Zac Brown Band’s John Driskell Hopkins raises money for ALS through foundation
On an afternoon before their second Zac Brown Band concert at Jones Beach Amphitheater on Sept.17, John Driskell Hopkins, multi-instrumentalist and founding member, and Matt Mangano, bassist, took a boat out to the bay house of Paul Annunziato.
“Jones Beach is an incredibly unique venue,” Hopkins said. “Our New York crowds in general are the best crowds that we have.”
Annunziato is a longtime friend of Hopkins’, as well as a supporter of Hopkins’ foundation, Hop On A Cure, that helps to fund research to prevent, reverse, and cure ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). Hop on a Cure also aims to raise awareness, build a compassionate community, and unleash the healing power of hope.
Back in July, Annunziato, along with The Lavin and McMahon Families, banded together to hold a fundraiser, complete with a performance from the John Driskell Hopkins Band, in Lattingtown for Hop On A Cure. Attendees raised $55,000, and those who made the largest donations at the fundraiser were also invited to the bay house on Sept. 17 for a meet and greet with Hopkins and Mangano.
“The foundation, in essence, raises money to find a cure,” Annunziato said. “If you go to any Zac Brown Band concert, they mention it. People donate and John’s friends like me are constantly spreading the word.”
Hopkins said that Annunziato, who he called a dear friend, has been an incredible support system for Hop On A Cure.
The bay house, nestled in the South Oyster Bay, overlooks the amphitheater. With only water and marsh surrounding the bay house, it provided the perfect environment for skeet shooting, which everyone took a turn at. Even Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman paid a visit.
“I always want to show off all of the attributes of Nassau County and certainly these bay houses and this beautiful waterway is something that we’re very proud of in Nassau County,” Blakeman said. “I told John Hopkins that next time he’s in Nassau County, we’re going to coordinate and do a fundraiser for Hop On A Cure.”
Hopkins was diagnosed with ALS in 2021, which inspired him to immediately create Hop On A Cure. ALS, according to the Hop On A Cure website, “is a neurological disease that affects the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement (the muscles we have conscious control over). The disease is progressive, meaning the symptoms get worse over time. Individuals affected lose their strength and the ability to control those voluntary muscle movements which include speaking, eating, mobility, and even breathing.”
The life expectancy for ALS after onset of symptoms is typically 3 to 5 years. However, 10 percent of people with ALS survive for 10 years or more. Hopkins, who lives in Atlanta with his family, said when he was diagnosed, he didn’t know what ALS was.
“We fully believe that this is a curable disease,” Hopkins said. “And we believe that it can be cured soon. We feel like we’re on the verge of discoveries that will lead to longevity and livable ALS conditions. Several years ago HIV was a death sentence and now it’s not. We need to get ALS to that point where people who are diagnosed with the disease can stop progression and then we can work towards reversing it.”
Hopkins said that for so long, support around finding the cure to ALS was “hopeless.”
“You would get diagnosed and then the doctors would say get your affairs in order,” Hopkins said. “We want to change that mentality.”
Hopkins said that with his massive platform through the Zac Brown Band, he felt a responsibility to spread the word.
“The band’s been behind me since day one,” Hopkins said. “They’re definitely my extended family.”
As far as balancing performing, recording and touring with managing ALS, Hopkins said he’s still “playing and singing.”
“That’s the bar,” Hopkins said. “Even if I’m playing and singing and have to sit down, I believe we’ll find a way for me to play and sing until I can’t. Hopefully we find some things in the coming years that will allow me to keep doing it.”
Mangano said that while it’s been hard watching his friend, Hopkins, fight ALS, it’s also been inspiring. “It’s inspiring to watch Hop’ and how he confronted this thing head on,” Mangano said. “I think that’s a testament to his tenacity and his internal willpower that he has to overcome challenges.”