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Decades after Aspen-bound plane crash, surviving brothers reckon with trauma in documentary ‘3 Days 2 Nights’

As boys, Mark and Andy Godfrey survived a horrific 1974 plane crash that killed their parents, brother and sister on their way to an Aspen ski vacation. The pair stayed alive in the wreckage for three days on a snow-covered mountainside outside of Glenwood Springs before an unlikely rescue. In the decades that followed, they rarely discussed the tragedy.

But in a startlingly intimate new documentary, the brothers confront their trauma and tell their stories in the hopes of inspiring others.

"Maybe by me opening up, I can help some other people who have faced despair," Mark says in the film.

Titled "3 Days 2 Nights," the documentary will screen Wednesday at Aspen Filmfest.

This is a story of survival and perseverance, but it's not really about those unthinkable three days and two nights the boys survived in the wilderness among the dead. Instead, it's an intensely personal portrait of Mark and Andy Godfrey as they attempt to heal the emotional wounds and mend their relationship 40 years later. The film is still in the editing process. Director John Breen is bringing an early cut of this remarkable work to the Godfreys' hometown audience.

Flying for the first time on a small private plane, the family crashed on Williams Peak in Garfield County on the way to Aspen from Houston. Just 8 and 11 at the time, Andy and Mark subsisted on peanuts, chips and liquor from the cabin. Pinned by mangled plane seats, Mark lost his legs.

The film conjures the terror of the crash with Andy recounting his memory of it, interspersed with recordings of the pilot's conversation with air-traffic controllers before impact.

"I distinctly remember looking out the left-side plane window and seeing the trees get very close and Mom saying, 'We're going to crash,' and I remember hitting the snow, remember sliding on the snow, and then blacking out," Andy recalls.

Before she died, his mother told Andy to stay close to the plane, conserve food and take care of Mark.

Four decades later, Mark is haunted by nightmares of the crash.

"I wake up, I hear my heart thumping and tell myself, 'OK, it's just a bad dream,'" he says as the film opens. "I wake up every day, and it's still the same thing. The bad dream never went away."

They were saved, it turns out, by a 9-year-old boy skiing at Sunlight who saw the plane go down across the valley. The boy was obsessed with planes and aviation, so nobody believed his story initially and his father did not alert authorities for two days. In "3 Days 2 Nights" the Godfreys find that boy, Danny Schaefer, and thank him in person for saving them.

The film also follows the Godfreys as they recount their rescue with the helicopter pilot who found them and follows as they return to the crash site on its 39th anniversary and find wreckage still strewn about the woods.

After a long recovery at Aspen Valley Hospital ­— where their visitors included John Denver — the boys stayed in Aspen. Their aunt and uncle, Marianne and Johnny Schuhmacher, raised them and their sister, Paula, who was a baby at the time of the crash and had stayed behind with family in Houston. After leaving for college and to start a career, Andy resettled here with his wife and children in 1998.

The catalyst for making "3 Days 2 Nights" was a revelatory story that Andy wrote for the Aspen Times Weekly in 2012, reckoning for the first time publicly with the crash and detailing the aftermath. The story drew an outpouring of support from friends and strangers alike.

"I really just wrote it for myself, and I didn't have any idea it would affect people the way it did," Andy says in the film.

The magazine story also pushed Mark to start talking. Though he had rarely discussed the crash — even with Andy and his wife and children — Mark had been meticulously and privately compiling research about it for years.

When their lifelong friend Breen suggested making a documentary with his brother-in-law — the well-established cinematographer Jojo Pennebaker — the Godfreys consented.

Breen has known the Godfrey brothers for nearly 50 years. He grew up with them in Houston, was close with the family before the crash, visited Mark and Andy in the hospital and has remained close with them.

They started with a trial shoot in 2013, spending a weekend in Aspen discussing the crash with cameras rolling to see how it felt. The process quickly opened a dam of pent-up emotions.

"It's like a volcano that keeps building up," Mark says early in the film. "It wants to come out."

It was soon evident that this wasn't going to be a movie about a dramatic plane crash survival. It would instead be a story of brotherly love, reconciliation and recovery.

"I thought maybe this was going to be more of a historical film about what happened," Breen said in a recent phone interview. "For Mark, I think it goes beyond the film. He's had a personal transformation just going through the process of making it. It was something to watch him confront these things in his life that have been too painful for him to confront in the past."

