Arlington native makes music full-time job
Zac Grooms grew up along Rock Creek in Gilliam County, near Olex and for a period of time, bounced between schools in Arlington and Condon. In those early years of life, Grooms developed an appreciation for country music from his parents and friends.
He played extensively with his father, who played guitar, and his mom, Susie Crosby – a talented singer who also played piano and bass guitar.
“We started writing music together when I was a little kid – all my sisters could sing, there was just lots of music ability in the family,” he says.
By middle school, Grooms was exclusively attending school in Arlington. “That’s my hometown,” Grooms says. Although the school had a solid music program, it was primarily centered around wind instruments and band.
“I didn’t have much to do with the music program in Arlington,” Grooms says. “My specialty was guitar and drums – the school didn’t have a choir program at that time. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great program but there isn’t much room for an acoustic guitar in a brass band.”
But it was in those years that Zac’s musical ability began to flourish and locals took notice. Grooms assembled bands in 7th and 8th grade and began performing at events. That continued into high school and with his undeniable talent, the Arlington community came together to help him get a break.
“When I started writing music and performing publicly, the community in Arlington came together and helped me to go to Nashville,” Grooms says. “We had a group of good friends around that helped financially and made it all happen.”
The following year, Grooms had a couple of songs promoted to the independent charts, with one of them charting at #1 on independent charts of country music. Grooms felt that he was close to taking off and with his recording success, was able to book more shows throughout the northwest.
“It was the community around Arlington that made that happen,” he says.
“When I started writing music and performing publicly, the community in Arlington came together and helped me to go to Nashville.”
Then, Zac Grooms graduated from Arlington High School in 2002 with dreams of becoming a full-time musician – a dream that he has harbored for more than twenty years.
Grooms first professional band was Zac Grooms and the Unwanted. That band changed members and became Unwound, which got traction in the Columbia Gorge. The band was meeting with music executives and felt there was opportunity to make it big. But a death metal band from Seattle was also called Unwound and threatened to sue – so Zac’s band had to change its name. Grooms was living and performing extensively in The Dalles along with his bandmates and wanted to find a landmark of the town to honor. So, the band decided to call itself The Brewer’s Grade Band after the road in The Dalles that once housed several breweries.
A local favorite for many years, The Brewer’s Grade Band has gone through several iterations, Grooms says, with different band members leaving and joining. The band felt it had the right recipe and was peaking in 2019. Grooms says that it was one of the best country bands in the Pacific Northwest. But when the COVID pandemic struck, the band lost its gigs and momentum. The band stopped touring and members had to do solo performances and find ways to reach an audience online.
In 2020 and 2021, Grooms started performing every Tuesday night on Facebook Live and also did Wayback Wednesdays at the Bridge Bistro and Brews in Umatilla. Grooms began to grow an audience at smaller venues, such as the Buckhorn Saloon in Condon. Even with the COVID restrictions in place, Grooms found a way to perform and continued to hone his skills as a songwriter and storyteller.
The first time that I saw Zac Grooms was at the Buckhorn Saloon in 2021. Taking a request from the audience, he played a Garth Brooks song and had the dozen people in the bar on their feet. But as the song ended, he quickly changed themes completely, and started playing Pharrell Williams’ “Happy,” a pop song that is at the polar opposite end of Garth. The people in the Buckhorn went nuts. Singing, dancing and totally engrossed in Zac’s every move. The New Year’s Eve show at Hotel Condon in 2021/2022 was another show that I’ll likely never forget. Performing “Country Girl, Shake it For Me,” with James Andrews and Josh Lane, the trio had a booty shaking contest with all the ladies in the audience, from ages 21 to 81. Bottom line, if you go to a Zac Grooms show, you’ll be entertained.
Although the COVID years were not easy for Grooms, they can’t be considered a total loss as he continued to find new ways of performing. He was also busy planning during those years.
Earlier this month, Zac announced that he would be folding his home improvement business. “I’m going to pursue music full-time” he told several thousand followers on social media.
For the last eight years, Zac Grooms has had his own general home repair business. Living in Hermiston, Zac has been a go-to for several property management companies. Prior to starting his own business, he worked for another company doing similar work. Throughout the years, music was the priority and when the work week was done, Grooms switched into his preferred mode as a musician.
Having played professionally since he was 14, the decision to do music full-time isn’t one that Grooms made off the cuff. From multiple trips to Nashville, having experience in music studios, to being close to breaking big with Brewer’s Grade and gigging across the northwest as a solo singer/songwriter – Grooms has a solid understanding of the music industry and its pitfalls. He also realizes that his old job is in high demand and that there is a massive shortage of contractors and skilled workers in the area.
Working 40-plus hours a week, rushing home to shower and change clothes and pack music gear, driving fast to make a gig – that was Zac’s life for twenty years.
“I realize that I’m getting out of an industry that is so in demand that’s easy to make money at,” Grooms says. “I just don’t enjoy it as much as I enjoy playing music.”
“I’ve always worked during the week and done music on the weekends,” Grooms explains. “Most of the time people would perceive me as a fulltime musician,” he says and recounts how hard he would push himself to keep music as a priority. Working 40-plus hours a week, rushing home to shower and change clothes and pack music gear, driving fast to make a gig – that was Zac’s life for twenty years.
“Most of the time people would perceive me as a fulltime musician.” – Zac Grooms
But now, Grooms believes he is ready for music to be his primary income. The years that he has spent on the road, developing relationships with managers and owners of bars and event spaces has paid off. Grooms believes he can still devote to Brewer’s Grade and that will continue to be a key to his success. However, he is also continuing to gig at the smaller venues where he developed relationships during the COVID years.
One of Grooms favorites is The Bridge in Umatilla. Grooms says the venue used to be an adult strip club but a few years ago, a nice couple purchased it and transformed it into a bar and restaurant. The couple see Grooms as a draw for the customers that they want to attract. Other bars and venues throughout the central Gorge are key to Zac’s success. Coming home to Big River Pizza and going on to play at the Midway Tavern in Hermiston, the Honky Tonk Bar in Goldendale and various wineries and breweries along the way helps to fill the calendar between gigs with Brewer’s Grade.
“The thing about the small towns, those are the funnest shows.” – Zac Grooms
“The thing about the small towns, those are the funnest shows,” Grooms says. “They don’t happen all the time but small communities really come together and when there is a show, people really come out.”
Grooms looks to his bandmate Al Hare of Brewer’s Grade as someone who has sacrificed a lot to do music full time.
“As soon as you take the focus off of everything else – when you take that safety net away, you have to book those shows in order to survive.” – Zac Grooms
“I talked a lot with Al Hare, who did 326 shows last year,” Grooms says. Performing extensively in The Dalles and Hood River, Hare also does music lessons and finds gigs wherever he can.
“We talk a lot about what it takes to be a full-time musician,” Zac says. “As soon as you take the focus off of everything else – when you take that safety net away, you have to book those shows in order to survive.”
If you haven’t seen Zac Grooms play yet, do yourself a favor and find the next show in your neck of the woods. Also keep an eye out for Brewer’s Grade to return this year in a big way.
“I want people to know the band is still playing,” Grooms says. “We are still playing – this is just the first time that I’ve promoted myself as an artist and not just in the band. The bottom line is that a rising tide raises all boats – and we’re trying to do that for local music.”