The wind started kicking up 15 minutes into Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd's concert at the AVA at Casino del Sol Thursday night.

Lightning flashed in the distance and a light, constant rain soon followed.

Try as he might, Skynyrd sound man John Watson couldn't seem to stop the wind-whipped rain from hitting his sound board.

At one point, he and an assistant draped a large piece of plastic over the hi-tech panel with its plethora of flickering lights and buttons controlling the volume and character of every sound produced on the sprawling stage 150 yards away. 

While the assistant held down the plastic, Watson awkwardly ducked beneath to do his job, squatting on his knees and doing his best to keep the plastic from burying him.

Thirty minutes into the show, Skynyrd frontman Johnny Van Zant announced that they were taking a weather pause. We want you to be safe, we want to be safe, he said, as the house lights came up and crowd stood looking kinda lost. 

That's when Watson and his crew had a better idea: Strap the plastic down with Watson inside.

"Isn't this fun?" he asked moments later, his body wrapped in plastic that was tapped down to the soundboard.

Ah, yes, the pitfalls of Tucson's monsoon season. 

But the weather hiccup did little to dampen the spirit of Thursday night for the 3,000 folks loosely filling the AVA. Pockets of emptiness in the reserved seats and patches of unoccupied lawn seemed fuller with the audience standing throughout what became a 90-minute concert once the band returned from the half-hour weather respite.

Thursday's concert setlist closely mirrored the band's 2015 Tucson concert, the last time they were at the AVA. Van Zant, his voice sounding a bit off key and tired throughout the concert, opened with "Call Me the Breeze" and he and the band that he has fronted since 1987 performed the best of its greatest hits.

Most of the songs went way back to the band's late 1960s, early '70s roots when Van Zant's late big brother Ronnie founded and fronted Skynyrd. The fact that the audience, largely comprised of people in their late 50s and 60s like the band members, sang along to gems like "What's Your Name," "Got That Right," "I Know A Little," "That Smell," "T for Texas" and "Gimme Back My Bullets" is testament that a good song outlasts the ages.

And as they did back in September two years ago, Lynyrd Skynyrd closed with its iconic rocker "Sweet Home Alabama." But on Thursday, Johnny Van Zant wrapped a piece of a Confederate flag to his mic stand, which earlier in the evening had been draped with a torn and well-worn strip of an American flag. Before launching into those indelible opening chords, Van Zant waved the mic stand and proclaimed: "Heritage, not hate," which prompted cheers from the audience and led one fan near the front to wave a large full-sized Confederate flag.

It was a political commentary to counter the universal backlash that has led Southern towns, cities and states to strip the Confederate flag from government buildings and landmarks in response to criticism that the flag represents racism more than patriotism.

As they did back in 2015, Skynyrd performed its ubiquitous signature ballad "Free Bird" as its encore. Before the song had finished, a stream of fans was making its way to the parking lot as the breeze that had wrecked havoc earlier in the evening settled into a quiet whisper against the soaring guitars. 

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch