At first, it was to request the favorite song at concerts — and Skynyrd would happily oblige. The song is a classic and people go nuts for it.
But over time, yelling “Freebird” or “Play Freebird!” at random concerts, where the song would definitely not be in the artist or band’s repertoire, became a form of heckling.
Even The Wall Street Journal has investigated its roots, but it’s not exactly clear how this tradition got started.
It seems to have begun with a Chicago radio host by the name of Kevin Matthews (or, at least, he takes credit for it).
“Kevin Matthews … 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,” VOA News shares.
“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.’”
So if you’re not at a Skynyrd concert, and people are yelling “Freebird,” they’re busting on the artist and are not very into the performance. Burn.