CEDAR RAPIDS — Lynyrd Skynyrd is riding out in style, making Saturday night special for nearly 5,000 screaming fans at the U.S. Cellular Center.
With a string of hits as bright as the kaleidoscope of lights sweeping over the stage and the audience, the reincarnation of the band that rolled out Southern Rock in the early 1970s is ready to park the tour bus after 31 years on the road.
Emerging out of Jacksonville, Fla., in 1969, the original band was at its peak when lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist and singer Steve Gaines and his sister, backup singer Cassie Gaines, were killed in a 1977 plane crash, shortly after releasing the “Street Survivors” album. Ten years later, the remaining band members regrouped, with Ronnie’s brother, Johnny Van Zant, stepping into the lead vocalist role.
Most of those revival musicians are gone, but co-founder Gary Rossington remains in the lineup. Rickey Medlocke, who wrote and recorded with the band in the early ’70s, still is onstage as well, tossing his long silver locks as he shreds his guitar. The rest of the current band members came onboard in the late ’90s and early 2000s, and a horn section in the background fleshes out the blistering lines in concert.
And now, after 31 years on the road, this traveling band will be parking the bus after the Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour winds up in December in Biloxi, Miss. That’s the end of one road, but the band will be sailing off into the sunset on a Southern Rock Cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, on Jan. 8.
A packed house in Cedar Rapids turned out to revel with the rebels one last time. Very few empty seats were scattered around the arena, where temperatures soared to some pretty hot levels, even out in the hallways. But it didn’t take much coaxing to get fans up on their feet, clapping, singing and yelling out the lyrics in an evening for the rock history books.
Nostalgia was the theme, with an opening video dialing through ’70s radio hits, then ripping into “Old Time Rock ’n’ Roll” to get the crowd roaring.
Skynyrd then launched into nearly two hours of hits and some lesser-known tunes, reaching back to the band’s beginnings with “Workin’ for MCA” from 1974, before zooming to 2010 for “Skynyrd Nation,” the newest song from the evening’s set, still enveloping the band’s vintage style.
All of the hits brought cheers, from “What’s Your Name” and “Travelin’ Man” to “Saturday Night Special,” with liberal sprinklings of national pride in numbers like “Red White & Blue (Love It or Leave).”
“I Know a Little” helped pump up the party with some blazing boogie guitar and keyboards, followed by more flaming guitar and intricate finger work from early member Rickey Medlocke. The pretty ballad “Tuesday’s Gone” was the first of several cuts off the band’s 1973 debut album, along with “Gimme Three Steps” and the lovely “Simple Man,” a visual highlight of the evening, framed by old family photos.
The two songs everyone waited anxiously to hear lived up to our expectations, with the finale of “Sweet Home Alabama” and a wonderfully elongated encore of “Free Bird.” Fog enveloped the stage and cascaded into the audience as they screamed for “Free Bird.” The song played on and on, illuminated by a video of votive candles honoring the band’s deceased members, followed by vintage footage of Ronnie Van Zant singing “I’m free as a bird,” shredding everyone’s heart as Medlocke again shredded his guitar.
Lynyrd Skynyrd pulled out all the stops, not only musically and with heart-tugging videos, but with a wild and wonderful light show, ending with a giant mirrorball casting glistening diamonds of light over the arena.
The Marshall Tucker band rocked the stage with an hour of hits, led by “Fire on the Mountain,” followed by an instantly-recognizable flute intro to “Heard it in a Love Song.” Lest you think the flute was just there to be pretty, Marcus James Henderson blew that notion out of the water turning it funky with a syncopated backbeat for “Take the Highway.”
Country newcomer Dillon Carmichael will not be in the unnamed opening slot much longer. The Kentucky native with a rumbling baritone is old-soul country with a fresh face. He milks that sweet spot between outlaw and roots rock, singing about the simple joys of his small-town upbringing.
He’s far from new to the music realm, however. His parents are both singers — and it doesn’t hurt that his uncles are Eddie and John Michael Montgomery.
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