Skynyrd, Zac Brown delight Augusta fans

Bill it as a battle of the Southern rock titans.

Thursday evening, both the Zac Brown Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd headlined separate shows at the Augusta Entertainment Complex. The shows demonstrated both the enduring popularity of Southern rock and the wide demographic appeal of the musical form.

At the Bell Auditorium, wearing a recent country radio smash (Chicken Fried ) and weighing in with a strong regional fan base, was the Zac Brown Band. At the James Brown Arena, the legendary Lynyrd Skynyrd performed, armed with nearly 40 years' experience and a slew of classic rock tunes.

Fans showed up early and excited. The party started more than two hours before the first opening act took the stage, with local acts Fried Goat and the Ogeechee River Band entertaining on the plaza that separates the two venues. Later, the Skynyrd faithful were offered the opportunity to enjoy barbecue and a beverage (or two) for an additional $30. The pre-party revelers were clearly enthusiastic about seeing the legendary act roll out classics such as Free Bird as well as new material from the recently released God & Guns . The familiar strains of the signature Skynyrd song Sweet Home Alabama were enough to illicit a response.

"I'm just glad to see them come here," said Harold Emery Lents Jr., "Ghosst" to his friends. "Usually we get left out. Usually it's Atlanta or Columbia."

Mr. Lents said that while he was happy to hear Zac Brown was next door, there was never any question that Skynyrd would get his ticket. He said the band has become something greater than the musicians on stage.

"I know people that wouldn't let you say nothing bad about Skynyrd," he said with a laugh. "It's a lifestyle. It's their (the band's) lifestyle."

Sissy Bugg Clark, of Augusta, was seeing Skynyrd for the third time. She said the thing about Lynyrd Skynyrd is that while members have come and gone, with only a single founding member still playing with the group, the sound remains the same.

"It's a sound like no other," she said. "It's something you never forget. Something you never want to forget."

On the plaza, Don and Stephanie Bray, of Augusta, prepared to take their seat for the Zac Brown Band. Mrs. Bray said there was never a question about which show they would attend.

"We were focused," she said with a laugh. "We've heard really good things about his show and really like the music."

For Sammy Janes, of Augusta, the choice was tougher. He originally thought that the Lynyrd Skynyrd show was over the weekend. In the end, he chose to eschew the twangy pleasures of Zac Brown for Lynyrd Skynyrd. "I was in conflict though," he said. "But I've seen Skynyrd before and you can't beat that classic rock sound. Sometime you just want to stick with what you know."

"Besides," he said with a smile. "Someone gave me these tickets."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com