The Zac Brown performing at the USO Gala, Washington, DC, in 2016
(thanks, Jim Greenhill)
Occasionally, a poetic gem sneaks its way into mainstream pop music; a song so full of emotion at its core that even the coldest-hearted listener cannot help shedding a tear or two. This is the case with "Highway 20 Ride" by the Zac Brown Band.
The Zac Brown Band has been described as the ‘new Alabama’ due to their classy use of vocal harmony and clean guitars. Having seven members helps to create a rich, full sound both in recordings and live performances. The band’s namesake (Zac Brown) received two years of classical guitar lessons and a year of voice training prior to developing a love for bluegrass as a youth. While in high school, he began playing solo gigs and by the age of 19 he had laid out the ground work for what would eventually grow into the Zac Brown Band almost a decade later.
One of the most impressive aspects about Zac Brown is his open-mindedness; he includes every member of his band in the songwriting process. Each man carries his own weight and contributes to the overall sound of the group. So when songwriter Wyatt Durrette approached the front man with an idea for a song, Zac didn’t balk to hear the man out.
Durrette said he conceived the piece as a “love song to my kid to let him know I’ll always be there, no matter how far we travel.” It’s a good thing his son will have no trouble finding this song playing on every mainstream country radio station in America. By December 2009, the song became the band’s fourth consecutive Top 40 hit, debuting on the charts at #98, but quickly climbing to #40. And on the Hot Country Songs chart, Highway 20 Ride hit #1. Since April 2014, the song has sold over a million copies in the United States alone.
The tune was inspired by Durrette’s bi-weekly drive on Interstate 20 (which joins Atlanta, Georgia, to Florence, South Carolina) to pick up his son from the home of his ex-wife. He often spent hours on the 300-mile trip worrying about his boy’s perception of him as a man and as a father. It ate away at him until he asked Zac Brown to help him complete a song they could dedicate to the children of all their bandmates. Brown loved the idea and supported Durrette in finishing the composition and recording of the track.
A church in Augusta
Interstate 20 happens to pass right through Augusta, Georgia, a town I’m sure Durrette stopped at regularly to break up the monotony of the drive. Nicknamed the Garden City because of the sheer number of parks, greenery, and historic districts, Augusta has had a long and vibrant history. It’s the second oldest city in Georgia, founded in 1736 for the purposes of a defensive settlement in case of an attack by the Spanish or French. The settlement quickly grew and became a major hub of commerce. Today, it’s home to a half dozen of the most beautiful university campuses east of the Mississippi, where students experience true southern charm in a picturesque location.
What connected these two men to the concept of the song (much like Route 20 connects Georgia to South Carolina) is their families and home lives. Both Brown and Durrette are the products of divorce in their families, Wyatt as an adult, and Zac’s parents divorcing when he was a small boy and he only got to spend a limited amount of time with his father. From the opposing viewpoint, Wyatt’s wife left him, filed for divorce, and took their son with her to live closer to her family in their hometown in South Carolina.
The songwriting partnership perfectly captures the raw emotion that estranged parents go through during a traumatic family breakup. The narrator of the song sings from the lonely, open road. It’s a song of reassurance: it’s not your fault, son, your mom and I just couldn’t get along anymore. Please don’t blame yourself. That’s a message all children should hear from their fathers, not only those dealing with divorce. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if fathers and sons felt more comfortable sharing their feelings with each other? I’m not a father yet, but when I hear this song, I can’t help thinking of my own father and everything he sacrificed for me during my life. I just know Wyatt Durrette is doing the same for his boy.
~ Justin Novelli
Highway 20 Ride Songfacts
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