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Rock legends to perform during Ball State homecoming weekend

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Lynyrd Skynyrd, the band known for classic hits like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird” will perform at Emens Auditorium in Muncie as part of homecoming weekend festivities.  One band member spoke with reporter Chris Talley about the band’s past and future.

The Lynyrd Skynyrd concert will take center stage at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 3.  Ticket prices start at $46 and are available at Emens box office.

After 50 years of touring, more than a dozen different band members and numerous albums, Lynyrd Skynyrd is still on the road entertaining audiences with its trademark southern rock.

“We never even talk about [stopping],” Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Rickey Medlocke said in a Sept. 25 phone interview. “It’s all about, to us, the legacy and the music. Keeping the legacy alive and the music going.”

The road, however, hasn’t always been easy. Three band members, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, died in a 1977 airplane crash. The tragedy prompted a 10-year hiatus before Van Zant’s younger brother, Johnny, took over front-man duties and rebuilt the group along with guitarist Gary Rossington, the only original member still in the band.

Medlocke was part of Skynyrd’s early days before he formed the group Blackfoot, who he played with for 25 years. But he returned to his Lynyrd Skynyrd roots in the early 1990s and has spent the past 20 years rocking anthems such as “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Freebird.”

When the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers play Ball State University’s Emens Auditorium on Friday, Oct. 3, they will sing to three generations of fans, and Medlocke said the group is “working on a fourth,” a measure of longevity seen by only a select few rock bands in American history.

Bands such as Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, AC/DC and Lynyrd Skynyrd represent an era that saw rock at the top of the musical food chain, a time that Medlocke acknowledged is different than today.

“Around the world, rock music is very revered, very viable,“ Medlocke said,” [but] here it seems rock music is the first step, at the bottom of the ladder trying to work its way to the top.”

Replacing rock music is an assortment of genre-blending pop, country and hip-hop music that Medlocke said isn’t quite the same as it used to be.

“I don’t believe country is country anymore,” Medlocke said. “Country is a combination of pop music, rock music and a fiddle… That isn’t how country started. They should just call it what it is: pop music with a fiddle in it.”

When it comes to hip-hop, Medlocke views the genre as more of a “lyrical thing; a dance thing.” But, he harbors no resentment to today’s top artists. In fact, Medlocke said he still listens to all kinds of music to “gain an appreciation” for the sounds other acts are producing and for what’s popular. Medlocke enjoys Blackberry Smoke, The Black Keys, Chris Cornell, Keith Richards and, perhaps most surprisingly, Bruno Mars.

“I really like what that guy’s doing,” Medlocke said of Mars, before comparing him to James Brown, and calling him a “real musician” and a “badass.”

With Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 2015 tour coming to a close, one of America’s few remaining pillars of classic rock shows no signs of slowing down. Each performance features a tribute to the United States Armed Forces, and “Freebird” closes out each show as it has for the last four decades.

Anchoring the band each night is career musician Medlocke, a true rocker, in every sense of the word. At age 65, Medlocke still practices his instrument everyday before taking the stage at night.

“I was born a musician and a player,” Medlocke said, “and that’s what I’m always gonna be.”

Chris Talley is a reporter for a Ball State immersive-learning arts journalism course.