JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music is widely known around the world.
“Freebird” is the Southern rock anthem created nearly 50 years ago by a band that had their humble beginnings in a Westside house at 5419 Woodcrest Road.
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“Skynyrd fans are dedicated,” said Gene Odom, who ran security at Lynyrd Skynyrd and was a childhood friend of band leader Ronnie Van Zant. “We would run on the roof of the house and jump on these bamboos and we would ride the bamboos to the ground because we were children”
Odom often gives tours of the Van Zant household which is now an Airbnb where brothers Ronnie, Donnie and Johnnie grew up.
People come from all over the world to visit. Andy Brown and Alison Hadad have come all the way from Britain to stay at home. They were all decked out in their Lynyrd Skynyrd t-shirts.
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“We learned a lot. There’s a lot of little facts that extra stuff that I didn’t know about,” Brown said.
Lynyrd Skynyrd made its mark in Britain in 1976.
They opened for the Rolling Stones at the Knebworth Festival.
The Stones had one rule and that was “don’t go down the tongue ramp!”
That’s exactly what Skynyrd did as Ronnie Vant Zant led Gary Rossington and Allen Collins to the end of the ramp.
There is a poster of this festival on the wall of the Van Zant house with other souvenirs.
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The house was purchased in 2015 by real estate investor Todd Smith.
“It was quite a mess,” Smith said.
Smith slowly renovated the house and a few years ago the state of Florida approved a historical marker which now sits in front of the house.
“It’s quite a draw. I mean you come here indefinitely and you stay here and you’ll probably have two or three people every day to stop and take pictures in front of the sign,” Smith said.
The marker tells the band’s history and references the tragic 1977 plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and background vocalist Cassie Gaines after the plane ran out of fuel.
Odom was on the plane and said he was the last to speak to Ronnie Van Zant.
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“If he hadn’t unfastened his seatbelt, he probably would have survived,” Odom said.
More than 20 years ago, Ronnie Van Zant’s mausoleum was vandalized at Jacksonville Memory Gardens. His family decided to move him to Riverside Memorial Park, about 6 minutes from the Van Zant home.
Last Christmas, Van Zant’s remains were again moved to another section of the cemetery on a private estate in front of a fountain.
Skynyrd fans still visit the cemetery to commemorate the rock legend while touring his childhood home. In fact, diehards were lucky enough to own part of the Van Zant home last year through a crowdfunding campaign.
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Smith says he canceled the project and is now focusing on a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for landscaping.
“So we want to put a sprinkler system in here, re-turf, put in a real driveway and nice landscaping and really spruce it up with curb appeal,” Smith said.
The Van Zant House Kickstarter campaign just launched on Wednesday.
Donors can contribute to the costs of fitting out the facade of the Van Zant House.
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The campaign runs until April 17.
Lynyrd Skynyrd is still on tour but with only one original band member.
They have shows later this year in Arizona, Maryland, California and Nevada.
Many Skynyrd fans are now in their 60s and 70s, but young people are exposed to the music every day and, like the Van Zant House, it is preserved for future generations.
Pictures: Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Legacy Honored at Jacksonville’s Van Zant House
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