Going to a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater in late June is not just an evening out for Patti Fernstrom, 49, of Levittown — it’s a family tradition.
“I’ve been taking my son to see Skynyrd since he’s 10,” she says. “This is his fifth concert. It’s the music he grew up with.”
Back from school for the summer, her son John Fernstrom, 21, casually tailgates with his mom, recalling: “Lynyrd Skynyrd is the first rock band I remember listening to. Thinking back to my childhood, I always remember their music being in the background.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the parking lot, Mike Jerchower, 50, of Oceanside, is excited to take his 15-year-old daughter Maia to see Skynyrd for the first time.
“I’m handing it down,” says Jerchower about the music of his favorite band. “I introduced their stuff to her when she was 4 years old. She embraces it because the songs are timeless.”
Since the '70s, Southern rock has maintained a strong hold on Long Island despite being hundreds of miles away from the Mason-Dixon Line.
“Long Islanders seem to connect with our music,” says Johnny Van Zant, lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd. “They are hardworking people in a hardworking area who are good U.S. citizens. That’s what Lynyrd Skynyrd stands for. Plus, everybody wants to be a rebel.”
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Long Island radio stations WBAB (102.3 FM) and the old WLIR (92.7 FM) have been champions of the genre, regularly spinning Southern rock staples such as Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama,” the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and the Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.”
“Southern rock has a strong connection to blue-collar workers,” says WBAB DJ Joe Rock. “These artists wrote about the things they knew, which is relatable to people. That’s why the genre has stuck around.”
Former WLIR program director Denis McNamara adds, “It’s a unique niche that was an extension of Long Island’s love for the blues. So many of those bands are steeped in the blues, but brought up with a country background. There’s a real musicianship that involved very American-oriented traditional instruments like the guitar and the fiddle.”
NOT A TREND
Southern rock has never been trendy, but rather consistently possessed a down-home quality laced with patriotism.
“This is good solid American music that just kind of stays around. It’s not here today, gone tomorrow,” says Charlie Daniels, who will be playing LIU Post’s Tilles Center in Brookville on July 6 with the Outlaws and the Marshall Tucker Band. “The music is very basic. There’s so much latitude because it combines country, rock, blues and jazz. It can be played in many ways and everybody does it a little bit differently.”
Daniels has a long history of gigging all over Long Island. One night after selling out Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, he headed over to My Father’s Place in Roslyn to do a late-night set with Papa John Creach. Both shows were broadcast by WLIR in 1979.
“We had so many people, I had to turn some away,” says Michael “Eppy” Epstein, owner of My Father’s Place. “They were stuffed in there like a subway car in Tokyo during rush hour. It was an exciting night.”
Although Long Islanders don’t have a twang in their accents, the Southern connection lies within the music.
“These bands served as a backdrop to Long Island fans’ formative years, therefore they remain emotionally connected,” says Henry Paul, singer-guitarist of the Outlaws. “It’s more a generational tribe of like-minded musical people.”
But what causes this Southern comfort to radiate in both Nassau and Suffolk counties is the lack of barrier between the crowd and the bands.
“We’re just regular people who never got into the celebrity of it all and that translates onstage,” says Doug Gray, lead singer of the Marshall Tucker Band. “For us, it is a real honor to play for all of our Long Island fans.”
SOUTHERN UPRISING: A SOUTHERN ROCK REVIVAL featuring the Charlie Daniels Band, the Marshall Tucker Band and the Outlaws
WHEN | WHERE 7:30 p.m. July 6, Tilles Center, 720 Northern Blvd. in Brookville
INFO 516-299-3100, tillescenter.org