Southern Ground: Inside the Chefs' Tent

Holly Herrick

Musician Zac Brown and executive chef Rusty Hamlin's 10-year-old friendship was forged on two things the men both love—food and music. This weekend, they're bringing it to Charleston in the form of The Southern Ground Food & Music Festival. Guests will tap toes to the like of Brown, John Mayer, Gregg Allman and many more while supping on some of Charleston's best at Blackbaud Stadium.


And, Rusty can hardly wait. "I'm really excited to be in Charleston and doing what I do. Feeding people—especially at this level—is a gift and I love it. If I start calling this work, then I'm outta' here."



The enthusiastic, jovial chef has got his work cut out for him, but he's done it many times before as executive chef for the band. He logs countless miles in his traveling kitchen he calls "Cookie," completing 90 shows a year including at least four festivals. His job? Simple. Feed the people, all of them—guests and musicians, anyone and everyone.


Plus, he's got help—great help for the festival.  An outsourced catering group, Dega, will tend to the feed-needs of the crew, musicians, and stagehands (250 in all).



Charleston's own Home Team BBQ will serve the guests in the VIP area. The real star of the food show will likely be the Front Porch Stage Boxes. Five boxes on each side of the main stage, will house four tables for six people each. A total of 250 fans will be served a five-course feast as they take in the very front-and-center sights and sounds of the show. To get the job done right, Chef Rusty is calling in his chef friends R.J. Cooper from Rogue 24 and David Guas from Bayou Bakery, both located in Washington, DC.  Local chefs Michelle Weaver (Charleston Grill) and Kevin Johnson (The Grocery) will also be cooking. The menu's not set in stone until the meal is served, but Rusty always relies heavily on local, fresh produce and farmers' markets.


The chefs will all work together in a massive prep tent on the grounds to get the job done right. And working together is a big part of the fun. "The reason I invite chefs to help me is the chef comaraderie. There are a lot of chefs who don't get to get out and meet other chefs, laugh, and learn. I let everyone come up with their own dish. Each chef makes something that represents themselves, " says Rusty, who will be creating an appetizer one day and an entree on the other.


Meanwhile, back aboard Cookie, a 54- foot traveling complete professional kitchen wonder, Rusty and his staff of eight cooks (hired locally), will be whipping up the goods for the concession area. Guests can expect Smoked Beef Tendererloin Sliders on Pan-Fried Cornbread Rolls, Pork Tenderloin with a Brown Sauce (a recipe created by Zac Brown), Chocolate Peanut Butter Biscuit Pudding, and Creole Jambalaya.


"My main focus will be on the thousands of people who will be here this weekend. My hope is that they have an amazing time and are over-served deliciousness and great music. I want them to forget all of their worries when they come in that front gate and let us take care of them. And, maybe, I'll get to show off my tail-feathers a little bit," says Rusty with a hearty laugh.


For informations and tickets, visit