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SXSW column from a grumpy local: Please yell "Freebird" at every opportunity

Know what really, really gets a wanna-be rock star mad?  Yell a request for "FREEBIRD" during a quiet moment.

The Wall Street Journal reports on the front page this morning, that nothing sets off American Idol hopefuls like a shouted reference to an old Lynyrd Skynyrd tune.  See "Rock's Oldest Joke: Yelling 'Freebird!' In a Crowded Theater." 

Apparently it's such a cliche that Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock says that "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."

According to the Journal, this urban legend-ish war cry began in Chicago:

Kevin Matthews is a Chicago radio personality who has exhorted his fans -- the KevHeads -- to yell "Freebird" for years, and claims to have originated the tradition in the late 1980s, when he says he hit upon it as a way to torment Florence Henderson of "Brady Bunch" fame, who was giving a concert. He figured somebody should yell something at her "to break up the monotony." The longtime Skynyrd fan settled on "Freebird," saying the epic song "just popped into my head."

Mr. Matthews says the call was heeded, inspiring him to go down the listings of coming area shows, looking for entertainers who deserved a "Freebird" and encouraging the KevHeads to make it happen.

But he bemoans the decline of "Freebird" etiquette. "It was never meant to be yelled at a cool concert -- it was meant to be yelled at someone really lame," he says. "If you're going to yell 'Freebird,' yell 'Freebird' at a Jim Nabors concert."

As a native Austinite, this is my personal plea for every SXSW attendee to yell out a request for Freebird at every SXSW show. 

I don't care that the influx of a thousand musicians and ten music label guys brings X million dollars to the Austin economy.

I just want just want a smooth commute to downtown and it pains me that the locals are tossed aside every March when the SXSW trots out the old guy we should lionize and the new guys we should adore soon. (This year the old guy is Billy Idol Ray Davies I haven't really paid attention enough to see who the new people are.  I hear that hip hop stuff really sells, though.)

Full disclosure: I lost way too many dates to Austin musicians while growing up here. I know I should be over it by now.  But I'm not.

(Originally published March 17, 2005 -- Had to do it again: Locals loved it and the little band guys wearing that shaggy haircut I wore in 1978 sent in a lot of hate mail.  **Snicker**)

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Bill Hicks

This is what I do with people yelling freebird:


Steven Phenix

Ha-ha-ha! LOL. Bill Hicks should have switched to decaf.

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  • Steven Phenix
    Weekly podcast interviews of Austinites famous and infamous, known and unknown, with the sole intent to convince my good friend Galia, an Israeli woman living way out in California, to move and live with us here in Austin, Texas, the land of the weird and the home of the armadillo.

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