The film brings the Godfreys' idyllic pre-crash life to the screen through evocative clips from Super 8 home movies that show a Kennedy-esque family of hardy, happy kids sailing and skiing with their picture-perfect parents (their father was nicknamed "the Greek god" for his charm and looks).

While Andy lost toes to the elements in the aftermath of the crash, he recovered physically and went on to become a college lacrosse star and hockey player. Mark, permanently disabled in a wheelchair, lost his identity as a football-playing Texas kid along with losing his parents and siblings.

Mark acutely felt the loss of that past life. In one heartbreaking scene, he returns to the tennis court at Aspen Meadows to conjure memories of his post-crash Aspen years and breaks down while recounting his childhood shame and frustration.

"I just have to sit here like an idiot in the chair and watch the world go by," he says through tears. "I think to myself, over and over again, 'What the hell happened? Why did this happen? I'm a crippled 12-year-old kid in a wheelchair.'"

Leaving Aspen for prep school, Mark did go on to find himself, to become a prize-winning competitive skier and later to build a life with a family in Houston. But talking on camera provides a breakthrough decades in the making.

Though Breen knew the Godfreys well, the director said he was surprised by how raw and unresolved their emotions about the crash still were.

"Mark had a very difficult time, when we first started, even getting through a couple sentences without becoming very emotional," Breen said. "It made me so aware that this is a person who had barely spoken about this and is opening himself up and becoming very vulnerable."

Breen said he expects to spend about another month in post-production edits after the Aspen Filmfest screening. He then plans to start submitting it to more festivals and hopes to find a distributor who can bring the film to a wide audience.

Breen, who spent his professional career investing in restaurants and food businesses, is a first-time filmmaker. But there are no freshman jitters in this assured piece of documentary filmmaking. His long and close relationship with the Godfreys surely enabled them to open up in ways they couldn't have with any other filmmaker, while Pennebaker's cinema verite shooting style accentuates the emotional immediacy of the film.

"It was definitely a labor of love ­— probably more labor than I expected," Breen said, with a laugh, of the five-year-long filmmaking process. "When I got into it I wanted to try my best to have the audience know these guys and their story the way that I do, to have people walk out of the film and say, 'These guys inspired me.'"


Rifle Farmers Market hopes to grow with Table Dinner

The third annual Rifle Farm to Table Dinner is set for Sept. 29 with tickets on sale now. The dinner will be at the Bookcliffs Arts Center on 16th Street in Rifle from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m..

Tickets are $100 for a pair and $55 for singles. It will include a four-course meal with items donated by local produce vendors. Grand River Health is donating prime rib and other side dishes.

The dinner will also include a cash bar with local beer and wine, silent auction, dessert bar, and yard games. There will be live music by Symphony in the Valley's Noodle Soup throughout the night.

This is the only fundraiser that the Rifle Farmers Market does each year to sustain its operations, aside from a couple of small grants. Last year's fundraising dinner was a success, raising $2,000 for the 2018 season.

Ticket sales will be capped at 100 people. Those interested can purchase tickets online until Sept. 26.


Carbondale Clay Center to ‘throw down’ for fall fundraiser

The Carbondale Clay Center is changing things up this year with a good, old-fashioned Throwdown Hoedown party to kick off its annual fall fundraiser, from 4-8 p.m. this Saturday.

The center is celebrating more than two decades of bringing ceramic art to the community through studio classes, local outreach and events.

"We believe a good community has ample access to arts programs," Executive Director Angela Bruno said.

The all-inclusive art organization welcomes all, from newcomers to art to established artists. Monthly gallery shows at the center display local work and bring in national works as well.

"Every First Friday we feature work by either local or national artists," Bruno said.

At the center of this year's big event will be a chili cook-off, pitting local chefs against one another using ingredients produced by local farmers.

Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson will be the guest judge for the cook-off and selecting the winner.

Bruno said they asked 25 artists to make 12 dishes each for the event. Guests will get to fill the dishes with food during the event and at the end of the night take home the hand-made bowls and dishes.

Tickets to the event range from $55 for adults to $25 for children ages 6-12, and children 5 and younger are free.

