When the Zac Brown Band hits the road, they take their instruments, amps and 54-foot custom food truck called "Cookie."
"We're Southern guys," says Rusty Hamlin, traveling chef for the Grammy-winning band, whose 2008 hit "Chicken Fried" catapulted them to fame. Before each show, Hamlin feeds up to 200 fans a gourmet Southern meal as they hang out with the band. "Nothing makes us happier than getting to know people around a plate of food."
Country music and food — especially Southern food — have long been intertwined, with lyrics about sweet tea, pecan pie and whiskey joining references to mother, country and pickup trucks. But as country music and Southern food each move beyond their traditional bounds — Zac Brown Band sells out Boston's Fenway Park and even Los Angeles has a fried chicken festival — they have spawned a new hybrid of cookbooks, cooking shows, food festivals and even restaurants that are rapidly becoming mainstream.
"Country music is huge and it's just gotten huger," says Cynthia Sanz, editor of People Country, the celebrity magazine's country music quarterly. People has been publishing its country music edition for roughly a decade and recently added a country channel to its digital site. "It's always been connected to food. It's more than just the music genre, it's a lifestyle."
Food has always been a staple of People's country music coverage, Sanz says, and a Facebook post of a popular star such as Tim McGraw making dumplings can get more than 4,000 "likes," above average for the page.
Big-name national country stars such as Trisha Yearwood were among the first to succeed on the mainstream food front. Yearwood, a three-time Grammy Award winner, is the author of two best-selling cookbooks and the host of Food Network's "Trisha's Southern Kitchen," which is entering its fifth season.