Icons of southern culture for nearly five decades, with more than 30 million albums sold during their career, the band Rolling Stone called “one of its 100 Greatest Bands of All Time,” Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Lynyrd Skynyrd (Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd) graced the Arkansas Music Pavilion stage for their final bow.
With timeless hits such as “Simple Man,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “What’s Your Name,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and the bonafide southern anthem “Freebird,” Lynyrd Skynyrd brought The Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour to the AMP in Rogers Friday night for one hell of a nostalgic goodbye.
Officially formed in 1969 by founding members Ronnie Van Zant, Bob Burns, Allen Collins, and Gary Rossington, Lynyrd Skynyrd would go on to define the “Southern Rock” genre. Where the Allman’s were steeped in improvisational blues and jazz, Skynyrd opted to find inspiration from the British blues bands of their day. Skynyrd’s style infused the controlled bombast of bands like the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, Cream, the Jeff Beck Group, Free and Led Zeppelin to their Dixie-drenched three-guitar attack.
From being a pioneering force in a southern musical movement to the tragic 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of three band members, their story has become one of the most mythologized tales in the history of rock.
The sold out show kicked off with a barn-burner of a set from El Dorado native Jason D. Williams. Long rumored to be the illegitimate child of music legend Jerry Lee Lewis, Williams does a simply remarkable job at delivering spot on renditions of some of The Killer’s best works.
Southern rock stalwarts Marshall Tucker Band followed and opened with the moody title track off their 1979 album Running Like the Wind. Though the band stormed through an excellent set with Classic Rock Radio staples “Fire on the Mountain,” “Heard It in a Love Song” and the audience sing-a-long “Can’t You See,” there was still quite a bit of restlessness at the impending arrival of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Taking the stage to the sounds of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” the band launched into the classic “Workin’ For MCA” and was greeted with a thunderous applause. Skynyrd shifted gears with 2011’s “Skynyrd Nation” before delivering the one-two punch of “What’s Your Name?” and “That Smell.” The crowd’s exuberant response left little doubt who they had come to see and Skynyrd seemed to respond by kicking things up a notch in both power and delivery.
Next, the band dug deep into the Skynyrd songbook with the welcome appearance of “Travelin’ Man.” The guitar boogie of “I Know A Little” from 1977’s Street Survivors proved to be one of the most well received moments of the evening. Watching Skynyrd guitarists Gary Rossington, Ricky Medlocke, and Mark “Sparky” Matejka hold a triple guitar duel is something to hear and see.
The back-to-back positioning of “The Needle and the Spoon” and “Saturday Night Special” worked exceptionally well. Medlocke has proven time and time again to be the MVP within the bands current lineup, and his wah-infused solo on “The Needle and The Spoon” showed exactly why. The inclusion of fan favorites “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” and “Tuesday’s Gone” to their set were an added bonus, as both became instant highlights in an already stellar evening.
Johnny Van Zant, the younger brother of original lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, has been the lead vocalist for the band since their return in 1987. Van Zant has long managed to be both the engaging rock frontman and humble country boy next door: a persona that has transformed the Skynyrd concert experience to something more akin to an extended family reunion. Nowhere does that feeling come across more genuine then when Van Zant addresses the crowd, where often, he will offer tributes to fallen members of the band or dedicating a song like “Simple Man” to members of the military, police, paramedics and firefighters.
A joyous “Sweet Home Alabama” ended the main set, setting the stage for inevitable “Free Bird.” How many bands are able to say they have a song that’s so iconic it gives even the mighty “Stairway To Heaven” a run for its money as the “Greatest Rock Song of All Time?” While a majority of the world would tend to lean towards Zeppelin as the undisputed champions in this department, more than a fair share of people would argue that as downright blasphemy. “Free Bird” is something else. A song so epic that it holds court in a class all its own.
The names of those lost in the 1977 plane crash and every member lost since then were listed in tribute on the video screens behind the band. Knowing this would be the last time I’d hear “Free Bird” played by Lynyrd Skynyrd was somewhat bittersweet. Halfway through, Johnny stopped singing and the voice of Ronnie Van Zant took over. What followed was 10 minutes of pure rock-n-roll glory and a fitting farewell to one of the greatest bands to ever exist.