By Morgan Keene

    TIAA Bank Field was filled with a different kind of crowd last Sunday. Rather than the usual football fans, the stands were packed with music fans gathered together to sing a sweet farewell to a piece of Jacksonville history.
    Jacksonville band Lynyrd Skynyrd returned home to play their final show in the river city on Sunday, September 2nd, 2018. Joining the band were musicians Jason Aldean, Kid Rock, Charlie Daniels Band, Marshall Tucker Band, and Blackberry Smoke. The show was more of a music festival than just a concert, a collection of different southern rock and country artists coming together to say goodbye to one of Jacksonville’s most influential bands.
    Among the thousands of fans who attended the concert was WJXT Channel 4 reporter Tom Wills. Mr. Wills has been covering Skynyrd since the tragic plane crash that killed 3 of the original members in 1977. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Wills had not been introduced to the band until he headed out to Gillsburg, Mississippi to cover the crash. He considers his time with the band as one of the most important parts of his career, stating, “I interviewed Bill Clinton in ‘92 when he was running for President. I interviewed Jimmy Carter in ‘76 when he was running for President. I interviewed President Obama in 2012, but I have to tell you there are very few…interviews I have enjoyed more than talking to these rock stars, who are Jacksonville rockstars.”
    Despite numerous delays of the concert due to rain showers, fans rocked hard till midnight. The atmosphere, according to Wills, showed “The love of the fans for these guys and the love these guys have for their fans, it’s a special love because this is where they’re from.”  Longtime fan, Rita Cope, attended the concert and believes that the fans all felt “Anxious, upbeat, [yet] so glad that we all were there, a part of history.”
    Skynyrd formed in Jacksonville back in 1964 and have since traveled all over the world. But despite the fame and fortune, they’ve made since then, the band still remembers their roots. Marsha Gerrard, a cousin of original lead guitarist Allen Collins, recognizes just how deep the bands Jacksonville roots are. “For someone growing up in Jacksonville at the same time the band came into being, this band and the genre it helped to create has certainly impacted molded my music preferences throughout my teens and my whole adulthood… It was interesting to me to see the age spread of the attendees.  Folks in their 60’s and 70’s sitting next to a group of 20 Somethings.  The young lady seated next to me was a 15 year old there with her 40 something dad.  She knew all the words to all the Skynyrd songs.”
    Skynyrd might be saying goodbye to life on the road, but the fans here in Jacksonville will never say goodbye to the band. As they do every show, the band ended with their classic song “Free Bird,” but this time the current band members stood back and had a recording of original singer Ronnie Van Zant sing the song that so many love. Barbara Houston, who attended the concert, said that the final performance of the song was “…exciting, I guess you would say a little bit of sadness to it too, but you know, everything has to end.”
    As for any potential of the band one day returning to the road? Tom Wills put it best: “Predicting rockstars is dangerous at best.”
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