Alexander City native crews for Grammy-winning group
Alexander City native Jake Bartol has worked as a sound technician with the world-famous touring group Zac Brown Band, a multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning Southern rock group, for almost 10 years.
“Zac and the band are so easy to work with because we’re friends before anything else, which is rare to effectively mix business and personal,” said Bartol.
From having no prior experience in the field, Bartol learned to be the monitor engineer for Zac Brown Band at the beginning of the band’s career. His main task was to coordinate radio frequencies that were used for each show. By controlling eight wireless channels and watching the members on stage, Bartol learned to anticipate the bands’ needs.
“I basically got paid to pay attention to what they’re doing on stage,” he said. “Now I know what they want before they even ask for it.”
As the radio frequency and monitor technician Bartol handles 52 wireless channels now.
“Originally, I was mixing, tuning guitars, everything. There were only two crew members. Now we have close to 100,” said Bartol. “Andy Hill solely mixes Zac’s sounding, and my job is to control the rest of the band.”
The local celebrity was introduced to Zac Brown before he was famous.
In 2001, Bartol and a college friend, Eric Roderick, began working the lights and sound for bands at the Dixie Tavern in Marietta, Georgia. This is where Bartol first met Zac Brown, who performed on occasion at the bar as a Georgia local playing at small venues and trying to garner attention.
Eventually, Bartol left for Los Angeles and began working in Hollywood as a location scout for movie sets. Roderick stayed behind to work with Brown’s band exclusively, as a sound technician.
“At least two or three times a year, Eric would call me and try to convince me to join Zac and the band on the road. They had begun touring with a single van and trailer but were starting to play at more popular venues,” Bartol said.
Finally worn-out from the Hollywood lifestyle, Bartol moved home to Alexander City in 2008; then, he accepted Roderick’s persistent offers and took the job with Brown.
“I was literally hanging from a rafter, doing some home improvements, when Eric called. I finally said, ‘OK. I’ll do it,’” he added.
Zac Brown Band’s first hit single, Chicken Fried, had just been released.
“We all knew it was going to happen – that the band was going to take off and make it big – from the time we met,” said Bartol. “It’s been very cool to be there from the ground floor of it.”
During the first tour after joining the team, Bartol was on the road in a tour bus for nine straight weeks.
“It was just awesome. It was a bonding experience for the crew, all across the country,” he said. “It was exhausting, hilarious, frustrating, but it was a large dose of ‘this is what being on the road looks like’ all at once.”
By the end of that trip, Bartol said, he was fairly proficient in his new skills. They were doing three shows a day, between radio, promotional gigs and concerts at night.
“It was stressful, but I got lucky working with these guys. They gave me a long leash to work with and allowed me to make mistakes, knowing I wouldn’t make the same ones twice,” he added.
As a result of his tenure, Bartol has experienced first hand the growth of the band. A core of four or five members kicked off the initial fame, and now there could be up to eight or nine back up instrumentals on stage, depending on the show. The one van has been expanded to 11 buses, and the crew has come and gone but grown exponentially.
“Zac’s good about collecting good people and being able to be friends with them. He’s just a good dude – a good guy,” said Bartol.
The main touring months are March through October, but Brown ensures his team has a couple of days at home each week. If it’s an album year, the band could perform up to 75 shows around the nation, said Bartol.
“The biggest thing to do is just be easy going, bust your butt and don’t make wake. You have to maintain a good attitude. I’ve seen a lot of guys wash out that can’t do that.”
At the first Grammy Awards show that the band attended, Brown asked Bartol to take part in a music video.
“I said, ‘I have the perfect character.’ And so, Flody Boatwood was born, and has since appeared in multiple videos,” said Bartol with a grin.
Check out Bartol in character during Zac Brown Band videos Toes, Knee Deep and Jump Right In.
But Bartol doesn’t plan to live on the road forever. His side hobby creating furniture is his future business goal.
He creates sturdy pieces with a variety of materials, including wood, metal, concrete and more. Currently, he has built a pergola for his new backyard, along with a porch swing and picnic table. His 3-year-old son’s bed – or fort as he affectionately refers to it as – that resembles a tree house is another one of Bartol’s projects.
“Or basically anything my wife wants, I figure out how to do it,” Bartol said.
Coming from a family of artists, including but not limited to his father, Mac, and his sister Annie, it’s evident that creativity runs in the bloodline.
“It’s hard not to start making things if you grow up around my dad. I was always taking my toys apart and trying to figure out how they worked. I didn’t always get them put back together the right way though,” he added with a chuckle.
“Whatever pops into my head and inspires me – I just figure out how to make that as I go,” he said.
Since joining the band 10 years ago, Bartol has married his wife, Blair, and together they’ve had one son, Atticus Blue. Six months ago, they moved from Georgia to Auburn to be closer to family in Alexander City. In the off-seasons, he hopes to cultivate his furniture business, but he’s in no hurry to leave the band.
“If it was any other band, I don’t know if I would have lasted as long. I still enjoy it though and am so thankful to work with such amazing guys,” said Bartol.