Live music from Canary Feathers and dancing will be on tap all evening, with a special appearance by line-dancing callers that will end of the evening.

"The fundraiser helps support the center, keeping it affordable to everyone," Bruno said.


Rifle to celebrate all that’s unique in outdoor recreation

The streets of Rifle will come alive with activity this weekend, as the third annual Western Adventure Weekend takes to the streets and other venues.

"It began with several ideas that combined what the town of Rifle has to offer," Rifle Assistant City Manager Nathan Lindquist said. "Rifle is a choose-your-own-adventure kind of place."

With so many outdoors activities, Lindquist said it was only natural to have an event that integrated the entire outdoors with music adventure activities.

"It's an opportunity for Rifle to showcase everything we have," Main Street Manager Kim Burner said. "Outdoor lifestyle kind of culminates here in Rifle."

Country musician and Colorado native Buckstein will get the party started Friday with a free concert at the Ute Theater at 8 p.m.

A highlight event for the weekend is the Roan Cliff Chaos Mountain Bike Race hosted by MAD Racing out of Grand Junction. The mountain bike race/scavenger hunt will begin at the Garfield County Fairgrounds at 8 a.m. Saturday. All participants will ride out of town, and into the Hubbard Mesa trail area for the start of the race.

With more than 22 miles of trails, participants can choose the length and difficulty with beginner, intermediate and advanced courses. Participants will be given a map and tasked with finding destination markers. The fastest and most efficient at collecting the markers and crossing the finish with the least amount of penalties will win. Riders will be penalized 60 minutes for each missing marker. Winners will be based on fastest total time of riding and markers.

Third Street will boast a full day of entertainment Saturday with the Block Party, which will begin at 10 a.m. in downtown Rifle.

The block party will include vendors, downtown stores will be open for business, and Avid4 Adventure out of Denver will have a climbing wall, paddling tanks and mountain bike course for the children to enjoy.

With a stage set up at the intersection of Third Street and East Avenue, music will keep the activity thriving with five bands to entertain the crowd. See separate schedule with this story.

The Rifle area Chamber of Commerce will host a beer garden, which will start serving around 5 p.m. Friday.

The adventure weekend will wrap up with an Adventure 5-kilometer run starting at 8 a.m. Sunday at the Garfield County Fairgrounds. The race will wrap its way through town, having various challenges along the way for participants.

"It's going to be a fun race, with a few surprises," Burner said.


Glenwood Caverns to honor firefighters with a free visit on Sunday

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park will honor the brave men and women firefighters who helped save properties, homes and family's livelihoods in the Roaring Fork and Grand River valleys this summer.

With the busy fire season on the Western Slope, the theme park came up with the idea to do something for those courageous few who helped so many.

Sunday, the park will host Firefighters Appreciation Day, where firefighters and their immediate family members are invited to spend the day at the park free of charge.

"The fires hit so close to home for us, we started to understand not only the impact, but the magnitude of the firefighters' efforts, not only locally, but those from across the country who came in to fight the fire," said Nancy Heard, general manager of Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park.

Heard, whose family was in the path of the Lake Christine Fire, was personally affected by the fires.

"The fire was 200 yards from my home in Basalt; we were evacuated for a week." Heard said. "I gained a real gratitude and appreciation for them, because it was so close to home."

A close personal friend of Heard's and her family were among the families who lost their home in the fire that started July 3 and continues to burn in the high country above Basalt.

The park employees will hand out free "FunDay Passes" to firefighters who show their ID badge at the tram base. The park will also have a list of all employees from local agencies, in case a firefighter forgets his badge or ID.

The pass includes transportation up and down the mountain, two walking cave tours and unlimited turns on all rides and most attractions.

For those unable to attend Sunday, a make-up day also is being held Sunday, Sept. 23.

Park hours on Sunday are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information call 800-530-1635 or visit the website at Glenwood Caverns.com.

"With our business philosophy, values and beliefs of the company and the owners, it just feels good to do things like this," Heard said.


CBS’ Moonves, the latest powerful exec felled in #MeToo era

NEW YORK (AP) — The #MeToo movement fighting sexual misconduct had already claimed one of Hollywood’s top movie moguls in Harvey Weinstein. Now it has done the same for Leslie Moonves, one of the television industry’s most powerful executives.

