Photos: Lynyrd Skynyrd plows through seasonal monsoons to bring their epic anthems to Tucson

There was an air of excitement outside AVA Amphitheater as the line of fans curved around the premises to get into the venue for Lynyrd Skynyrd’s July 13 concert. The most unusual sight was the line of Harley motorcycles lined up in the first row of parking as far as the eye could see. The bike riders and the rest of the 50-60 year old crowd was dressed in jeans and their Lynyrd Skynyrd or Harley tee shirts and vests.

Lynyrd Skynyrd is not the same band it was in the early 1970s. The band has been fraught with multiple tragic events like the plane crash that killed lead singer and songwriter, Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and vocalist Cassie Gaines. Allen Collins was paralyzed in a car accident and later died from complications. Original drummer Artimus Pyle survived a serious motorcycle accident that prevented him from rejoining the Rossington Collins Band. Health maladies struck other remaining original band mates.

The present band has one original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. That is Gary Rossington on guitar. Johnny Van Zant (Ronnie’s brother) provides lead vocals. The rest of the band consists of Rickey Medlocke on guitar, Johnny Colt on bass, Micheal Cartellone on drums, Mark Matejka on guitar, and Peter Keys on piano. Boxcar (Steve Traum) plays a mean harmonica. Dale Krantz Rossington and Carol Chase are the background vocalists.

Monsoon storms are a typical occurrence in the desert during the summer. The clouds had been gathering, and one could hear faint thunder in the distance as show time got closer. This is an outdoor venue that is partially covered near the stage. The show started on time with all members in the audience out of their seats anxiously anticipating their favorite band.

The band took the stage and they seemed to be almost as excited as the fans. They were all decked out in their outlaw-biker garb and they had a tattered American flag wrapped around the microphone stand. Within two songs into the set, the wind increased, the lightning got progressively closer, and the thunder was louder. Light rain turned into a hard rain that prevented the sound crew from keeping their equipment dry. Five songs into the set (30 minutes), Johnny Van Zant announced that they were going to have to stop temporarily until the storm passed. Safety was an issue for the band and the fans. He promised that they would return and play a full concert.

After 30 minutes, the band returned to perform all of their anthems in a heartfelt way. Johnny Van Zant was an engaging front man. The set had one hit song after another from start to finish. It was very easy for the crowd to sing with the band and be a part in the show. Van Zant mentioned several times during the set how much respect and gratitude the band had for our military troops, police, and firefighters.

The mission of the band is to carry on the band’s legacy and they do it very well. “That Smell” is the band’s anti-drug anthem. Van Zant mentioned, “We’ve been there and done that and we’re never going back.” The band closed the set with “Sweet Home Alabama.” The iconic song was originally written as a retort to Neil Young’s “Southern Man.” Who knew that “Sweet Home Alabama” would become more memorable than Young’s song?

The encore was an extended version of “Free Bird,” This song is in a class all its own. “Free Bird” has become the benchmark song for requests at just about any rock concert one can attend. The epic song was given the raw, spine-tingling treatment that it so well deserves. For a complete set list, please click here.

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