JoJo Hermann, of Widespread Panic notoriety, returned on Thursday to continue last year’s Shut Up and Play live stream series. Broadcasting from Todd Snider’s The Purple Building studio in Nashville, TN, the free show took donations for Nuçi’s Space, an organization that raises awareness about depression and mental health education to eliminate suicide and the stigma on mental health.
Despite the weekly pro-shot video streams of legendary Widespread Panic shows, there hasn’t been much akin to a live Panic show apart from JoJo’s livestreams last summer. Needless to say, his return to the stage is like a breath of fresh air, not Red Rocks in late June air, but close.
An introduction montage featured images of retinal scans and the key to the city of Athens before the video cut to an uncommonly hatless JoJo at the helm of his piano dishing out a frenzied take on Widespread Panic’s “Big Wooly Mammoth”. JoJo delicately bounced between a slowed-down pace for a measure or two before quickening the momentum on a whim in a way that would be nearly impossible for a larger band to keep up. When he slowed it down, he carefully enunciated the all-too-relevant lyrics: “Gotta buy some new weapons of mass destruction / It’ll kill you with a virus or a dose of radiation.”
As if on cue, the camera shifted and a colorful drawing of the late, great John Prine stood out in the background. The world lost Prine last year, just one of the innumerable losses from the devastating total of the COVID-19 pandemic.
JoJo’s fingers never stopped as the musical melody shifted into Professor Longhair’s “Tipitina”. JoJo credits Fess, the New Orleans piano legend, for beginning him on his musical journey. Another Widespread tune emerged, as JoJo transitioned seamlessly into “Tall Boy”, where he swapped out the lyrics “silhouette expressions / monumental faces” in favor of the improvised “momentary glances / psychedelic peacocks.”
After an uncharacteristic build-up and breakdown, JoJo welcomed his audience back and explained that the logic behind the name of the series is so he doesn’t feel obligated to talk much. Rather ironically, JoJo then caught the digital audience up on the past few months in a casual-style banter, including highlights of Christmas shopping, Tipitina’s benefit shows, as well as another upcoming tour “going out west” with Jerry Joseph.
JoJo’s fingers then twiddled their way through “Bust It Big,” which opened a tremendous trio of original tunes. The tale of his first gig with Widespread Panic at the Georgia Theatre on March 13th, 1992 was immortalized in “One Armed Steve” which transitioned into an intense “Imitation Leather Shoes” to close out the trifecta.
JoJo broke it down and explained the inspiration of the last two songs played. “ILS” was influenced by Franz Kafka’s supernatural story about Gregor Samsa in The Metamorphosis, whereas “OAS”, on the other hand, derived from getting thrown out the door by a one-armed bouncer at his first gig with the band as his face was not among the band’s lineup in their poster on the wall. JoJo described the three verses in “One Armed Steve” as separate vignettes and admitted to being heavily influenced by late friend and songwriting peer, Vic Chesnutt. The first time he remembered hearing the vignette template in a song structure was The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”.
Before taking a request from Mama Bear, JoJo quipped that he liked to use social media under alter egos. For only the third time ever, JoJo hammered out the up and down movements of “Blue Carousel”. The tune was inspired by a trip to the Nashville Zoo with his daughter, Lucy, has only been played on episodes one, three, and now five of his Shut Up and Play series.
Dedicating the next song to Moses Allison, JoJo danced his way through Allison’s “I Don’t Care About a Thing”. Allison, a jazz pianist from Mississippi, was yet another musical idol who shaped JoJo’s interests and playing style. Billy Joe Shaver’s “Chunk of Coal” was unearthed before JoJo’s “Blackout Blues” stumbled into Professor Longhair’s “Stagger Lee” to conclude the stream. The tiny hammers inside the unnamed piano danced along to his hands’ movements as the fifth episode rang out its final note.
JoJo returns to the digital stage once more next Thursday, March 5th for the sixth installment of Shut Up and Play, live from The Purple Building in Nashville. I for one will be rationing off this dopamine release until next week’s streams, but in time, I hope to open the floodgates and dance my feet to the bone with all you, Goodpeople. Until next week, stay well.
JoJo Hermann – Shut Up and Play Ep. 5 – 2/25/21
[Video: Widespread Panic]
Setlist: JoJo Hermann | Shut Up and Play Ep. 5 | Purple Building | East Nashville, TN | 2/25/21
Set: Big Wooly Mammoth > Tipitina (Professor Longhair) > Tall Boy, Bust It Big > One Armed Steve > Imitation Leather Shoes, Blue Carousel, I Don’t Worry About a Thing (Moses Allison) > Chunk of Coal (Billy Joe Shaver), Blackout Blues > Stagger Lee (Professor Longhair)