Lynyrd Skynyrd Gives Fans One Final “Free Bird” at PNC Music Pavilion
The Last Of The Street Survivors Tour
Legendary rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd have joined the growing list of bands that are making farewell runs this year, bringing an end to an era of Southern-fried rock and roll. The iconic band is currently out on The Last Of The Street Survivors Tour and made a stop in Charlotte this past Saturday at the PNC Music Pavilion. The tour name is apropos as Skynyrd has suffered more than its fair share of tragedies over the years – including the 1977 plane crash that took the lives of lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and vocalist Cassie Gaines. In a true testament to the power of their music, the band has not only survived but indeed thrived despite the odds. The supporting lineup is changing over the course of the tour and is a virtual who’s who list of Southern rockers and country music superstars. For the Charlotte date, CJ Solar, 38 Special, and Hank Williams Jr. rounded out the bill.
When I arrived at the venue, tailgating festivities were already in full swing with pop-up shade tents and barbecue grills dotting the parking lots as fans gathered to eat, drink, and, of course, blast some pre-show Skynyrd tunes.
Rising star CJ Solar was first to take the stage. Like most of the bands on the lineup, CJ’s music was a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.
His distinctive vocal twang blended well with the music as he and his band rolled through a short but solid set featuring his latest single “Airplane”, off his recent release Get Away With It on Sea Gayle Records.
The band sounded tight and had a nice energy, even saluting the crowd with a drink. I expect that we will see a lot more of CJ Solar in the very near future.
Next up was a band that many were excited to see, 38 Special. The band has a special place in the hearts of many Lynyrd Skynyrd fans as Donnie Van Zant, brother of late Skynyrd vocalist Ronnie and current Skynyrd vocalist Johnny, was a part of the band for almost forty years. Don Barnes has since taken over on lead vocals and guitar, and led the band through a set of radio rock classics. Kicking things off in high gear with “Rockin’ Into The Night,” the audience sing-along began early.
Guitarist Danny Chauncey put on a stellar performance as he played to the crowd up front holding up his guitar and interacting with them throughout the set.
38 Special jammed hit after hit, closing out with a rousing version of “Hold On Loosely”, which had fans on their feet.
After a short break, country music legend Hank Williams Jr. made his appearance, and all his rowdy friends in the audience were ready and waiting. Donning a baseball cap with the word ICON on it, he strapped on his guitar and took his place behind his mic stand center stage. Starting out with a cover of Neil Young’s “Are You Ready for the Country?,” Hank was on fire from the very first note.
Everyone was on their feet as Hank treated them to over twenty songs that included a little bit of everything. The sound quality was phenomenal as Hank’s touring band is made up of some of the best musicians in the business.
Giving a shout out to local heroes, The Marshall Tucker Band, Hank amazed the audience with his version of “Take The Highway” before getting his blues groove on with ZZ Top’s “Waitin’ for the Bus.” Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any better, he chose to perform two of his father’s songs “Kaw-Liga” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, which had couples dancing and swaying in the aisles. My favorite part of the set saw Hank take his place behind the grand piano paying homage to Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis with the Big Maybelle song “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”.
Williams tickled the ivories with his hands before moving on to play with his foot and even sliding down the keys on his behind for good measure. It was a fantastic set by the legendary performer and I consider myself lucky to have been there to witness it.
As if everyone weren’t sweaty enough after that, the humidity level creeped up to tropical levels across the venue, and everyone took advantage of the break between sets to rehydrate and cool off. So far the evening had more than lived up to expectations and it wasn’t over yet as Lynyrd Skynyrd was still to come.
As the venue lights dimmed, the anticipation grew and grew. The stage had a giant LED screen at the back which lit up with an AM radio in the dashboard of a car. Classic rock tunes began to play and as the radio dial moved, the song changed until it got to a Skynyrd song and the band came out full force with “Workin’ for MCA” and “Skynyrd Nation.”
Frontman Johnny Van Zant worked his mic stand back and forth as guitarists Rickey Medlocke and Mark Matejka jammed up front. The lights and screen were constantly changing throughout the set as the band played hit after hit. Something special that Skynyrd does is donate one dollar from every ticket sale to a charity, and Johnny announced that this tour the proceeds were going to the Shriner’s and urged everyone to show their support.
The band is also very supportive of our military men and women, and thanked them for their service, dedicating “Tuesday’s Gone” to those who have served as a giant American flag blew in the breeze on the LED screen. Perhaps the most poignant moment of the show occured during “Simple Man,” where family photos were up on the screens and Van Zant turned the chorus over to the crowd. After that, things got rocking again with Gary Rossington in the forefront for “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” and “Gimme Three Steps”. Skynyrd closed out their regular set with one of their biggest hits “Sweet Home Alabama”, occasionally changing out “Carolina” in the lyrics much to the delight of the fans.
By this time of the night, the crowd usually begins to wane a bit as people make an early exit in an effort to get out of the parking lots. That was not the case this time at all. As I Iooked behind me, the vast majority of the crowd was still there standing and waiting for one more song.
The band came back out and the venue erupted with emotion as the very first notes of “Free Bird” began to be heard. This was the moment everyone had been waiting for and the night had been building up to.
The lights of cell phones replaced the lighters of years gone by as the crowd soaked up every moment of every note. As Van Zant’s voice soared above the crowd, I noticed more than a few people with tears in their eyes as the band bid a final farewell to Charlotte.
The concert may be over but the music and the memories will live on.