The True Story of Zac Brown’s Famous Beanies:
An Interview with Donna “DJ” Windsor
Recently I was running errands and, while driving through town, “Sweet Annie,” the latest song by the Zac Brown Band, came across the airwaves. I enjoy the tune and immediately began singing along as I do with most songs by that group. I am tone-deaf, so luckily for the rest of the world I was in the car alone with the windows rolled up!
Then my ADHD kicked in, and my thoughts began wandering. I asked myself, “I wonder why Zac Brown always wears a beanie?”
Some country artists wear cowboy hats, some no hats at all. Kip Moore wears a red baseball cap, but I wondered what made Zac Brown decide on his trademark beanies? With a little bit of luck and some diligent detective work on my part, I found my answer. A sweet and precious woman by the name of Donna Joy Windsor — or DJ — as she is affectionately called by her loved ones and friends, had the scoop for me. This proud grandmother of five currently resides in Oklahoma, and she has a fascinating story about how a particular beanie ended up on the head of a particular fellow named Zac Brown of the Zac Brown Band. She is from Georgia originally; she lived there for twenty-one years in Dawsonville right next to Dahlonega, which is Zac Brown’s hometown. In her free time, Donna began crocheting beanies to give to the homeless through a ministry at her church during Christmas time.
Donna credits her daughter Rachel for introducing her to the music of the Zac Brown Band. She heard the song “Chicken Fried” shortly before it became a country radio sensation.
“We all immediately loved his music,” said Donna. “I learned he was from Georgia. Not just from Georgia, but born in the county next door to where I lived for all those years!”
She noticed that Zac always wore a hat, so she decided to make him one of her beanies. In the fall of 2009, she sent one to his management team in California with a letter introducing herself and her story of making beanies. She didn’t get a response from him, so she let it go until one day, as fate would have it, her daughter Rachel stepped in again.
“One day, Rachel asked me to watch the ‘Highway 20 Ride’ video in order to help her understand the storyline. I went to the living room to listen, and all of a sudden my hat came into view. He was wearing MY HAT on TV! I started yelling for my husband, Larry, to come watch. I was so thrilled. I’d like to thank the person in California who got my hat to Zac.”
From the early days to his first Grammy win, Zac was wearing what would become his signature hat: a beanie made by Donna Joy “DJ” Windsor of Oklahoma. I was fortunate enough to land a full interview with her, which you can read below. Her company is called Southern Threads For Heads. You can check out her website at http://southernthreadsforheads.com, see more of her story, and write on her message board — or even purchase a hat for yourself! I bought an original just like the first one she made for Zac, and it is quite comfortable, warm, and fashion friendly!
Here is what I discussed with this kindhearted woman:
What made you start making these beanies, and what possessed you to send one to Zac Brown?
I was making beanies for the homeless. My daughter Rachel said she had a band she thought I would like — ZBB. Watched him play “Devil went Down to Georgia” and loved it! I noticed he wore beanies, and he was from Dahlonega, GA. That is beside the county I lived in — Dawsonville, GA — for a few years when I was young. Looked up his management company ROAR in California. Mailed it there with a letter and forgot about it. Was watching the country channel a few months later. He was singing “Highway 20 Ride,” and it dawned on me: he was wearing my hat. I later named that one the “Original” because it was the first one he wore!
How did one of your beanies get into the Country Music Hall of Fame?
I honestly do not know who gave the hat to the Country Music Hall of Fame. I would never have known but my customers keep me up to date on hats he wears in concerts, etc. One night on Facebook, a customer posted a pic and let me know it was there [at the Hall of Fame]. My mother had a double mastectomy, and I was taking her home to Georgia to visit family after her surgery before the chemo started. I asked her if she would run into the Country Music Hall of Fame with me to see my hat real quick, and then we would get back on the road. We did, and it was so fun to share that with her. She was the one who had a camera or I wouldn’t even have a picture of it! She finished her chemo and radiation in January 2013 and had a stroke two weeks later while she was living with us; my husband found her in her bathroom. Then she spent seven days in the hospital and nine days home with me. I was holding her and singing “In the Garden” when she took her last breath. It doesn’t matter what my claim to fame is; it only matters that I know Jesus when I draw my last breath. I’m thankful Mama did, and I know I’ll see her again one day.
Are the beanies available for purchase to the public?
Yes, the beanies are for sale through my website Southern Threads for Heads. It shares my story about how this all started. I have made more than I can count and have given many to cancer patients. I have also donated for fundraisers and given many away at school. My students think it is pretty cool to win a hat made by the same person who makes hats for Zac Brown!
Zac wears your beanies everywhere. In how many music videos, award shows, and performances has he worn them, at least that you have recognized?
I tried to keep a list of all the concerts and award shows, but I have lost track. He wore the black one, called “Blacktop,” to the Grammys in 2010. His wife Shelley called and asked for that one. I was so thrilled to hear from her that Zac loved my hats. When I fill an order I include my business card and write a note to each customer. I often say I love Zac and making hats! That is true. He wore them more in 2010 through 2012 than he has in 2013.
Have you made beanies for any other celebrities?
I have sent beanies to a few other celebrities but I haven’t seen them wear them. What I always appreciated about Zac was he could have worn them fishing, and I would never have known. Instead he wore them in the music videos for “Highway 20 Ride,” “As She’s Walking Away,” and “Free.”
Did you ever imagine that making the cool beanies that Zac Brown wears would be your claim to fame?
To be honest, I didn’t think I would have a claim to fame other than being a great mother to two wonderful daughters. My husband and I have been married 33 years and have five grandkids ages seven and down. I appreciate Zac loving and wearing my hats. It is a fun story to share. The “Zamily,” his fan club group, has been very supportive of me also because they love Zac. I love what I do, and I hope that Zac has a long, successful career doing what he loves.
Do you have a favorite bible verse?
Hard to have a favorite verse when there are so many great ones. I’m a runner so I like the verse about running the race, fighting the good fight; but I think it’s Philippians 4:11. I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in.