Typically when you think about going to a music festival, you are not really expecting anything good to eat. Most of these events are filled with booths of fried food, greasy burgers and corn dogs and sometimes even high calorie desserts like elephant ears. Southern rocker Zac Brown is not only a talented musician, but he also is a foodie and restaurateur. Lucky for those who attend his Southern Ground Music & Food Festival, you can expect not only good quality food, but lots of it. This is in most part due to his executive chef Rusty Hamlin who works hard to ensure that there is a thoughtful and delicious food lineup. Ultimately he wants the food to be as much as a draw as the musicians are for the event.
The two-day festival which kicks off Saturday, October 19, is packed with some big culinary names. Charleston chefs Craig Deihl (Cypress) and pastry chef Claire Chapman (Peninsula Grill) pair nightly with Hamlin, and with visiting chefs Kelly Linton (Top Chef alum) and RJ Cooper (a James Beard Foundation winner) to serve a three course meal to those who purchase the Stage Box ticket. The menu will feature items like Deihl's renowned charcuterie, chicken fried quail and Anson Mills grits, fish stew, braised pork cheeks and deviled Geechie crabs.
For those whose tickets are for the field, you can still get a taste of some amazing culinary talent from the dozen plus vendors. Some are old favorites of the event including Hamlin's own 54 ft. food truck "Cookie" where he serves his popular Cajun jambalaya and brisket barbacoa or Fiery Ron's Home Team BBQ that has over eight items from their normal menu for patrons to select from. Hamlin also selected some new places to be a part of the Festival including Langdon's Restaurant & Wine Bar, Bon Bahn Mi and Roti Rolls. Menus feature items like a fried oyster roll with red cabbage slaw and citrus aioli, Southeast Asian flatbread wraps and hormone free house ground burgers with pimento cheese or fig and bacon jam. There is no playing around with the food.
Another cool food fact is that the crew at Southern Ground strive to use local products from area farms and farmers. "We love it because Charleston is having a second growing season and there is a lot of great product available," stated Hamlin. They purchase most of their product from Limehouse Produce and request that what they purchase comes from the local farms first. "About 80 percent of what is served at the event is local."
Then there is the massive culinary army that is needed to put on this event. To feed the 250 people on stage, it takes two sous chefs, 10 chef assistants and the about 65 service staff. That does not include the 80 others that help Hamlin with his other areas onsite.
Last there is sheer volume of products used. Pitmaster Aaron Siegel of Home Team BBQ and his team come out in full force and take weeks to plan what they will do. They are the largest operation onsite aside from Hamlin with a team of 30 to manage it all. When asked what was ordered to serve at the event, the numbers are impressive—3000 lbs. of pork butts, 1300 lbs. of brisket, 500 lbs. of wings, 300 lbs. of chicken halves and 600 lbs. of collards and bakes beans. Now that is some food.
For those fans wanting to eat what Zac Brown would eat, they can head to the Southern Ground Social Club and order things like Zac's Pork ‘n Greens, Georgia Clay Moo (smoked beef tenderloin), Sic 'me on a Chicken and more.
So bring your wallet and appetite and get ready to not only be blown away by the music but also by the food. It’s some of the best you will find at any music festival in the country.