On August 21, 1976, Lynyrd Skynyrd were part of a star-studded lineup at the third annual Knebworth Festival in England. Joining the likes of such groups as Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, 10cc, and festival headliners the Rolling Stones, Skynyrd’s classic lineup delivered a blistering, hour-long set in front of an estimated 150,000 people. The performance was filmed, but the footage was only available as part of a 1996 film, Free Bird…The Movie, and was intercut with interviews and other performance clips from the band. Now, for the first time, the footage is available complete and unedited as Lynyrd Skynyrd: Live at Knebworth ’76.
The concert is available in a variety of formats (on DVD+CD, Blu-ray+CD, limited edition 2LP+DVD, and digital formats), with the Blu-ray also including the 2018 documentary, If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd. A stream of the concert video and audio of the concert tracks form the basis of this review however.
From the opening notes of “Workin’ For MCA,” the band had the crowd engaged. They may not have been the headliner, but you wouldn’t know it from the crowd response. Guitarists Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, and Steve Gaines trade scorching leads while keyboardist Billy Powell showcases some serious honky-tonk piano skills in this strong opener. “I Ain’t The One” follows and finds the band locked into a tight, blues rock groove. Skynyrd have always been more than just Southern Rock and the groove on this track is proof positive.
Vocalist Ronnie Van Zant delivers a gritty performance on a hard driving “Saturday Night Special,” highlighted by some ferocious guitar leads. This is the band in its prime firing on all cylinders and performances such as this one only further underscore how much was lost when their plane crashed just a year later. The band’s guitarists all come to the front of the stage for a spirited “Gimme Three Steps” that has more pep than its studio counterpart and the group gives a loose, bluesy rendition of their radio staple “Sweet Home Alabama.” By the opening notes of the set-closing anthem, “Free Bird,” the crowd response was overwhelming and the band responded in kind, giving a nearly 14-minute performance.
The video looks good for its age and is well filmed. Too many concerts these days focus on how many cuts the editor can make in each song. That is not the case here, with the camera lingering longer on shots and focusing more on the performance. The audio is full and powerful with a clean mix that is well suited for this performance.
The following October, just three days after the release of the band’s album, Street Survivors, a plane the group chartered crashed, killing several band and crew members while injuring many others. It was as tragic an end to the original band as could have ever happened. On this August night in 1976 though, the band held their own and won over 150,000 Rolling Stones fans. That says a lot about Lynyrd Skynyrd and their performance at Knebworth.