With Freebird, no request is necessary to hear your Skynyrd favorite

Chris Howard talks his Atlanta-based tribute to the rock and roll greats

PULLING OFF Lynyrd Skynyrd tastefully isn’t easy, but Freebird has done it. Often hailed as the greatest Skynyrd tribute on earth, the band’s upcoming Coach’s Corner show on Saturday, Sep. 5 is sure to be a can’t miss performance.

The band plays, as you’d expect, all of the Lynyrd Skynyrd hits and then some. They’re all big fans, but the band’s founder Chris Howard has been since he was a teenager.

He actually got the idea for the band after randomly coming across a hat that looked eerily similar to the one famously worn by the band’s singer Ronnie Van Zandt.

“I’d found a hat in a thrift store that was very resemblant of Ronnie’s, and it sat in the back of my car for about a week, but I hadn’t thought of anything to do with a Skynyrd tribute. I looked at it and said, ‘If I’m going to have that, I’ll need to do a Skynyrd tribute,’” Howard tells Connect.

“I’d already done a Rolling Stones tribute, and it just seemed to fit perfectly. I just called up some people and they were like, ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ We had to go through some people to find the right group, but we finally put it together and came out of the gate guns blazing. We got to play big shows and festivals, and had graduated up to the theater level right when COVID began. It’s knocked us down a couple of steps, but we’ve got it a lot better than some of other bands I’ve seen.”

Howard says he was 14 years old when he first got into the band, through cassette tapes he got from a friend.

“I’d grown up on The Beatles, Hendrix, and The Who, and Lynyrd Skynyrd just fit right in there in its own way. It’s really diggable music, and it’s easy to groove to. There is something about Lynyrd Skynyrd that people really love,” he says.

One thing that always made the band stand out was their ability to be tasteful and really serve the song, despite having a rather large lineup. Freebird takes these careful arrangements to heart and plays the songs passionately and meticulously, like the original recordings.

“We went in thinking that we knew it all as it is on the album, but we found out we were wrong,” he says.

“It took some practicing and some really hard listening. If we’re going to do something, we’re going to do it to its fullest extent. And Lynyrd Skynyrd fans know the difference. We took that into consideration when doing this, from day one. We’ve really come to the point we’re at now, where we’ve duplicated their sound. These people are paying the money to see this, and we’re going to give them everything and more that they paid for.”

In fact, the band has often been approached by diehard Skynyrd fans to thank them and show their appreciation.

“One thing we get a lot is, ‘I saw Lynyrd Skynyrd in the 70s, and all I have to do is close my eyes to feel like I’m there [again],” Howard says.

“That’s the biggest compliment. It’s about as big of a compliment as you can get.”

From Howard’s perspective, there’s one thing about Skynyrd that he feels is often misunderstood by the casual fan or general music listener.

“The idea that they were just a southern rock band—they were very versatile. No one sounds like them. They have something that belongs to them, and not many bands have that. They created their own sound, and it’s truly amazing what they accomplished in just a small amount of time as a band,” he says.

“It’s a proven product,” Howard adds with a laugh, “and I’m glad I chose to do it after I got that hat.”

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