The heat of the day began to subside as thousands of fans swarmed the Live Oak Bank Pavilion at Riverfront Park in downtown Wilmington, NC on Saturday. Preparations were made to accommodate the kings of jam rock, Widespread Panic, and their loyal following of “Spreadhead” zealots. To be expected with this veteran band, many segues connected a diverse mix of covers and originals spanning their three decades of touring with a celebratory tease of “Not Fade Away” thrown in as tribute to Bill Kreutzmann’s birthday.

Panic walked onstage to flow through the first frame like the Cape Fear River behind the stage. Taking flight with an opening “Surprise Valley” sandwich, Panic selected Talking Heads’ “City of Dreams” to bisect the soaring mountain-inspired jams. Like a skydiver leaping from a plane, Duane Trucks and Sunny Ortiz grabbed their parachutes and descended into an extended “Rock” to close out the unbroken sequence.

Rifling through their catalog, Panic paired two songs from ‘94’s Ain’t Life Grand with “Heroes” (“Feels good to watch a big man dance”) before accelerating down the runway and piloting into “Airplane”. Jimmy Herring circumnavigated any turbulence with supersonic riffs echoing into the depths of outer space.

Without stopping, Dave Schools cruised the “Take Off” jam into a funky “Rebirtha” dropping bass bombs (and butterflies). Before segueing into Van Morrison’s “Send Your Mind”, Panic slipped a “Not Fade Away” tease to honor Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann on his 76th birthday. Pausing for only the third time this set, JoJo Hermann served a heavy pour for last call with an intoxicating “Blackout Blues” to close the frame.

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To open the second set with a bang, Panic came out swinging with a heavy take on “Protein Drink” / “Sewing Machine”, a classic Vic Chesnutt combination of covers. John Bell spoke it pure and true with an emotionally charged vocal performance of “Vacation”. Carrying over the momentum from the tail end jam, Panic blazed through an infernal “Disco” before pausing to collect concentration for the second and last sandwich of the night—one that made up the bulk of set two.

Widespread pulled out of the driveway for the serene opening half of “Driving Song” before trekking along the winding backroads of The Meters’ “It Ain’t No Use”. After nearly 15 minutes of sultry jams, the band levitated through “Saint Ex” as the powerful lyrics “Don’t you recognize / we are not enemies” lingered impactfully. Still cruising uninterrupted, JoJo’s clavinet introduced J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High” which featured a spontaneous “Zambi” section in honor of their late mentor, Col. Bruce Hampton.

A return into the latter half of “Driving Song” closed out the nearly 50-minutes of consecutive heat. Finishing up the second set, Panic performed a “Space Wrangler”, giving Jimmy Herring expansive room to gallop across the cosmos on Helios’ chariot. In recent performances, JB has been feeling frisky and opted to “pour a little whiskey” into his cold beer.

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Coming back for a pairing of encores, the impish Dave Schools teased “I Trusted You” before Widespread Panic performed the recently unshelved fIREHOSE tune, “Sometimes” for only the third time in eight years. To conclude the second night, Panic performed “Action Man” to commemorate the 148th running of the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports, and the most recent winner of the Kentucky Derby, Rich Strike.

Don’t touch that dial because Widespread Panic returns to downtown Wilmington for a Sunday finale today. Early start time tonight so don’t be late, there’s still plenty of tricks up their sleeves and music to be played. Rally and rage, folks. Enjoy every second, we may never be here again. Full audio of last night’s show is available courtesy of the Goodpeople at PanicStream.

Setlist: Widespread Panic | Live Oak Bank Pavillion | Wilmington, NC | 5/7/22

Set One: Surprise Valley > City of Dreams (Talking Heads) > Surprise Valley > Rock, Heroes, Airplane > Take-Off Jam > Rebirtha > Send Your Mind, Blackout Blues (66 mins)

Set Two: Protein Drink / Sewing Machine (Vic Chesnutt), Vacation, Disco, Driving Song > It Ain’t No Use (The Meters) > Saint Ex > Ride Me High (J.J. Cale) > Driving Song, Space Wrangler (90 mins)

Encore Sometimes (fIREHOSE), Action Man (9 mins)

‘Not Fade Away’ tease after ‘Rebirtha’ (Bill Kreutzmann’s 76th bday)
– ‘It Ain’t No Use’ LTP 8/31/19 Pensacola (62 shows)
– Zambi Jam during ‘Ride Me High’