Lynyrd Skynyrd & ZZ Top’s Summer Tour Sizzles

Lynyrd Skynyrd & ZZ Top In Concert Alpharetta, GA
TROUBLES WILL COME AND THEY WILL PASS: Rickey Medlocke, Peter Keys, and Johnny Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd perform at Ameris Bank Amphitheatre on July 23 in Alpharetta, Georgia. Photo by R. Diamond / Getty Images)

The Ship of Theseus is a famous thought experiment — well, at least “famous” as far as thought experiments go — that dates back to the days of Plutarch and concerns the nature of identity.

The namesake ship had been maintained, renovated and repaired by the Athenians for centuries to the point that it had none of its original material. Is it the same ship anyway?

Now, consider Lynyrd Skynyrd, a going concern for nearly 60 years (not quite dating back to the days of Plutarch). In March, Gary Rossington died. The guitarist, who played Rolling Stones covers in the Van Zants’ carport in Jacksonville, Florida, was the last original member of the seminal Southern rock band.

A little more than four months later, Lynyrd Skynyrd hit the road with ZZ Top for “The Sharp Dressed Simple Man Tour,” with the blessing of Rossington’s widow.

“[Rossington’s death] brought a big uncertainty on what the future held for the band,” Lynyrd Skynyrd manager Ross Schilling at Vector Management, said. “However, after months of conversations with the estates, the band members, and Gary’s wife, Dale Krantz Rossington, it became evident that Gary had discussed with us all that he wanted to keep the music alive and continue the spirit of Lynyrd Skynyrd and what has carried on for the last 50 years.” 

The tour would be the first without any of the original members. After the 1977 plane crash that killed lead singer Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines and seriously injured the other members of the band, Skynyrd disbanded for a decade (with the exception of a one-off instrumental version of “Free Bird” at the 1979 edition of Charlie Daniels’ Volunteer Jam). When they returned in 1987 with Ronnie’s brother Johnny singing and former bandmate Ed King back on guitar, it was under an agreement with Gaines’ and Ronnie Van Zant’s widows that they’d get nearly 30 percent of the revenue and that any lineup include two of the original surviving members, one of which had to be Rossington. That agreement was amended repeatedly as the survivors died — that agreement turned out to be a Ship of Theseus, too — and “The Sharp Dressed Simple Man Tour” was the first without the membership proviso as Rossington’s death made it moot.

Without Rossington, the last survivor, would this Ship of Theseus find fair winds and following seas?

The devoted fans of the band certainly put wind in the sails; many — if not most, at this point, some 36 years after the Johnny-fronted reunion, not knowing a version of the band more or less like the one that hit the road this year.

The 24-stop run, which ran from a July 21 stop at iTHINK Financial Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach, Florida, to its conclusion Sept. 17 at Freedom Mortgage Pavilion in Camden, New Jersey, featured a four-hour set (Uncle Kracker opened), strong sales and solid grosses throughout.

By the time the curtain fell on the show in the Garden State, the tour sold 297,687 tickets, grossing $16,618,398, an average gross of $692,433 on 12,403 tickets, putting the average price at a respectable $55.82

“This package simply works. Fans are having a great time as shown on their socials and good old-fashioned ticket sales,” ZZ Top agent Mario Tirado at CAA said.

Schilling added that merch and food and beverage per-caps were “stellar.”

The July 29 show at Dickies Arena in Ft. Worth, Texas, the only arena play on an otherwise all-shed tour, was the box office highlight. The lone indoor show was also the lone seven-figure gross: $1,117,952 on a 10,410-ticket sell-out.

Texas is, of course, the home of ZZ Top, the be-bearded boogie bluesters being cultural icons in the Lone Star State. And ZZ Top, like Skynyrd, was contending with a tour after the loss of a legend. Bassist Dusty Hill died in July 2021, replaced — per his wishes — by the band’s long-time guitar tech Elwood Hill, who provides the low-end complement to Billy Gibbons’ groovy guitar and Frank Beard’s reliable (and clean-shaven) drumming.

The tour was focused mostly on the Midwest and South: an Aug. 13 performance at Talking Stick Resort Amphitheatre in Phoenix was the only stop west of the Rockies and a handful of shows in September represented the only foray into the Northeast.

Skynyrd and ZZ songs are staples of virtually any gathering of two or more Southerners, even now, 50 years after the former released (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-’nérd ‘Skin-’nérd), essentially defining Southern rock, and the latter put “La Grange” and its unmistakable floor-filling intro on wax. Despite that integral relationship with the hot and humid quarter of the country, the tour’s second highest gross came in Toronto, where it posted $912,625 on 15,556 tickets at Budweiser Stage, the first show in The Six for both bands since 2018, when the same pair sold out the same venue.

Skynyrd and ZZ have toured together plenty of times. Live Nation vice president Rick Franks says the groups perform well “in a number of different package situations,“ but there’s just a little something special when they’re paired.

“They’re powerful medicine when you put them together,” he says.

Longtime ZZ Top manager Carl Stubner, CEO of Shelter Music Group, said the tour went “beyond expectations,” no small praise considering the hall of fame pairing.

“The idea of mounting a tour with ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd on the same bill is just such a natural we had to pursue it. The results, both at the box office and in fans’ consciousness, speak volumes about the validity of that endeavor,” he says.

And guess what? It’s coming back, according to WME’s Greg Oswald, who represents Lynyrd Skynyrd.

“Agents dream about being able to be responsible for a package like Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top,” he says.  “It wound up even bigger than anticipated. It also allowed me to work and collaborate with ZZ’s agent Mario Tirado, which I thoroughly enjoy. The really good news is because of our success this year, we are going to continue in the next year.”

That loop is likely to hit markets that didn’t make the cut in 2023, Schillings says.

There’s too many places they’ve gotta see, after all.