Lynyrd Skynrd’s farewell tour will come to the Freeman Arts Pavilion for a show at 7 p.m., Friday, Sept. 17. To buy tickets, go to freemanarts.org.
Skynyrd members wanted to go out on their terms, rather than having touring taken away from them.
Guitarist, singer and last remaining original member of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Rossington was sidelined by a heart attack in 2015, and health issues have taken a toll on him since then, according to guitarist Rickey Medlocke. The band wanted to give fans a proper farewell tour before another health setback or other problem forced them into retirement.
The group had planned a three-year final tour, but the pandemic interrupted things as the third year was just beginning. Now, the band is doing a handful of dates each month up to November, and these shorter runs may continue into the future.
Rossington said he’s in better health than he was when farewell tour plans were assembled. The pandemic also renewed the band members’ appreciation for playing live and connecting with fans, and with each other as bandmates.
So it’s on with the show, and Medlocke said the band’s performances will go beyond the expected selection of hits and fan favorites.
“It’s a mixed bag of tricks,” Medlocke said of the set list, which will include songs Lynyrd Skynyrd has not played live for some time.
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s career represents one of rock’s most triumphant and tragic tales. The group, based in Jacksonville, Fla., overcame hardscrabble beginnings and several personnel changes to scrap their way to a record deal in the early 1970s with a hard-hitting but soulful brand of Southern rock.
With early hits like the epic “Free Bird” and “Sweet Home Alabama” helping them gain a foothold, Lynyrd Skynyrd appeared to be hitting a musical peak with their fifth album, the 1977 release “Street Survivors.” But the album had been out only three days when an Oct. 20 plane crash claimed the lives of singer/songwriter and band leader Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backing singer Cassie Gaines, Steve’s sister, along with serious injuries to others.
It looked like Lynyrd Skynyrd had come to a sudden, premature and tragic end. But in 1987, surviving members Rossington, guitarist Allen Collins, bassist Leon Wilkeson, keyboardist Billy Powell and drummer Artimus Pyle decided to revive the group, bringing in guitarist Ed King, who was in Skynyrd from 1972 to 1975, and singer Johnny Van Zant to replace his late brother Ronnie in the new edition of the group.
Lynyrd Skynyrd has been together ever since, putting out eight studio albums and several live releases, while remaining a popular touring act.
The current lineup includes Rossington; Van Zant; Medlocke, an early member of Skynyrd from 1971-72 before he went on to form the band Blackfoot; Michael Cartellone on drums; Mark Matejka, guitar; Peter Keys, keyboards; and Keith Christopher, bass.
The history of Lynyrd Skynyrd is told in a recent documentary, “If I Leave Here Tomorrow.” Medlocke said the film gave Rossington a chance to tell the band’s story from his own perspective and praised it for capturing the brotherhood that existed during Skynyrd’s early years, not just the conflicts highlighted in other documentaries.
“It portrays the guys as a band of brothers that got together with an incredible writer named Ronnie Van Zant, along with Gary [Rossington] and Allen [Collins], and came up with stuff that was from the heart, that really, really made history,” Medlocke said. “There are happy moments as well as sad moments. It’s a roller coaster ride through the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and I’m very happy that Gary had a chance to get on film and tell his side of everything.”