Two legendary bands packed the Bethel Woods Center For The Arts this weekend, as fans came from all over New York state for a monster double bill of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bad Company on Saturday.
The Jacksonville, FL boys in Skynyrd have made touring a priority in recent years, crisscrossing the country and flying their Confederate flags high and proud. But while classic rock fans can never get enough Sweet Home Alabama, Paul Rodgers and Bad Company is a much rarer treat, and enough of one to justify this NYC resident hauling upstate to the beautiful Bethel Woods amphitheater. (A quick note for out-of-towners: arrive very, VERY early to any Bethel Woods show if you want to avoid hours of single-lane gridlock entering the venue.)
Lynyrd Skynyrd are no strangers to double bills, having toured with acts like the Doobie Brothers and Kid Rock in recent years. But despite their early stage time, the lawn and seats of the venue were crammed full of fans when the seven man Skynyrd band sauntered out playing Call Me The Breeze.
Singer Johnny Van Zant, brother of late original singer Ronnie, absolutely owned the crowd of Skynyrd-faithful from the get-go. Bouncing between guitarists Medlocke and Gary Rossington, he kept the crowd singing along with classic favorites like What’s Your Name, Gimme Back My Bullets, and this Examiner’s personal favorite, That Smell.
While half of Skynyrd’s appeal is the band’s hard-rocking, fret-shredding stage presence, it’s easy for the group to keep filling theaters when they also boast over a dozen bona fide hit singles in their setlists. Gentle campfire ballads like Simple Man and Tuesday’s Gone were followed by upbeat rockers like Gimme Three Steps and Sweet Home Alabama, prompting the 15,000 or so cheering fans to sing every word.
As always, though, the climax of the night would come during Free Bird. Medlocke, Rossington and third guitarist Mark Matejka crunched their way through the epic single, trading off leads and blazing their way through one of the greatest rock guitar solos ever written. Fans across the lawn headbanged and played air guitar to the very last note, and the price of admission was arguably worth every penny just for that 15 minute encore performance.
A surprising number of attendees could be seen leaving the show after Skynyrd’s set, making one wonder if Bad Company should have opened the show instead. While those fans did save themselves from a massive traffic nightmare at the end of the night, they ended up missing Bad Company’s fantastic catalog of powerful rock ballads.
Singer Paul Rodgers is one of the few remaining classic rock superstars, recently performing with Queen in addition to his occasional Bad Company and solo duties. Regularly cited as an inspiration for decades of modern hard rock vocalists, Rodgers opened the night with Rock n’ Roll Fantasy and instantly connected to his audience thanks to a broad smile and confident swagger. Twirling his microphone stand above his head, Paul’s booming voice echoed over the guitar riffs in the crisp and clear night air.
Bad Company was joined by Johnny, Rickey and their Skynyrd bandmates for the night’s fourth song, Gone, Gone Gone. The stageful of classic rockers revved up the crowd an extra notch, and that energy exploded in every direction when radio stalwart Feel Like Makin’ Love was played next. The crowd could be heard singing along as far away as the gravelly parking lots, and Rodgers’ voice proved to be as strong as ever on the timeless hit.
The band worked its way through almost a dozen songs before hitting their eponymous breakout single, Bad Company. With Rodgers on piano and flanked by founding guitarist Mick Ralphs, they jammed through the rocker, punctuated by blasts of white steam and the audience bellowing along to the famous chorus.
A double encore included Rock Steady and the acoustic Seagull, a surprisingly mellow finish to the rocking evening. But as thousands of fans trudged out to the parking lots (where signs urged drivers to hang out for awhile in order to let the brutal exit traffic thin out), the upbeat night of rock n’ roll was still fresh in the heads and ears of everyone in attendance, and yet the gathered masses inched their way out to the main road in a display of patience that would never fly here in New York City.
Lynyrd Skynyrd will be swinging much closer to NYC next month, playing Englewood, NJ on August 14th and Westbury, Long Island on the 15th. But with Bad Company now heading up to Canada for the rest of their summer tour, fans will have to settle for only half of Saturday’s bombastic double bill on the August dates.
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