Bob Dylan, one of the most revered and highly emulated musicians of our time, has often been known to cover other esteemed musicians, among them Hank Snow, Jerry Jeff Walker, Joni Mitchell and others. On his latest album, Fallen Angels, he paid extensive homage to the songs of Frank Sinatra. Dylan revisited another American masterpiece, this time of the hard-rock variety, during his performance at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, Calif. last week, closing the show by surprising fans with a characteristically stunning rendition of the Lynyrd Skynyrd power ballad, “Free Bird.”
The abrupt cover, an unexpected union of two of the most iconic music acts of the last century, was performed in response to the shouted demand of “Free Bird!,” mostly in (totally played out) jest, from the back of the room as Dylan prepared to wrap up the show—but the legendary singer-songwriter and his backing band answered in kind. Though this was Dylan’s first time debuting the song publicly, the “Like a Rolling Stone” singer delivered the soulful tune with a practiced expertise that belied his comfort with the classic rock standard—it’s likely been in Dylan’s arsenal, waiting for its time in the spotlight for a while now.
The 75-year-old musician has a busy summer ahead of him, as he’s currently embarking on a U.S. tour and scheduled to make an appearance at new festival Desert Trip, the Indio-based Coachella spinoff featuring a jaw-dropping lineup of pop/rock megastars including The Who, The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Neil Young. If you’re lucky enough to attend one of Dylan’s shows, there’s a chance, however small, that he’ll give an encore performance of the hard-rock jam, or surprise fans with some other kickass cover.