The Southern behemoths of rock and roll, Widespread Panic, left Charleston and Trondossa Music & Arts Festival in a blaze of glory to return to the swamps of New Orleans. New Orleans’ notorious Jazz & Heritage Festival rivals Mardi Gras celebrations in attendance and exuberance. The jam band from Athens, Georgia are no strangers to Jazz Fest, having played the festival 11 times in 22 years. The band returned to their traditional Thursday headlining spot as they have in 2017 and 2015, after the cancellations of both The Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac.
To open their Jazz Fest set, Panic played their psychedelic opus “Pigeons” with all the mayhem, kitty cat raps, and avian shrieks intact. Spreading the cheer, Widespread performed a jubilant “Ain’t Life Grand”, with John Bell playing his tiny guitar, or mandolins for non-Panicstream users. After a short pause, Dave Schools introduced “Little Lily” to the murky depths of the bayou before the dance-inducing “Tall Boy” resonated into the open air of the Fair Grounds Race Course.
Widespread Panic – “Tall Boy”
[Video: Karl Childers]
For the third time in ten years, and second time this year, Panic aced a bouncing rendition of “Bayou Lena” from Night of Joy infamy. Some posit the theory that it was my prompting in JoJo’s interview that resulted in the return of “Bayou” and the audience welcomed the tune uproariously. The song was written based on John Kennedy Toole’s posthumously published picaresque novel, Confederacy of Dunces, and paints a vivid picture of everyday life in New Orleans.
The jolted rhythm of “Sell, Sell” gave Jimmy Herring a chance to dazzle the attendees with his savage speeds before transitioning into the first cover of the set, Bloodkin’s ethereal eulogy, “Henry Parson’s Died.” The badass tone and heavy rhythms continued with a crowd favorite cover of Murray McLauchlan’s “Honky Red.” John Bell sang with the desperation of a man dying from thirst mixed with the gritty soul of a wrongly-accused prisoner on death row.
A piano laden “Up All Night” played tribute to the tireless spirit of an all-nighter and foreshadowed the late night ahead, before unleashing a soaring “Surprise Valley”, bringing the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to the swampy low-lands of Louisiana. Another transition danced into the funky rhythms of J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High” provided by JoJo Hermann’s clavinet. An incredible, bass-heavy “Run Like Hell” Pink Floyd jam eventually bled into “Rebirtha”. JoJo’s piano ran rampant through the tune and carried into a rare piano heavy performance of Jerry Joseph’s “North”.
Dave Schools called out Hall of Fame bassist George Porter Jr. to the stage and admitted that “he stole everything from [G.P.Jr.].” With a wide array of songs played in previous years, Widespread Porters executed a dirty version of Dr. John’s “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” that was dripping in spicy Narlin’s gumbo. The dueling bass guitars amalgamated with John Bell’s possessed vocals, in what is debatably the dirtiest jam of the set. Keeping the music local and swampy, the band played tribute to
yet another Dr. John song “Familiar Reality” for only the sixth time ever.
Rounding out the set with classic originals, Widespread played a traditionally barn-burnin’, boot- stompin’ “Love Tractor” (“YEE-HAW!) to which the audience strutted their best moves. JoJo, a knowledgeable student of New Orleans piano masters, hinted at Professor Longhair‘s “Red Beans” while dishing out an intoxicating shot of “Blackout Blues.” JoJo’s added lyrics, “Headed back to Mississippi / before I lose my mind” serve as a forewarning to the next city to experience this musical circus, Brandon, Mississippi.
To conclude their 148-minute JazzFest set, Widespread Panic hammered home the wet and wild party anthem, “Chilly Water”. Sunny Oritz and Duane Trucks abused their kits, as Schools mashed melodies with colossal force in an exceptionally formidable jam section. Jimmy Herring waited patiently before being tagged in to take the chaos to another plane of existence. With one last thank you, John Bell and the rest of the band sauntered off stage to do God-only-knows-what with the rest of their time in New Orleans.
Widespread Panic – “Blackout Blues”
Widespread Panic – “Chilly Water”
View this post on Instagram
Widespread Panic returns to the stage at Brandon, MS’s Brandon Amphitheater on June 8th and June 9th, 2019 . For a full list of the band’s upcoming tour dates and ticketing information, head to Widespread Panic’s website.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival | New Orleans, LA | 5/2/2019
Pigeons, Ain’t Life Grand^, Little Lilly > Tall Boy, Bayou Lena, Sell Sell > Henry Parsons Died, Honky Red, Up All Night > Surprise Valley > Ride Me High > Run Like Hell jam > Rebirtha, North, I Walk On Guilded Splinters* > Familiar Reality*, Love Tractor, Blackout Blues, Chilly Water (148 mins)
Notes * w/ George Porter Jr. on bass
^ w/ JB on tiny guitar
[‘Familiar Reality’ LTP 12/30/2014 Charlotte (230 shows) Dr John original – 6th time played; ‘Red Beans’
tease going into ‘Blackout Blues’]