There’s always That Guy, the one, who during a quiet moment of a gig, yells out “FREE BIRD!” Unless the artist onstage is Lynyrd Skynyrd, this is just stupid (or funny, if this is your thing, in which case you should seek help) Where did this meme of shouting out this inappropriate request come from? Who came up with the idea of yelling this in a crowded theatre?
As best as anyone can tell, this was the invention of a Chicago DJ named Kevin Matthews. While working at The Loop (WLUP-FM), he had a running bit where he’d encourage listeners to yell “FREE BIRD” at any concert, the more inappropriate, the better. One story has Florence Henderson being a target. Another has the victim being Jim Nabors. Or maybe it was the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. From Classic Rock:
“It was never meant to be yelled at a cool concert — it was meant to be yelled at someone really lame,” he explained. “If you’re going to yell ‘Free Bird,’ yell ‘Free Bird’ at a Jim Nabors concert…The people who are conceited, the so-called artists who get really offended by it, they deserve it.”
Here’s comedian Bill Hicks addressing a heckler.
There are plenty of people who refuse to give Matthews credit–some say this began as an ironic cry from early alternative rock fans in the 80s–but over the years, it definitely became A Thing. Bands HATE it. Here’s Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse in the Wall Street Journal: “If this were the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and you were going to die in 20 minutes — just long enough to play ‘Freebird’ — we still wouldn’t play it.”
Some bands, though, take it all in stride. The Dandy Warhols have a slowed-down version ready to go just in case. Other groups have a rendition that they can blow through in two minutes. Phish sings it a cappella. And this brings me to Bob Dylan.
Earlier this month, Zimmy was playing a show in Berkeley, California, when the inevitable cry of “Free Bird!” came from the crowd. Then this happened. Cool.