Lynyrd Skynyrd returns to Riverbend

Lynyrd Skynyrd returns to Riverbend

June 13th, 2013 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment

Lynyrd Skynard will perform on Riverbend's Coca-Cola Stage tonight.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

IF YOU GO

What: Lynyrd Skynyrd.

When: 9:30-11 p.m. tonight.

Where: Coca-Cola Stage.

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DID YOU KNOW?

• Lynyrd Skynyrd has released 14 albums -- six before the Oct. 20, 1977, plane crash that took the lives of vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup vocalist Cassie Gaines, Steve's sister, as well as three other people. The sixth album, "Street Survivors," was released three days before the crash.

• The original "Street Survivors" cover featured the band surrounded by flames. Steve Gaines' widow requested a new cover be issued, and the new one simply shows the band standing in a spotlight.

• The band was flying in a Convair CV-300 from Greenville, S.C., to Baton Rouge, La., when the crash occurred.

• The band took a 10-year hiatus following the crash, though four of the surviving members did join Charlie Daniels onstage for a version of "Free Bird" performed at the Volunteer Jam V in 1979.

• When the band re-formed in 1987, it featured several crash survivors -- guitarist Gary Rossington, pianist Billy Powell, bassist Leon Wilkeson and drummer Artimus Pyle -- as well as guitarist Ed King, who had left the band two years prior to the crash. Ronnie's brother Johnny also joined as vocalist for what was supposed to be a one-off show.

• Johnny has now fronted the band for 26 years, twice as long as his brother. Ronnie fronted the band, though under different names than Lynyrd Skynyrd, from 1964 to 1977.

• A third Van Zant brother, Donnie, is the singer with 38 Special. Donnie and Johnny have toured together in a band called Van Zant.

• Lynyrd Skynyrd was chosen as the name in 1970 as a mocking tribute to Leonard Skinner, a much-hated gym teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Fla., which band members attended.

• The band's first album, "Pronounced Leh-'nerd Skin-'nerd," was released in 1973. Their most recent album, "Last of a Dyin' Breed," was released in August of last year.

• Current guitarist Rickey Medlocke was the former leader of the Southern rock band Blackfoot, but he also was one of the first drummers in the early versions of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

• The only original member of the band left is guitarist Gary Rossington.

• Drummer Michael Cartellone was the drummer in Damn Yankees, the group that featured guitarist Ted Nugent, guitarist Tommy Shaw of Styx and bassist Jack Blades of Night Ranger.

• Bassist Johnny Colt is the original bassist for The Black Crowes.

Lead singer Johnny Van Zant has now fronted the band his late brother Ronnie co-founded for twice as long as big brother did.

In fact, the quintessential Southern-rock band only went by the name Lynyrd Skynyrd for seven years while Ronnie was alive. In that time, however, they managed to leave a mark on the music scene that endures today, if for no other reason than fans still shout out the name of the group's anthem at everything from symphony concerts to baseball games.

Whether people are joking or not when they yell "FreeBird" at a kindergarten graduation, the opening guitar strains of "FreeBird" can bring a tear to a Southerner's eye quicker than stories about a favorite dog.

The playlist at WSKZ-FM KZ106, a classic rock station in Chattanooga, has had Lynyrd Skynyrd as "a staple in regular rotation with multiple tracks since day one," says program director and on-air personality Scott Chase. "They have meant as much to us as Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd. They are a Top 5 act as far as regular rotation."

As far as Riverbend goes, they are No. 1, having headlined in 2002 on what officials say was the largest crowd in recent memory and certainly the most successful night in terms of sales. Festival organizers rarely ask someone who has headlined to come back, but Chip Baker, executive director of Friends of the Festival, which manages Riverbend, says the band is just as popular today with fans, especially young fans, as it was the last time.

"When I go to visit my son in Knoxville before a football game, Skynyrd is what's playing on the stereo," he says. "It's what I listened to, and now my son and his friends are listening to it."

Ben Gibson is a University of Tennessee graduate who remembers the band's music being part of football weekends.

"I am ready to experience the band live," he said. "I grew up listening to country, and 'Sweet Home Alabama' was always a favorite, though I graduated from the University of Tennessee, and we had a slightly different version that we sang.

"I can't wait for [the show]. I plan on dressing the part, too."

Contact staff writer Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.