Widespread Panic finished their three-night run at the world-renowned Fox Theater in Atlanta with an opening set that featured an acoustic John Bell who was seated in center stage. The atmosphere was intimate, and when Vic Chestnutt’s song “Let’s Get Down to Business” got started, it felt like the band was playing in a living room. The band last played this song at Red Rocks Amphitheater this summer and it foreshadowed a special night to come.

Bloodkin’s song “Who Do You Belong To?” quickened the tempo of the show, before another Bloodkin’s cover, the regretful tune, “Can’t Get High”, slowed the tempo back down thereafter. “Driving Song” became the first original song played, which they gave appropriate treatment with an exceptional jam sandwich with another original, “Jamais Vu”, squeezed in between the two lengthy verses of “Driving Song.” The “Jamais Vu” was eloquently slow and contrasted perfectly in juxtaposition with the progressively upbeat breakdown of “Driving Song”.

JoJo Hermann stood out during the next song, an original, “Time Waits” with a jazzy ragtime feel that transformed the regal theater into a backstop honky-tonk roadhouse located far off the beaten path. To finish the short, but sentimental and sweet first set, the band aced their own classic tune, “Wondering”, before walking off the stage for the first time.

The second set began with a blazin’ hot “Disco”, which featured masterful solos by every member of the band in their characteristic roundabout style. The band kept the pedal to the floor and brought a level of intensity fitting for this New Year’s Eve. The fervent energy was off the charts as the band segued into the epic crowd favorite—the drum-heavy, “Fishwater”. This extended jam presented the virtuoso musicians an opportunity to demonstrate their expertise, which they executed seamlessly. Dave Schools provided back-up vocals while holding down a heavy bass line while Jimmy Herring and JoJo carved meaty slices throughout the constant bombardment of Duane Truck’s and Sunny Ortiz’s powerful drumlines.

The music didn’t stop as the band charged headfirst into a spectacularly comprehensive rendition of the original “Tie Your Shoes.” Another rarity, “Sleepy Monkey”, promptly followed with its mellow reggae tone and quick and crisp guitar licks provided capably by Jimmy Herring. The heated intensity of the music threated to spontaneously combust the rowdy members of the audience, so the band transitioned without pause into the wild and feral jam “Chilly Water”, and the balcony seats obliged the lower level seats with the obligatory flying cups of hydration. Though often dismissed as a superficial party-anthem, the song possesses deep themes of private vs. public domain by relating the story of a thirsty cowboy desperate for a drink of water from a rancher’s well.

Adding to the celebration, the band played a deliberate and jubilant “Ribs and Whiskey” after a brief pause. Another crowd favorite, this saucy jam kept the crowd dancin’ to set up a psychedelic “Pigeons” to close the second set in grandiose fashion. Altogether, the second set was absolutely fire. Seven songs were played for a total of seventy-one minutes, averaging over ten minutes a song with smooth, ceaseless transitions between the first five songs.

Before the third set began, the band’s tour manager, Steve Lopez, took center stage to thank the staff of Fox Theater and to commemorate the life of Colonel Bruce Hampton before counting down to midnight. The new year continued the traditions of the past with three consecutive tributes to Colonel Bruce. Widespread Panic began the final set with a moving rendition of “Basically Frightened” which they last played with Colonel Bruce in 2011. Jimmy Herring’s playing was especially emotional and sincere as a former bandmate to the beloved Colonel. John Bell gave an outstanding performance to capture the tone and vocal delivery for the tributes and gave the songs a Colonel-esque authenticity.

“Basically Frightened”

[Video: MrTopdogger]

“Yield Not To Temptation”

[Video: MrTopdogger]

The band followed with a first-time-played rendition of “Yield Not to Temptation”, a skippy Bobby Bland cover. Progressing deeper into the mystical cosmos of their long-time mentor and friend, Col. Bruce, the band then performed a scintillating version of “I’m So Glad”. John Bell played his mandolin for the self-reflective, positive anthem “Ain’t Life Grand?” which is a guaranteed riot for the crowd as the seats emptied and the aisles filled with jumpin’ and hollerin’ zealots.

The drums to “Surprise Valley” kept the level of excitement through the roof, and only magnified further when they sandwiched a glorious version of “Greta” in the middle of the celestial jam. Duane Trucks and Sonny Ortiz berated their percussion kits following “Greta” before finishing the second half of “Surprise Valley.” A fiery tribute to Tom Petty, “Honey Bee”, re-emerged for the second time played- with the first time played being two months ago on Ladies’ Night of the Halloween run in Las Vegas. J.J. Cale’s song “Travellin’ Light” trailed “Honey Bee” with the necessary reminder that “traveling light is the only way to fly.” Finally, to finish an extraordinarily impressive third and final set, the band closed with a slow and passionate version of Neil Young’s “Last Dance”.

“Honey Bee”

After a short break, the band returned to the stage with the audience still on their feet to play the rarely played, and extremely cherished “Expiration Day”. This Vic Chestnutt cover venerates the humble and simple life of an everyday worker, and the band performed this song impeccably. As the second encore, the rock and roll legends played a succinct and formidable “Postcard”. You would be fortunate to hear one of these songs at a show, to see both rarities jammed back-to-back as encores was incredible. As the grand finale of the run, the band reveled in the classic original “Porch Song” to finish the night and their three-night stay at the Fox Theater.

I’d like to give a special thank you to Eugene and Antonio of Fox Theater for their hard work and love for the community (as well as the other employees who made sure everyone had a safe and enjoyable time). Also, sincere thanks to a new friend, John from Smyrna who accommodated our band of weary travelers.

Setlist: Widespread Panic | Fox Theatre | Atlanta, GA | 12/31/2017

Set One: Let’s Get Down To Business, Who Do You Belong To?, Can’t Get High, Driving Song > Jamais Vu > Driving Song, Time Waits, Wondering

Set Two: Disco > Fishwater > Tie Your Shoes > Sleepy Monkey > Chilly Water, Ribs & Whiskey, Pigeons

Set Three: Basically Frightened, Yield Not To Temptation, I’m So Glad, Ain’t Life Grand*, Surprise Valley > Greta > Drums > Surprise Valley, Honey Bee, Travelin’ Light, Last Dance

Encore: Expiration Day, Postcard, Porch Song

[Photo: Josh Timmermans (Noble Visions) via Widespread Panic’s Facebook page]