Zach Bryan Enjoys Homecoming Reception at Born & Raised Fest

Zach Bryan’s 15 minutes of fame were supposed to be up in September of 2019. Instead, here two years later, he’s one of the hottest and biggest things in country and roots music that you don’t hear on mainstream radio. When he took the stage Friday evening (9/18) at Born & Raised Fest in Pryor, Oklahoma—only about 40 minutes from where he grew up—it was like an arrival, and a homecoming all wrapped into one.

Walking out on stage, there was a deafening roar for the full-time Navy enlistee and homespun songwriter like few if any ovations this particular set of professional-listening ears has ever experienced for any performer in any context. Since his live shows have been few and far between due to his military commitments that have him stationed in the Pacific Northwest most of the time, a Zach Bryan sighting in the flesh is rare, and the reception is born solely from the naked appeal of his earnest songs.

Though Zach has made his name simply playing his guitar on homespun tracks and smartphone videos, he came out with a five-piece band including fiddle, guitar, keyboard piano, drums, and an upright bass. They were somewhat practiced up, with some players not exactly sure what to do on certain songs. They weren’t up there necessarily to embellish songs that folks became smitten with as mostly solo efforts. They were there because they’re Zach Bryan’s best friends, and that’s the point of this entire project, and phenomenon. Bring in a bunch of ringer musicians fresh off of big Red Dirt tours, or someone specializing in live arrangement and production to put a spit polish on this, and it would squeeze out everything that’s cool and unique about Zach Bryan and the magic he sows with his audience.

Watching Zach Bryan perform was like watching a local coffee house show with 5,000 people losing their everloving minds. When singing some of his biggest like “Godspeed” and “Condemned,” the crowd was singing along to every single word, and I mean Every. Single. Word.

You have to know Zach Bryan’s songs. Otherwise, the entire thing might come across as foreign to you as a French film noir. But for those who’ve bought in, there’s few things sweeter than seeing their hometown boy done good take the stage surrounded by thousands of their friends and singing along to songs that have become so embedded into their emotional experience, they now feel essential.

This is not a drill. There is nothing fake or insincere about any of this. It remains implausible. But after seeing Zach Bryan at a rare live appearance, there is no other conclusion to come to except that the insane appetite for his music is very, very real.

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A (somewhat complete) set list:

2. “Godspeed”
3. “Man Thats Never Known You”
4. “Oklahoma City”
5. “Darling”
6. “Condemned”
7. “Moon In Oklahoma”
8. “Let You Down”
9. “Traveling Man”
10. “Letting Someone Go”
11. “Flying or Crying”
12. “Snow”
13. “Revival”

Zach Bryan plays again at Born & Raised fest Sunday afternoon.

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