Photo and Story by Scott Smith
A dark, savage wind-and-rain storm backed down from rock band 38 Special on Sept. 7 in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
The six-piece Southern rock group blazed its way through a hit-single-heavy set list for about 2,000 wet-yet-happy fans at Fort Smith’s Harry E. Kelley Park, and 38 Special’s sound was so wonderfully assertive that it seemingly broke up an area storm that caused some damage earlier in the evening.
Fronted by Don Barnes (lead vocals and guitar) and Donnie Van Zant (lead vocals), 38 Special charged first with a brilliant take of “Rockin’ Into the Night,” with Barnes’ and Van Zant’s voices completely intact. The duo sound every bit as vital and technically great as they did on the band’s best-known studio work.
Barnes also wailed away on his guitar, joining guitarist Danny Chauncey at the front of the stage for some great, flashy twin-lead solos that would make Thin Lizzy inhale with pride. Van Zant twirled his black microphone stand, playfully swinging it at two media photographers in the bouncer pit before holding it out over those in the front row.
Like colleagues Styx, Peter Frampton, Pat Benatar and Fleetwood Mac, 38 Special is a rock-and-roll animal willing to serve their concert-going fans an evening of hits and long-running FM radio favorites. “Back Where You Belong” also blasted from the stage, as did an up-beat medley that paired portions of 38 Special’s movie soundtrack songs “Teacher Teacher” and “Back to Paradise” to good effect.
Bass player Larry Junstrom, who was Lynyrd Skynyrd’s founding bassist, stood near the drummer, whipping out thick bass lines underneath Gary Moffatt’s popping snare drum and splashing cymbals. Keyboardist Bobby Capps added extra color to the group’s sound, and when he sang lead vocals on the group’s still-loved ballad, “Second Chance,” another wave of cheers brushed up against the performers.
It’s not surprising that 38 Special is so tight musically – Barnes, Van Zant and Junstrom formed 38 Special in the mid-1970s. What is almost shocking is how much the band members enjoy each other and the audience. Barnes said during a pre-show chat he and his band mates genuinely like each other. “We’re just so happy to be able to tour and play music,” he said. “It’s really the best job in the world.”
Despite the pre-concert storm – and some rain that accompanied the show – fans of all ages cheered every song, showing that they stand by 38 Special, rain, hail, wind or shine.