If Lynyrd Skynyrd was going to end their 54-year long career, it would seem fitting that Jacksonville, Florida would be the place to say goodbye. As the 40,000 fans in attendance at TIAA Bank Feild were there to hear their final show ever played, you couldn’t help but realize you were witnessing the end of an era to one of rock n’ rolls greatest bands.
What started out in 1964 in that very same city was a band called “My Backyard”. It consisted of five friends, Ronnie Van Zant, Allen Collins, Bob Burns, Gary Rossington, and Larry Junstrom. They would eventually change their name to Leonard Skinnerd, a mock to their PE teacher, Leonard Skinner at Robert E. Lee high school. By 1969, they decided on the band name that would stick…..Lynyrd Skynyrd. And by 1970 they were a top band around these parts.
I was born in 1977 to two parents who were teenage hippies, and loved some rock n’ roll. I can’t remember a time my parents didn’t play their tunes. Just months after my birth, the world would lose the man who wrote and sang the songs we all know so well. In October of 1977, Ronnie Van Zant and members of this band, boarded a plane that many thought they shouldn’t get on due to issues it was having a few days before. Six would lose their life and 20 would survive. Rossington remembers something Van Zant said right before boarding the plane, it’s as if he knew this was the end for him. He said, “If the Lord wants you to die on this plane, when it’s your time to go, it’s your time. Let’s go man, we’ve got a gig to do”. As the band plays the beloved song, “Freebird” and flashed images on the screen behind of all the members over the years who have lost their lives, and family pics of them all, the lyrics send chills up and down my arms. And when Johnny Van Zant sings the verse,
“If I leave here tomorrow,
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now
Cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see”
You can’t help but feel Ronnie’s presence and imagine him singing those lines himself. And you know he would be so proud of his brother Johnny Van Zant, and his lifelong friends for honoring him and the ones no longer here.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s career has seen over 24 members, and one thing has remained the same…..they are as American as they come. They love their country, they love the men and women who have and continue to sacrifice for us all, and they love the Flag. As images of it displayed on the jumbo tron and red, white, and blue confetti blasted out during several parts of the night, you embraced all they represent.
After watching some of the greats perform before them, Marshall Tucker band, Blackberry Smoke, Charlie Daniels band, Jason Aldean, and Kid Rock, who were all a part of the “Farewell Tour”. The crowd was still ready to go, even after having to endure exiting the stadium for a few rain delays. But that didn’t turn any away. The crowd remained packed until midnight to hear them play their last song. It would end on the most perfectly written exit of a band’s final show. They would sing one of the most iconic songs in America. They would end with “Sweet Home Alabama” and say goodbye to the life that made them who they are.
Thank you Lynyrd Skynyrd for giving us a lifetime of music. Your lyrics have taught us “not to live too fast, that troubles will go and pass” and to never forget that, “there is someone up above”. I am sure that your music will carry on for many more years to come. I am so honored to be a part of your last show and watch you go out as the legends you all are. And in Johnny’s famous words from the night, “God Bless the simple man”.
Review By Cindy Marshall
Photos By Bryan Joe Corder