On a 1976 Lynyrd Skynyrd live album, singer Ronnie Van Zandt asks a restless audience, “what song is it you wanna hear?” and the crowd responds “Free Bird!” because they wanted to hear the band’s biggest hit. Now, it’s as much a concert tradition as going home with ringings ears to shout out “Play ‘Free Bird’!” At any concert. Here’s how bands and singers that aren’t Lynyrd Skynyrd have handled the situation.
- Several performers take the request and respond literally…perhaps too literally. Jack Casady of Hot Tuna, pop/folk singer Jewel, and Chris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets have all been documented responding to the “Play Free Bird!” request by saying “I got your ‘free bird’ right here!” And they flip the bird—in other words, making the obscene gesture also known as “flipping the bird.”
- The organ player who works Chicago White Sox games learned how to play “Free Bird” and frequently does, if some smart aleck shouts out for it.
- Alternative rock band Dash Rip Rock plays a medley of “Free Bird” and that other overlong ‘70s rock anthem, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” The group plays it incredibly fast, and the whole thing is over in about two minutes.
- For most of the ‘90s, if the jam band Phish heard the song at a concert, they’d put their instruments down and sing a a verse or two of the song acapella.
- The alternative rock band the Dandy Warhols will play the jokester’s bluff. The band got so tired of the shout that it learned to play the entire nine-minute song. And it performs a slowed-down version, so it takes about 15 minutes for the group to get through the whole thing.
- Singer/songwriter Mike Doughty got so sick of hearing “Play Free Bird!” that he learned an entirely different song. Now, if somebody shouts out the name of the Skynyrd tune, he will inexplicably launch into a rendition of the disco hit “It’s Raining Men.”
- Singer and pianist Ben Folds got the request at a small theater a few years ago…and he decided to give “Free Bird” a shot, then and there. He obviously doesn’t know a lot of the words.