Why do people yell 'Play 'Freebird'' at concerts?

Freebird Responses

Johnny Van Zant shows e'm how it's done in 2005.
Johnny Van Zant shows e'm how it's done in 2005.
L.Cohen/WireImage/Getty Images

So, how have bands dealt with this strange musical phenomenon? Some have added unusual covers of the song to their repertoires, while others rant and refuse to play it.

And some respond in the way of all people of the early 21st century, with a Facebook page. Colin Meloy of the Decemberists started the page Musicians Against the Calling Out of Freebird (MACOF). On the group's page he says, "This is a serious issue facing today's culture. How can musicians around the world ever feel appreciated when people throw out a request as appalling as Freedbird [sic] at concerts?" Of course, in the best (if short) tradition of social media, a counter page, Keep Yelling Freebird, also exists [source: KYF].

Some bands rant. Modest Mouse, for example, has a famous, if not family-friendly, one. Some bands put their own spin on the tune and play it when asked. Here are examples of responses given by several bands that you might not expect to have a version of "Freebird" available on immediate notice:

  • In 2009, Jackson Browne did a 4-minute acoustic version while performing in North Carolina.
  • The band Phish has performed a humorous, a cappella version (complete with guitar solo) on many occasions since 1987. A recent performance in 2009 got the Portland, Maine, audience on its feet.
  • In 2007, Capitol Offense, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's band, performed it in New Hampshire, calling it the "Southern national anthem of rock."
  • Dry County, a Chicago-based band, plays it every time it's requested at a concert. One night, the band played it three times [source: Phillips].

Neither the stories about the origin of "Freebird" nor the idea that it has become a joke that won't die addresses the lingering popularity of hollering "Freebird" at any and all musicians (and live events in general) well into the 21st century

But maybe that's OK. Maybe the song's lyric, "I'm as free as a bird now," explains it all. We're all free to respond to the phenomenon as we choose -- whether we find it annoying or inspiring.

Links to lots more information about Skynyrd, "Freebird" and the folks who request it in crowded concerts can be found below.

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  • Capitol Offense, Former Gov. Mike Huckabee's band. YouTube. (Aug. 18, 2011) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkeflmkFCj0
  • Facebook. "Keep Yelling Freebird." (Aug. 18, 2011) https://www.facebook.com/pages/Keep-Yelling-Freebird/108063582607816?sk=wall
  • Facebook. "Musicians Against the Calling Out of Freebird (MACOF)." March 1, 2006. (Aug. 20, 2011) https://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2226485269
  • Fry, Jason. "Rock's Oldest Joke: Yelling 'Freebird!' In a Crowded Theater." Wall Street Journal. March 17, 2005. (Aug. 17, 2011) http://online.wsj.com/public/article/0,,SB111102511477881964-ZkAKwALO87RaHLbFJrSJSA_i9xg_20050415,00.html?mod=blogs
  • Jackson Browne. YouTube. (Aug. 18, 2011) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C8hxgfO3R1g
  • Phillips, Derek. "That Joke isn't Funny Anymore." Glorious Noise blog. Jan. 27, 2004. (Aug. 20, 2011) http://gloriousnoise.com/2004/that_joke_isnt_funny_anymore
  • Phish. YouTube. (Aug. 18, 2011) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4EBlSJWM1QA
  • Shapiro, Andrew. "To The Dude Who Yelled Out 'Free Bird" During Obama's Inaugural Youth Ball: For Once, It Was Funny." MTV News. Jan. 21, 2009. (Aug. 25, 2011) http://newsroom.mtv.com/2009/01/21/to-the-dude-who-yelled-out-free-bird-during-obamas-inaugural-youth-ball-for-once-it-was-funny/
  • Simmons, Lee. "Death to Freebird? One Facebook page wants just that." Bizmology blog. Feb. 10, 2011. (Aug. 18, 2011) http://www.bizmology.com/2011/02/10/death-to-freebird-one-facebook-page-wants-just-that/
  • Wilkening, Matthew. "Top 100 Classic Rock Songs."Aol Radio blog. June 5, 2010. (Aug. 25, 2011) http://www.aolradioblog.com/2010/06/05/top-100-classic-rock-songs-part-five-of-five/