Athens, GA rock and roll institution Widespread Panic returned to Memphis, TN on Saturday to kick off a two-night headlining stint at Mempho Music Festival. The performance included a surprise sit-in from another beloved musician with Georgia ties, keyboardist Chuck Leavell, the longtime “glue guy” for The Allman Brothers Band, The Rolling Stones, and countless other notable acts.

Following Friday’s full slate of programming—including FuturebirdsJason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Fantastic Negrito, and The Black Keys—and Saturday sets from Amy Lavere, Celisse, Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, Portugal. The Man, and Big Ass Truck, the swamp-rockers of Widespread Panic took the stage to raucous applause and sawed into the intro to “All Time Low”. A cataclysmic string of originals followed in quick succession, beginning with a heavy “Rock”. A mellow “C. Brown” (“You don’t have to worry”) lingered peacefully before Dave Schools accelerated the tempo on “You Should Be Glad”. As the devilish bassist kept the pedal to the floor, the band maintained the pace with casual coolness but the audience held on for dear life.

In honor of Junior Kimbrough, Panic keyboardist JoJo Hermann’s Fat Possum labelmate, the band launched into a dirty rendition of “Junior” before sliding into the seat of “Love Tractor” for a bouncing ride. The classic cuts kept coming as JoJo shined on piano through “Wondering” before switching seats to favor the organ during “Walkin’ (For Your Love)”. John Bell and Dave Schools included a vocal call-and-response section here that climbed outside of the musical melodies.

JoJo manned the vocal helm for a recollection of his first gig with the band during “One Arm Steve” until guitarist Jimmy Herring grabbed the wheel to pilot through the cosmos of “Holden Oversoul”. When Herring eventually returned to earth, Panic cracked open a crispy, cold “Tall Boy” that had the rabid audience “foaming at the mouth.”

As great as the show was so far, the best was clearly yet to come as JB welcomed Chuck Leavell to the stage. With this legendary pianist and musical director on the roster, JoJo gladly made room in his keyboard nook for Chuck to take flight into “Surprise Valley”. The first covers of the night paid tribute to Leavell’s singular resume as a soaring rendition of the Allman Brothers Band‘s “Jessica” (featuring some classic Chuck piano work) moved into The Rolling Stones‘ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (featuring Chuck on vocals alongside Schools and JB).

To close out the single, extended set, Chuck and the Panics performed an uplifting rendition of Jerry Joseph and Glenn Esparza’s “Climb to Safety”, the two keyboardists masterfully melding piano and organ into something special.

A full day of music lies ahead at the fifth iteration of Mempho Music Festival with Elizabeth King, Allison Russell, Bobby Rush (ahem!), Wilco, and Tank & The Bangas due to perform ahead of another headlining set by WSMFP. If I was a gambling man, I would bet my life savings on a Bobby Rush sit-in on “Bowlegged Woman” and hopefully more. Game on!

Scroll down to check out crowd-shot videos of Chuck Leavell with Widespread Panic via Michael Wilker and view a gallery of photos from the show via Keith Griner.

Widespread Panic w/ Chuck Leavell – “Surprise Valley” – Mempho Music Festival – 10/1/22

Widespread Panic w/ Chuck Leavell – “Jessica” (Allman Brothers Band) – Mempho Music Festival – 10/1/22

Widespread Panic w/ Chuck Leavell – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (The Rolling Stones) – Mempho Music Festival – 10/1/22

Setlist [via PanicStream]: Widespread Panic | Mempho Music Festival | Memphis, TN | 10/1/22

Set: All Time Low > Rock, C Brown, You Should Be Glad, Junior > Love Tractor, Wondering, Walkin’ (For Your Love), One Arm Steve, Holden Oversoul, Tall Boy > Surprise Valley* > Jessica*, You Can’t Always Get What You Want**, Climb To Safety* (116 mins)


* w/ Chuck Leavell on keys
** w/ Chuck Leavell on keys and vocals
– ‘Jessica’ LTP 12/29/2015 Atlanta (264 shows); 2nd time played
– Entire show with Edie Jackson (ASL interpreter)