WATCH: Lynyrd Skynyrd Delivers a Rockin’ ‘Free Bird’ at First Concert in Over a Year

by John Jamison
(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

It’s been nearly 50 years since the first time Lynyrd Skynyrd ever blessed a crowd with their signature closer and all-time rock ballad “Free Bird.” Now, in the wake of a global pandemic, the band is back and blowing audiences away with their solo-fueled classic.

Of course, the song has a very different meaning today than it did when it was topping charts in the mid-1970s. These days, the song is performed in tribute to all of the band’s loved ones that have passed. Namely, those band members who died in the fateful plane crash of 1977. It claimed, among others, the life of the song’s author, Ronnie Van Zant.

But even back when Lynyrd Skynyrd first started playing “Free Bird,” the performances were often dedicated to those friends who’ve gone before. In an oral history of the song published by Garden & Gun in 2019, Gary Rossington, the only founding member of the band still living, talked about what Ronnie used to do.

“During our shows, Ronnie would dedicate it to someone. After Berry [Oakley] and Duane [Allman] had passed from motorcycle crashes, we would dedicate it to them, because as Ronnie said, they were free birds,
Rossington said. “They were our friends, our big influences, and it broke our hearts. We would say, ‘This song is for them tonight.'”

A Worthy Performance to Close Out the Return Show

You can watch the band close their set at Gulf Coast Jam on June 4 with a touching and powerful rendition of “Free Bird” below.

Much to Lynyrd Skynyrd fans’ delight, lead and rhythm guitarist Gary Rossington is still out there. And he’s helping the band melt faces with their massive collection of hit songs.

And how about the sheer dexterity of guitarist Ricky Medlocke? At 71 years old, he continues to shred the “Free Bird” solo in a manner that would leave the late Allen Collins grinning ear to ear.

Lynyrd Skynyrd is Out to ‘Finish’ What They Started

Before June 4, 15 months had passed since Lynyrd Skynyrd last performed for a live audience. It’s been a long road for everyone. And seeing bands return to live performances is a welcome sight indeed.

That’s not to say Lynyrd Skynyrd has taken the pandemic lightly, however. On the contrary, Johnny Van Zant himself contracted COVID-19 back in May. Thankfully, the little brother of founding member Ronnie Van Zant appears to be doing alright.

Better than alright in some regards. He’s on a mission.

“We’re back, we’re playing shows, and we’re going to finish what the heck we started. We miss the people singing the songs and having a good time, and that’s what Skynyrd is all about,” Johnny said.

Lynyrd Skynyrd has a full slate of concert dates for any who are interested in catching them live. The schedule is available on their website.