Southern rock, Skynyrd still alive, kicking

Lynyrd Skynyrd performed Friday, Sept. 12 at the Arkansas Music Pavilion in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

All photos by Clayton Taylor

Southern hard rock may be dead on the charts, but based on two stirring performances Thursday at the Arkansas Music Pavilion, it’s alive and still kicking on some 35 years beyond its hey day.

Lynyrd Skynyrd set list

9/12/13 – Fayetteville, Arkansas

Last of a Dying Breed
They Call Me the Breeze
What’s Your Name
Give Me Back My Bullets
Down South Jukin
That Smell
Got That Right
Saturday Night Special
I know a Little
Simple Man
Alabama Bound
Tuesday’s Gone
Give Me Three Steps
Sweet Home Alabama
Free Bird (encore)

Legendary Dixie rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd and rousing opening act Blackberry Smoke lit up the breezy, late-summer evening with two tight sets that brought the Northwest Arkansas crowd to its feet and had them dancing in the aisles.

Skynyrd, celebrating its 40th anniversary on this tour, pioneered the genre in the early 1970s along with the Allman Brothers Band, Black Oak Arkansas and other groups, and no one would doubt their mastery of the rock, blues, country fusion following their 15-song performance.

Skynyrd populated the set with classics fans wanted to hear, except for their opening song, “Last of a Dying Breed,” off their eponymous latest release.

Front man Johnny Van Zant belted his way through the show with a pleasing southern rasp and commanded the stage with cocky rock presence that almost allowed one to forget that he replaced his late older brother Ronnie, Skynyrd’s original lead singer, who died along with two other band members in a tragic plane crash in 1977.

The younger Van Zant captured the wit, anger and longing of the classic lyrics left by his brother on songs such as “Give Me Three Steps,” “Saturday Night Special” and “Tuesday’s Gone.”

Gary Rossington, the sole pre-crash member remaining in the band and one of the band’s signature three guitarists, stood out with his simmering slide-guitar work on classic solos from “You Got That Right” and “Free Bird.”

Equally talented picker Rickey Medlocke tickled the crowd with his on-stage antics and then got them boogieing with deft fingers on the mandolin, playing Leadbelly’s blues classic, “Alabama Bound.”

The evening reached its peak with the crowd singing along to “Sweet Home Alabama,” the band’s 1974 answer to Neil Young’s “Southern Man.” The encore featuring “Free Bird,” was just the song everyone wanted to hear before making their way home.

Valid criticism might label Skynyrd as just an oldies act, trading on nostalgia and baby boomers’ yearnings for simpler days. So be it, Skynyrd wears that label well.

Blackberry Smoke

Blackberry Smoke

Clayton Taylor

As strong as Skynyrd was, their opening act Blackberry Smoke, a Georgia-based group, was the evening’s true revelation for those who took note.

The earthy quintet, who has also opened for Zac Brown and ZZ Top, garnered the early arrivers’ attention with a bluesy, country sound echoing both the Allman Brothers Band and some of the later work of Tom Petty both with the Heartbreakers and Mudcrutch.

Bold bass lines by Richard Turner augmented the gritty dueling guitars of Paul Jackson and lead vocalist Charlie Starr. Brandon Still’s keyboards proved to be a perfect chaser to make whole concoction go down really smooth.

The feel-good boogie of “I Ain’t Got the Blues Anymore,” was an excellent counterbalance to the yearning of “If I Fall from Grace,” and “One Horse Town” would be a great ditty for the radio, if radio played rock anymore.

Covers of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” and Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” perfectly primed the audience for the main attraction.

Lynyrd Skynyrd photos

All photos by Clayton Taylor