The CBS Corp. announced its chairman’s exit late Sunday, hours after The New Yorker magazine posted a story with a second round of ugly accusations against Moonves. A total of 12 women have alleged mistreatment, including forced oral sex, groping and retaliation if they resisted him. Moonves denied the charges in a pair of statements, although he said he had consensual relations with three of the women.

CBS said $20 million will be donated to one or more organizations that support #MeToo and workplace equality for women. That sum will be deducted from any severance due Moonves, a figure that won’t be determined until an outside investigation led by a pair of law firms is finished.

The network’s chief operating officer, Joseph Ianniello, will take over Moonves’ duties as president and CEO until its board of directors can find a permanent replacement, CBS said.

Shares of CBS slumped more than 3 percent in early trading and are down sharply for the year. Shares tumbled 6 percent in late July, the worst one-day sell off in nearly seven years, after details of the accusations surfaced.

It has been nearly a year since Pulitzer Prize-winning articles by The New York Times and the New Yorker exposed a pattern of misconduct by Weinstein, who now faces sex crime charges in New York. Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Kevin Spacey are among other figures that lost jobs after men and women came forward with their own stories, often on social media with the hashtag MeToo, about sexually inappropriate behavior by powerful men.

Moonves ruled first the programming, then the full network and other corporate entities such as Showtime for two decades. CBS has consistently been the most-watched network on television, even as changes transformed the industry, first with cable networks investing in shows and then streaming services like Netflix. He’s been paid handsomely for his success, earning just under $70 million in both 2017 and 2016.

Those paychecks made Moonves the second-highest paid executive in the S&P 500 among those holding the top job at their company for at least two consecutive years, according to an analysis by The Associated Press and Equilar, an executive data firm.

Yet accusations emerged against the affable, raspy-voiced former actor last month, when six women accused him of misconduct similar to what came out Sunday. CBS announced an internal probe yet Moonves, who was also involved in a separate power struggle that threatened his future control of the company, remained in charge. In recent days, however, reports leaked that the CBS board and Moonves, 68, were discussing an exit plan. Reports that it could include a multi-million dollar payout provoked some online anger.

The latest allegations were not addressed in CBS’ announcement of Moonves’ exit.

One of the accusers who came forth in the New Yorker’s article on Sunday, Phyllis Golden-Gottlieb, also filed a complaint with the Los Angeles police last year, but no charges were filed because the statute of limitations had expired. She said Moonves, while an executive at the Lorimar production studio in the late 1980s, pushed her head into his lap and forced her to perform oral sex.

At another time, she said an angry Moonves pushed her hard against a wall. When she resisted later advances, she began to be frozen out at the company, she said.

“He absolutely ruined my career,” she told The New Yorker.

Another woman, Jessica Pallingston, said Moonves forced her to perform oral sex on her first day working as his assistant at Warner Bros. productions. Other women told the magazine of unwanted touching or advances.

In a statement to the magazine, Moonves said the “appalling accusations” are untrue, but he acknowledged consensual relations with three of the women before he started working at CBS. Moonves was married at the time; he divorced his first wife and married CBS on-air personality Julie Chen in 2004.

“I have never used my position to hinder the advancement or careers of women,” he said. “In my 40 years of work, I have never before heard of such disturbing accusations. I can only surmise they are surfacing now for the first time, decades later, as part of a concerted effort by others to destroy my name, my reputation and my career. Anyone who knows me knows that the person described in this article is not me.”

In a second statement after his departure, Moonves said he was “deeply saddened” to be leaving the company and its employees. “Together, we built CBS into a destination where the best in the business come to work and succeed,” he said.

With Moonves’ exit, CBS viewers will wonder what the future holds for Chen, who is a panelist on the daytime show “The Talk” and host of the summer series “Big Brother.” She stood in support of her husband when the first allegations hit last month.

Organizations that have supported women coming forward with stories of abuse, including Time’s Up and Press Forward, said Sunday that CBS should be transparent about the findings of its internal investigation despite Moonves’ ouster.

It’s difficult to imagine CBS without Moonves. The network was struggling when he took over as entertainment chief in 1995, hot from a job at the Warner Brothers studio, which developed hits such as “ER” and “Friends.”

