One More From The Road: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Final Farewell

Lynyrd Skynyrd
Angelo Merendino/Getty Images
– Lynyrd Skynyrd
Mark Matejka, Rickey Medlocke, Johnny Van Zant, Michael Cartellone, and Gary Rossington of Lynyrd Skynyrd perform at Jacobs Pavilion in Cleveland, Ohio.
At Lynyrd Skynyrd’s peak in 1977 a plane crash took the lives of the band’s core members – founder Ronnie Van Zant and Steve and sister Cassie Gaines – along with assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick and the plane’s pilot and co-pilot near Gillsburg, Miss. Those who survived, including Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, Leon Wilkeson, Billy Powell and Artimus Pyle, suffered serious injuries and endured lengthy, painful recoveries. 
In a true Greek tragedy, the story would have ended there amid the wreckage in a Mississippi swamp. But in the ensuing decade the surviving members persisted, forming the Rossington-Collins Band and performing in various incarnations until, 10 years later, reclaiming their legacy as Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Not only did the band recover, it thrived. And despite even more years of drama and tragedy, including the deaths of more key players, Lynyrd Skynyrd soldiered on behind founder Rossington, Ronnie’s younger brother and singer Johnny Van Zant, and guitarist Ricky Medlocke, who had also played with pre-Skynyrd iterations of the band and returned to fill out its vaunted “guitar army.”
More than 40 years on from the catastrophe that should have ended its story, Lynyrd Skynyrd is saying goodbye on its own terms, epic storylines be damned.
The band has embarked on an ambitious trek to its favorite venues and the hometowns of its most vociferous fans. Considering Lynyrd Skynyrd has been on the road nearly continuously since 1999 with the exception of breaks forced by health and other issues, that’s a lot of territory to cover. 
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Kevin Winter / Getty Images / iHeartMedia
– Lynyrd Skynyrd
Cover photo for Nov. 19, 2018 issue.
Greg Oswald of WME has been the band’s agent for some 20 years – he’s not even sure exactly how long – and lays out the band’s strategy for saying goodbye to the road and its fans, while refusing to rule out further projects or performances. 
“The original theory was to play the band’s and the fans’ favorite venues one last time. That’s what makes the whole idea of a farewell a legitimate thing,” Oswald tells Pollstar. “We don’t know what’s next for them. We do know that they want to make that pass through all those venues that are their favorites one last time.”
Oswald and day-to-day manager Ross Schilling of Vector Management both acknowledge Rossington’s health was a key factor for calling an end to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s touring life at the conclusion of its ambitious Last of the Street Survivors tour that launched its first leg in West Palm Beach, Fla., May 4, has dates booked well into 2019 and plans for more shows in 2020.
Vector Management Co-President Ken Levitan joined the Skynyrd team in 1999, and tells Pollstar, “I was always a huge fan.
“I got to see them initially when they did their comback at the Volunteer Jam. I was working, and was thrilled when I was asked to meet with them, and they asked me to work with them.”
Levitan adds that “the band is as strong as ever. I never get tired of seeing them, of hearing tham play ‘Free Bird,’ and neither do the fans.”
The last three years, Lynyrd Skynyrd has moved an average of 10,183 tickets and grossed $539,754 per show. But, as Oswald points out, those numbers lay the groundwork for booking bigger venues and festival plays as Skynyrd says goodbye.
As the tour rolls out, Skynyrd is proving Oswald’s point. In 2018, box office reported to Pollstar shows a spike in average sales to 15,513 tickets per show, and gross of $828,484. A Sept. 5 hometown show at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., sold out 44,487 tickets for a gross of $3,768,307.
“What I’ve tried to do, being their manager and point person for the last 20 years, is make sure we deliver and stir the fan base and bring the new generations,” Schilling says. “There’s three generations of fans when you come to a Skynyrd show. That’s really what it’s kind of about for us. It’s the music.”
“It’s very intentional,” Oswald says of the booking strategy, now some 40 shows in. “How much business will it really do? You show people. The way we did that was starting with the 30 sheds. You have the package, the sheds, the ticket prices, and you can see the grosses and the attendances.” Singer Johnny Van Zant, Ronnie’s brother,  joined the band for its 1987 Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute, and 31 years later he’s still fronting the band. On this first leg of the farewell tour he’s noticed the crowds increasing. 
“It’s actually even gotten bigger and bigger as the summer went on,” Van Zant tells Pollstar. “I was like, ‘My God!’ And the only way I can explain it to you is that when I first started with Skynyrd, I couldn’t believe the magnitude and how the fans loved the band at that particular time. But I think this, right here, has probably doubled that.”
Oswald says that Skynyrd is looking at another phase, with possibly four festivals – including Stagecoach – in 2019. 
A 10-city run through Canada has just been added, and plans call for a European trek before returning to North America for even more dates expected to stretch well into 2020. 
“The goal is, when we set this up, it will take 2 ½ to 3 years to do this,” Schilling explains. “There are some markets we’re going to play two or three times and some we’re going to just play one. It’s not over yet. But if you have memories of seeing them at Lakewood Amphitheater or DTE Energy Center in Michigan, you better see them because you aren’t going to see them at that venue again. 
That’s the narrative we have and if they’re still feeling good in 2020 and there’s still some tread on the tires then maybe we do a residency in Las Vegas.”
Oswald emphasizes, though, that the tour and Skynyrd’s post-farewell future plans are fluid.
“They love to play, they love working. More than the business side, it’s what’s in them. It’s got to come out,” Oswald says.  “If you can put the show together, they want to do it, and that’s cool. The older all of us gets, the harder is it to do. 
“Those guys answer the bell. It takes a certain energy to do this, and they are not kids. And even when it’s tough, Rossington’s out there and it’s 105 degrees on an outside stage and it’s a pretty awesome thing to see them out there doing that. 
“There’s a next phase and that’s up to them what it’s going to look like but touring the venues they are and the guarantee they are going to do it on the next run is the spirit. It’s their call what’s next. We’re here to facilitate whatever that call is, whatever is next,” Oswald adds. “To put finality on it is something they haven’t done.”