When Eric Ziegler set out to plan Friday night’s concert at the Centene Center his intent was very simple ... to highlight the sounds true to St. Francois County. Ranging from the soulful bluegrass sound of Shannon Cox to the heavy metal riffs of Triple XXX, and a fusion of the two with his own style of music, Ziegler had put together seemingly an all-encompassing line-up.
But the journey to the stage was filled with a few surprises.
The story begins as Ziegler was putting the finishing touches on the concert. While he already had booked Cox and Triple XXX, he still needed some local musicians to play behind him since he had always been an independent artist.
“I hand-selected this show,” Ziegler said. “You have Shannon Cox down here who has played the Grand Ole Opry and is the best real country artist I have ever played with, and if wasn’t for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana, which virtually destroyed hair bands, Triple XXX was the next group to go. Their story got deviated, but they are still, to this day, my favorite band.”
To find back-up musicians, Ziegler put a call out all for musicians on his Facebook page.
“Eric put a posting out looking for local musicians for just one night, and somehow I got tagged on it,” said Nick Browers, the front man for the band Breaking Ground. “I read the post wrong and thought he needed an opening act. I messaged Eric and he told him my band would be interested. He immediately tells me the card is full, but he is still looking for band members to play his songs. Once again, I tell him my band would be up for something like that.”
“Nick started sending me one video after another, and I was thinking these guys are really good,” Ziegler said. “I told him to get ahold of his band and ask if they could rehearse with me like tomorrow?”
Within just a few minutes, Browers had contacted his band members - Phil Browers, Breaking Ground’s bass player (and Nick’s uncle); Connie Browers, Phil’s wife (vocals); Hunter Clubb (drums) and Phil Nachor (rhythm guitar), and they were all on board.
“I messaged Hunter and Connie, and I knew Phil would fall in,” Browers said. “We all agreed to do it, and within 10 minutes or so I was asking Eric when he wanted to get together.”
The very next day, Breaking Ground and Ziegler met for what was basically a jam session and a chance to meet each other, but it turned into much more.
Originally Ziegler was just looking for some local musicians to play the Friday night gig, but once they all started rehearsing them seemed to mesh.
“This was supposed to be one off (musicians playing for only one show),” Ziegler said. “But 30 seconds into that first set I knew that was impossible. They were just too good not to hire them for my full-time band.”
Ziegler had more than just his hometown concert planned. He had been approached to perform in San Diego, California at the Springboard West Musical Festival. According to Ziegler, Springboard is a festival where the top echelon of the music industry are looking to discover the next big thing.
“The music industry has changed dramatically,” Ziegler said. “Record labels used to build an artist up and would keep them there, everyone would get rich. Now artists like Beyonce and Justin Timberlake can go out and hire their own producers, essentially what independents have been doing for years. In return, record labels are looking for their replacements.”
Ziegler was one of 40 musicians who was picked from a field of 800 to perform at the Jan. 11-13 event.
“I am sitting at my grandmother’s funeral and my phone keeps ringing off the hook, which it frequently does, but this one number catches my attention because it is out of Houston,” Ziegler said. “So, I step outside and start talking to this crazy guy who wants to put me on Springboard.”
There was one small problem. He didn't have a band.
But after one session with Breaking Ground, Ziegler knew that he had to take Breaking Ground to California with him.
“I asked them if they wanted to do something crazy and climb into a van and drive to California with me,” Ziegler said. “So on a whim they climbed into the van and basically after only one practice drove 30 hours with me to California.”
Connie Browers recalls when Ziegler stopped rehearsal to ask them about going to Springboard.
“Eric stops rehearsal and says we have a problem,” Connie said. “We are looking around as he asked us to sit down. He tells us we are all going to have to go on tour with him, or he was stealing our drummer. Hunter is only 17 years old, so I told Eric I guess we are going on tour, because you are not taking our boy on tour by yourself.”
After only three weeks and four rehearsals, Ziegler and the band were sitting in San Diego ready to play for some of the movers and shakers of the music industry.
“We were going to go just for the experience,” Nick said. “But it is amazing how tight you get with someone after 30 hours in the car.”
At first the mention of going to California seemed kind of surreal to members of Breaking Ground. By their own admission, they were not what most people expect from a new and upcoming band.
“We are not the typical band,” Connie said. “... who brings a 17-year-old drummer, and 40-year-old and a 60-something-year-old on the road?”
After taking vacation from Doe Run Mining where both Preston and Nick work, the Browers were ready to hit the stage in Los Angeles and San Diego.
“We were just going to help someone out.” Preston said. “We weren’t expecting really anything out of it except a free trip to California and to play some music.”
But Ziegler and Breaking Ground garnered some attention.
“From the moment we walked off the stage we had offers on the table,” Ziegler said.
By the end of the festival, Paul K Saunders, originally from the United Kingdom and the BBC, signed on to be their manager and Dale Penner, in part responsible for Nickelback’s rise to stardom, signed on to be their producer.
Both Ziegler and the members of Breaking Ground feel it was the connection they made and one particular song they sang that did it for them.
“These guys have been playing collectively for their whole lives,” Ziegler said of his bandmates. “I have played with a multitude of artists and a multitude of bands, but this is the first time I have gotten that band feeling since I was 18 and heading to California with Jake Cantrell.”
On Friday night Ziegler and Breaking Ground appeared on a local stage for the first time together. Something about it, they said, just felt right.