He quickly turned things around and churned out programming appealing to the older, more tradition-bound CBS audience — broad appeal sitcoms such as “Everybody Loves Raymond,” ”Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory” and procedural dramas such as “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and “NCIS.” ”Survivor” was an early reality show hit, and continues to this day.

Many CBS viewers knew Moonves from the relentless ribbing he took from former late-night host David Letterman. Moonves said there were legitimate hard feelings between the two in his early years, but the relationship warmed before Letterman’s retirement.

Moonves was an advocate for the traditional broadcast network model when others worried it was becoming obsolete, but he also launched streaming services for CBS entertainment and news. He took over the broader CBS Corp. in 2006 but kept his hand in entertainment duties, down to casting decisions for new shows.

His status as an industry king was never more evident than each year in May when CBS introduced the next year’s schedule before an audience of advertisers and media executives crammed into Carnegie Hall. He starred in each year’s presentation, often in elaborate filmed skits.

Yet this spring there were already signs the end was near. Locked in a battle for corporate control with Shari Redstone of National Amusements, Moonves received a standing ovation from an audience that sensed it could be his last year. He even skipped an event he created and relished, an annual breakfast meeting with reporters dubbed “Lox with Les.”

CBS’ board also announced Sunday that Redstone’s National Amusements will not propose a merger between CBS and Viacom, which Redstone had been urging, for two years. Six new CBS board members were also appointed.

Burning Mountain Festival has things heating up in New Castle this weekend

On the right day visitors to New Castle might catch a glimpse of the steam emanating from the mountain that looms over the small western Colorado town.

Every year in early September for nearly four decades, the town has gathered for a festival named for the underground coal seam fire that still burns deep inside the mountain, over 120 years after it began.

"It's nice we wait 'til September; the heat has gone and the dust has settled," said Debbie Nichols, event coordinator with the town of New Castle.

The 46th annual Burning Mountain Festival kicks off Friday night at 5 p.m. with music, food, crafts and fun. The small town nestled along the Colorado River and Interstate 70 is also celebrating its 130th birthday.

Local band New Mamm Creek will take the stage in Burning Mountain Park first, followed by Premium Diesel, a country band out of Denver featuring New Castle native Thomas Breslin.

Food and craft vendors, face painting and bouncy houses will be on hand in the park for all to enjoy.

Saturday's events include Pyro's Medaris Madness 5K trail run at 7:30 a.m. The Lions Club pancake and scrambled egg breakfast will have people licking their lips at 8 a.m.

At 10 a.m., the parade will get rolling down Main Street, featuring the Westernaires, a horse-mounted precision drill organization from Golden, composed of Denver area youngsters ages 9-19.

The annual pie-eating contest will follow the parade.

"It's always neat to watch," Nichols said.

There also will be a men's and women's log-splitting competition Saturday at Burning Mountain Park, and the classic car show will rev up at 12:30 p.m.

Locals Victoria Vasquez and Hannah Worline will start Saturday's entertainment with their singing and ukulele playing.

Also playing in the park will be the Cougar Melons, a John Mellencamp tribute band. Popular Denver band The Radio will cap off the night. The festival wraps up Sunday with a community worship service at 6:30 p.m.


Auditions for Defiance Players’ ‘Oliver’ this weekend

After a two-year absence, Defiance Community Players will once again take to the stage as they bring Charles Dickens' classic novel, "Oliver," back to life.

Auditions for the production of Lionel Bart's stage version of "Oliver" will run from 6:30-9 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at St. Barnabas Church in Glenwood Springs.

Performances will be held Nov. 9, 10, 16, 17 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 11 and 18 at 2 p.m. in the Jeannie Miller Theatre at Glenwood Springs High School.

Directed by Jennetta Howell and Brendan Cochran, with musical direction by Brad Vierheller, "Oliver" will take audiences on an adventure through Victorian England, as the young orphaned Oliver Twist navigates the London underworld of theft and violence.

Glenwood Springs Walk for Hope remembers little ones lost

The impact of losing a child during pregnancy or early infant loss creates a void in a parent's life that cannot be filled.

Born out of a loss of a child, Marcia Villarreal co-founded One Moment in 2011 to offer support, and create peace and hope for families dealing with the loss of a baby.

It began with a monthly support group, which has continued every month for the last seven years.

