Southern boogie maestros Lynyrd Skynyrd and Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts would seem to be odd bedfellows. Wolf Trap, after all, conjures images of zinfandel and croissants pulled from the trunks of BMWs for pre-show picnics on the lawn. Lynyrd Skynyrd, by contrast, turns our thoughts to barbecued ribs and swigs of Jack Daniels on the tailgate of a pickup truck.
But, sometimes the twain shall meet, as occurred at the Skynyrd show Thursday night. A good mix of rednecks, blue bloods and everything in between turned out for a show, proving that love of barroom boogie knows no class, age or socioeconomic boundaries.
Still, there was no chance that this crowd got lost on the way to a Peter, Paul and Mary show. “The Last Rebel” and “Harley Davidson” T-shirts were popular fashion statements, as were Confederate flag halter tops on striking young ladies strolling down the aisles of the sold-out show.
A popular pre-concert discussion topic was the U.S. Senate’s recent approval of what critics have called amnesty for 12 million illegal aliens. At least one discussion among fans on the lawn focused on a possible petition drive to recall or impeach Sens. John W. Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and other “turncoat Republicans” for supporting the measure. James Taylor and Joan Baez would have been in tears.
On stage, there were numerous gestures of unbridled patriotism. Against the backdrop of a giant American flag, the band dedicated “Red, White and Blue” from the 2003 “Vicious Cycle” album, to all past and present members of the U.S. armed forces. Singer Johnny Van Zant shouted out that “Lynyrd Skynyrd is 100 percent behind” the nation’s military.
“My hair’s turning white, my neck’s always been red, my collar’s still blue. We’ve always been here, just trying to sing the truth to you,” he belted out.
The backing screen later showed the Confederate and American flags intertwined, and Mr. Van Zant performed much of the evening with the Stars and Stripes or Stars and Bars tied to his microphone stand.
This was not exactly the Lynyrd Skynyrd you hear pumping on daily classic rock radio. The sound was the same, but the Skynyrd lineup has been whittled away by airplane crashes, car wrecks and liver and heart disease, leaving only guitarist Gary Rossington and keyboard man Billy Powell from the band’s mid-1970s glory years.
The ability to keep such a classic rock group rolling and righteous after suffering such a heavy toll boils down to the art of substitution, and this band has drafted brilliantly to keep the legitimacy of Team Skynyrd intact. Mr. Van Zant has the DNA advantage of being the kid brother of original singer Ronnie Van Zant — one of three band members killed in a 1977 airplane crash. Johnny’s been twirling the microphone stand ever since the band was resurrected in the late 1980s, so he’s more than earned his spurs. And he should get an honorary Purple Heart for touring despite having had his appendix removed only a couple of weeks ago.
Guitarist Rickey Medlocke, recruited from blues and boogie outfit Blackfoot, knows this musical territory like the back of his Gibson Explorer guitar. Short of bringing back guitarist Ed King, who has been sidelined by a serious heart condition, you couldn’t ask for a more legit addition to the band.
Mr. Medlocke almost stole the show with his searing lead runs, constant mugging to the crowd and twirling stage moves while whipping about his long mane of silver-gray hair. He and the band hit all the marks on “Simple Man,” “You Got that Right” and “T for Texas.” On “Gimmie Three Steps” — about a jealous boyfriend out to seek revenge on his woman’s suitor — he played flat on his back, then engaged in a mock fight with Mr. Van Zant.
Ean Evans’ bass playing not only paved the road for the triple-lead-guitar attack, he looked like he just stepped off the cover of an early Skynyrd album. Third guitarist Mark Matejka, formerly with the Charlie Daniels band, was just added to the lineup, but seems to have found his niche adding tasty slide guitar.
Michael Cartellone (formerly of Damn Yankees) was on drums, and a three-piece brass section and two female backing singers fattened up the sound.
Skynyrd played most of the group’s hits, climaxing the show with the three biggest: “Call Me the Breeze”; “Sweet Home Alabama,” which was preceded by Mr. Van Zant saying “I think it’s time for the South to rise again”; and “Free Bird” as the encore. The latter kicked off with an extended piano solo from Mr. Powell, which gave way to Mr. Rossington’s slide playing during the buildup to a rapid-fire guitar duel that concluded with Bolero-like flourishes.
The crowd, most of which spent the entire show on its feet (at least on the ground level) filed out to the whistled strains of another famous song of the South coming over the PA: the Andy Griffith TV show theme.