Kevn Kinney, lead singer with drivin n cryin, belts out a song as the group was Saturday’s opening act on the FlintCo Throwdown Stage at the second day of the Georgia Throwdown at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds. (Oct. 13, 2012)
ALBANY, Ga. — As musical tributes go, it may have been one of the most unusual in the history of rock and roll.
Athens' Drive-By Truckers, who wowed a crowd of thousands Saturday evening with a rocking set during the second day of the Georgia Throwdown at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds, covered late, great singer/songwriter Warren Zevon with a tune that might have been ironic, a nod of respect, insensitive ... or all three at once.
"'Sweet Home Alabama,' play that dead band's song. Turn those speakers up full blast, Play it all night long," Truckers singer Patterson Hood sang.
The irony? That "dead band," Southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd, who lost singer Ronnie Van Zant and band members Steve and Cassie Gaines in a 1977 plane crash, followed the Truckers onto the Flintco Throwdown stage.
And, yes, the band obliged with a rousing version of "Sweet Home Alabama," much to the delight of the crowd that started swelling in the late afternoon as drivin n crying got things started on the main stage with a set that opened with a bang: the band's timeless hit "Honeysuckle Blue."
"I love these guys," Patti Thornhill of Albany said as the Truckers played. "I look out here at this crowd and think about how Albany used to have all those great concerts at the Civic Center and it fizzled away to nothing. I hope (organizers) Sam (Shugart) and Bo (Henry) are starting that over.
"It's just so hard to believe that we have this going on here in Albany."
Shugart, who with Henry, Evan Barber, Justin Andrews, Jeb Tabb and other members of a core team put the Throwdown together in a little over a half a year — with a huge assist from Mobile, Ala.-based Huka Entertainment — said Saturday he's pleased with the response of the community.
"We're projected to push well past five figures in attendance by tonight with Skynyrd headlining, and then we have Dallas and Sarah (Davison, who partnered with Shugart to help bring talent to the Throwdown), Corey Smith, Colt Ford and Uncle Kracker tomorrow," Shugart said. "We've had to bump up our facilities because of the crowd; we've run out of certain things, gone through our entire inventory of ice.
"The folks at Huka have been impressed with what we've done. They flew in 50 or more members of their team, and the owner — A.J. Niland — flew in to check things out for one night, and he's ended up staying for the whole thing. Their folks told us they've never seen this much participation and partnership from the community. Our budget is half-funded by our community partners — Flintco, Phoebe (Putney Memorial Hospital), Darton College, Mediacom, Fox 31 and WALB.
"To a degree, this whole thing is larger than life. But certainly it's much larger than me. This is a team effort, and our entire team is elated."
While music fans were enjoying the 22 acts who performed Saturday, many parents watched their kids burn off energy at the Wilder's World 4 Kidz Kiddie-Land adjacent to the Flintco Stage. Malinda Pollock brought sons Tucker, 6, and Boyd, 4, to bounce on the inflatables, and she chatted with friend Betsy Melvin, there with her daughter Ella, 4, while the kids had their fun.
"Even based on the current economy, this was a fun, affordable weekend for the whole family," Pollock said. "Everything has been very organized, and our family has really enjoyed it."
Added Melvin: "The kids are having fun, and the music and food have been great, too."
While the musical acts on the main stage drew the large crowds Saturday, a number of the regional and local bands drew praise from the crowds that came to watch them. Albany's Another Alien Astronaut, who played at 3:15 p.m., brought alternative with a capital A to the day's music.
"I told you we were different," singer Jon Gosa said after the band played — exceptionally — what bassist Chris Hayes joking called "our tripping song."
Evan Barber & the Dead Gamblers, who played on the Phoebe Community Visions Stage after Drive-By Truckers finished their set, had won over one knowledgeable music lover before they even played a note.
"You know who I came out here specifically to see?" David Fuller of Albany asked. "I found Evan Barber & the Dead Gamblers on the Internet and listened to four or five of their songs. They're really good."
It was Skynyrd that had the crowd, which had swollen to double its early-afternoon size by the time the sun went down, ready to rock, and the hall-of-famers did not disappoint. They mixed a number of classics with tunes from their recent album, "Last of a Dyin' Breed," proving to all in attendance — including the Truckers from Athens — this was no dead band.
After weeks of putting his energy into getting the festival ready for what everyone agrees has been a better-even-than-expected run ("The worst thing we've had happen is a blister someone got from running to see Big and Rich last night," Shugart said), Henry was finally able to forget about all the little details of the Throwdown and close out the night with a rousing set on the Phoebe Stage.
There couldn't have been a more fitting end to the night.