"Being a constant rudder for them, a person that cares about them in a time of loss and their sorrows," Marcia Villarreal said.

"We have had lots of mothers, fathers, and even grandparents come to our support groups," she said.

The nonprofit organization run by Villarreal and her husband, Gil, offers grieving mothers and families emotional, physical and spiritual needs.

"We send out cards and notes on anniversary, and also Mothers and Fathers day," Villarreal said.

Working with local hospitals including Valley View Hospital, One Moment offers bereavement boxes that include a teddy bear and journal. They also offer bereavement photography through "Now I lay Me Down to Sleep," a nonprofit out of the Denver area, all free to the families.

"A few mementos that help the parents through the loss of their baby," explained Villarreal. "We have helped 100-150 people through the grief of losing a baby."

To honor the babies lost, a Walk for Hope was started in 2012.

The annual event promotes healing for the parents and lets them know they are not alone.

Saturday marks the sixth annual Walk for Hope event, beginning at 1 p.m. at Two Rivers Park in Glenwood Springs. Villarreal said she is expecting 50 people in attendance this year. The event includes guest speaker Becky Gray, a live musical tribute by Carbondale's Lucas Pulver, readings of babies' names, wildflower seed paper notes, and a live butterfly release. The event will conclude with a half-mile walk around the park.

Sponsors of the event include Coldwell Banker, Valley View Hospital, Alpine Bank, Bighorn Toyota, Tequila's Mexican Restaurant in Rifle, Ex Nihilo Studios, Holy Cross Energy, Elevate Dental Wellness, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, Cornerstone Home Lending office of Richard Fuller, Farmers Insurance Bryson Karren Agency and Grand River Health.


Jazz Aspen Labor Day: Zac Brown Band’s Jimmy De Martini on this summer’s big stadium tour

Summer stadium tours are the stomping grounds of rock and pop star giants — an increasingly rare breed who can fill these huge outdoor sportsplexes with tens of thousands of fans in dozens of cities. The Zac Brown Band now walks among those platinum-selling, Grammy-winning mammoths of summertime.

Only a handful of acts can pull off a stadium tour these days — this summer, the other major ones in the U.S. were Jay-Z and Beyonce, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift.

Playing mostly baseball stadiums over the past three months, the Zac Brown Band has spent the summer on one of the season’s biggest and most popular tours. Their “Down the Rabbit Hole” run has the band headlining Safeco Field — home of the Seattle Mariners — on Friday before coming to headline the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience in Snowmass Village on Sunday night.

The Labor Day music festival, with a sell-out crowd of about 10,000 expected Sunday, is actually a smaller gig for the band these days when it mostly plays to crowds two and three times as big.

“I love playing baseball fields,” fiddle player Jimmy De Martini said in a phone interview from Atlanta during a recent tour break. “The atmosphere is amazing and our crowds really get into it when we play outside.”

They’ve set out to smash the perception of stadium shows as impersonal, cookie-cutter affairs. These big stages, De Martini believes, have had a positive effect on the band’s performances, inspiring them to make each night a unique and major event with a freshly crafted set list, surprise covers and new interpretations of their country rock catalog.

“Sometimes when you play amphitheaters, things look the same and feel the same when you go up there night after night,” he said. “But when you’re playing a baseball stadium there’s such a unique culture to each city that they put into the construction and the culture of baseball that you can feel you’re in a different spot every time you get onstage.”

The band last headlined Labor Day here in 2011 — a sellout that capped a major rebound event for Jazz Aspen, doubling the attendance from 2010 and launching its continuing partnership with concert promoter AEG. (The 2018 lineup actually includes all three main stage acts from 2011’s closing Sunday: Zac Brown Band; Fitz and the Tantrums, who play Saturday evening; and Michael Franti, who opens the festival today.) The dramatic mountainscapes surrounding the Jazz Aspen festival grounds in Snowmass Town Park — and the oxygen tanks backstage — made for a memorable experience for De Martini and his bandmates, he said.

“It’s an amazing landscape and great inspiration all around,” he said. “Everybody seems to be in good spirits and happy to be there.”

As musical tastes have splintered in the streaming era, Zac Brown Band is one of the dwindling number of pop acts pulling off a big-tent approach — making a bid to be the country band that non-country fans like, with a reputation for astonishing live show’s that anybody will love.

