When Jacksonville’s favorite sons took the stage at the Knebworth Festival in August of 1976, they were clearly in their prime, touring behind the Gimme Back My Bullets album. They were phenomenal live, so much so that they were likely giving festival headliners the Rolling Stones some cause to be concerned that day.
Just over a year later, front man Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and backup singer Cassie Gaines would die in a plane crash.
The Knebworth performance, first included as part of 1996 film Freebird…The Movie is finally available as a standalone DVD/CD set (there is also a Blu-ray edition). The 11-song set, performed in the middle of the day, kicks off with a particularly fiery version of “Working For MCA” and hardly let’s up until they cap the set, appropriately enough with “Free Bird.” In between is a remarkably strong set that includes “Gimme Three Steps,” “Call Me The Breeze,” a solid cover of the Jimmie Rogers classic “T For Texas” (the lead track off their One More From The Road live album that would be released a month later) and “Sweet Home Alabama”.
The show is a beautiful time capsule of late 1976, complete with Allen Collins in ridiculously flared red pants and a red t-shirt. Along with Collins and Gaines, Gary Rossington adds a third guitar beefing up the band’s already monstrous sound. The 150,000 in attendance are clearly enamored by these Southern Rock ambassadors, based on loud cheers and the faces from the constant pans across the crowd. There is even a rebel flag being held up at one point by a member of the British audience (probably not easy to get in 1970s UK).
The Blu-ray set also features the full-length documentary If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd (originally released in 2018). This Knebworth set is quite possibly one of the band’s finest hours and helped solidify their reputation as one of the first and finest Southern Rock bands ever. In the decades to come, from the mid-80s-on a handful of surviving members and a rotating cast of add-ons would try and milk what they could from the band’s name and reputation, but even a slew of mediocre albums and cash grab tours can’t erase the memory of the band in their prime… especially now that we have those shows on DVD.