrew DeRoberts — are any indication, it’ll be stylistically all over the map while having a strong roots-music core. “Leaving Love Behind” is a heartfelt piano ballad, while “Someone I Used to Know” has a grand, dance-pop-inspired vibe. And “Need This,” which came out in mid-August, is a firecracker, with frantic riffing and fast-talking verses from Brown.
“That one was a lot of fun,” says Mangano. “We got to work with a handful of different producers [on ‘The Owl’], and that one was with Andrew DeRoberts. He approached the song from a different perspective — he was all about keeping the energy up high and playing with sounds that we hadn’t tried before.”
Upon their return to the Boston area, Cook and Mangano, families in tow, will hit up kid-friendly attractions and homes of beloved foodstuffs. “I’ll be sad if I leave Boston without having a cannoli from Modern [Pastry],” says Cook. Mangano, meanwhile, will head underground to evoke one of his strongest Boston memories.
“Getting to ride the T — just to walk down in a station and smell it and hear it,” says Mangano. “That was my first introduction to Boston; my first day there, I was going in the T. All the memories will come flooding back when that happens.”
Zac Brown Band
With Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
At Fenway Park, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, 6:30 p.m. Tickets $47.50 and up. 877-733-7699, www.redsox.com
Maura Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.