Ten years on from the band’s 2008 breakout hit, “Chicken Fried,” the Zac Brown Band’s sound is a country music that’s broadly defined and probably would have been called “rock” a generation ago. The Georgia-based, eight-man band ignores the traditional confines of the country label and is unafraid to experiment with the genre, digging into Allman Brothers-styled Southern rock jams and more far-flung territory. The band’s most recent album, “Welcome Home,” released last year, is a largely acoustic and straightforward rootsy record that followed 2015’s “Jekyll and Hyde,” which saw the band experimenting with the sounds of dance, pop and jazz.

De Martini, an Atlanta native, met Brown in 2004 when each of them were making the rounds on the local live music scene. After one gig, the bartender — Wyatt Durette, who has become one of Brown’s songwriting partners, including penning lyrics for “Colder Weather” — put De Martini in touch with Brown. De Martini sat in with Brown at a sports bar the following night, and after this unassuming gig Brown asked De Martini to join what would become Zac Brown Band.

“I knew there was something special the first time I played with Zac,” De Martini recalled.

Bar bands in Atlanta — like most everywhere — rely on cover songs to keep crowds engaged. Brown, for the most part, did not. That signaled to De Martini that Brown was on to something with his sound, his songwriting and his burly, bearded stage charm.

“With your originals, people don’t usually care too much,” he recalled. “The opposite was true of Zac. … I knew it was special. I don’t think I knew it would get quite to this level, because this is a dream come true.”

Ironically, now that the band is at the pinnacle of American pop music, cover songs are a staple of its vaunted live show.

On this summer tour, the band’s eclectic and unexpected choices of covers have drawn fans’ notice and sparked social media buzz. Sets have included inspired arrangements of selections far from Zac Brown Band’s country rock wheelhouse, like the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and Living Color’s “Cult of Personality.”

A handful of the stadium shows have also included their spin on the Dave Matthews Band’s “Ants Marching,” with which De Martini has a long personal history. He first made a living in music as the fiddler for the popular early 2000s Georgia-based outfit Dave Matthews Cover Band, playing the Boyd Tinsley parts.

“It’s cool, it’s a full-circle thing,” De Martini said.

When Zac Brown Band first played stadiums years later, it was opening for Dave Matthews. As they’ve returned to those venues this summer for the first time, they’ve honored those old days with “Ants Marching.”

“We were talking about it, like, ‘Remember the last time we played here we played with Dave Matthews Band? Let’s play ‘Ants Marching!'” recalled De Martini.

That spontaneity has been a cornerstone of the cover-heavy summer tour. The band spends an hour or so warming up in the tour bus before they take the stage and working on some surprises for each show.

“Sometimes we’ll have never played a song before and we’ll just run through it two times on the bus and then go play it in front of 20,000 people,” De Martini said. “It’s cool that we can do that.”

You can’t do that with some songs, though, he noted. Perfecting the mini rock opera movements and harmonies of their barn-burning take on Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” for instance, required dedicated rehearsal time before the tour kicked off.

Meeting that challenge has impressed fellow musicians on tour. Nahko, the front man for Nahko and Medicine for the People, who opened for Zac Brown Band on three nights of the summer tour, recalled the first time he Brown and band attempt “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“He started playing Queen — anytime somebody starts playing Queen, you’re crossing your fingers that they don’t f— it up,” Nahko recalled this summer with a laugh. “And he slayed it. … That’s when you know a band can really play: when they can do a Queen cover really well.”

Sometimes nearly half the Zac Brown Band’s show is made up of covers, alongside older hits like “Knee Deep” and “Keep Me in Mind,” mixed in with a handful of songs from “Welcome Home” each night like the nostalgic trip to the band’s early days “Roots” and the father-son tearjerker “My Old Man.” They’ve been using the stadium spectacle to ratchet up the poignancy of “My Old Man,” shooting live video of fathers and sons in the crowd and playing it on the jumbo screens at stadiums along with old photos of the band members and their dads.

“It’s pretty emotional,” De Martini said.

The band has tour dates booked through October. After that, De Martini said, they plan to dig into their next album. They’ve already made progress on some songs — grabbing studio time between shows this summer. He is hopeful they’ll get a new record out in 2019.

“We’re definitely in that creative process now,” he said.