When Widespread Panic played in Mexico for the first time in 2012, nobody expected the destination event to become an annual tradition. And yet, this year the behemoths of the jam scene took their swampy chaos south of the border, kicking off Panic En La Playa Nueve at the all-inclusive Hard Rock Resort and Casino in Riviera Maya, Mexico for the ninth-consecutive year. The festivities commenced on a clear and crisp 75-degree Friday night as travelers—recently disembarked from their aircrafts—came in from all directions and walks of life united by their shared love of live Widespread Panic.

This area offers a wide variety of activities to spend your time before or after the four-nights of music in the cool shade of a barroom or at the sunny beaches, Playa veterans could spend a few extra days exploring the cenotes of Cancun or Playa del Carmen, the underwater mysteries of Cozumel, and/or esoteric Mayan ruins of Tulum.

After a short soundcheck the day prior (with a brief setlist comprised of snippets of “Pilgrims” and “Blackout Blues”), Steve Lopez gave a welcoming toast and JoJo Herman showed his appreciation before turning the microphone over to the first hired employee at Cloud 9 AdventuresAnnabel Lukins, who gave a reading of the Home Team’s “Manifesto.”

Without further ado, Widespread got straight to themes at hand with a whacky cover of Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”, in which the narrator finds himself in international trouble within every verse. Fittingly, it was the late Warren Zevon’s birthday yesterday. Following, Panic unleashed the fury of an early “Chilly Water” packed with double the intensity after the song was conspicuously absent from the three-day New Year’s Eve run in Atlanta. The party anthem in which fans throw water in the air, was celebrated with flying Dos Equis, Modelos, and tequilas as WSP hammered this frenzied staple to a climax.

Keeping it classic, Dave Schools led the stampede with a heavy stroll down his fretboard with a serene “Stop-Go”. Both songs derive from the band’s earliest days and appeared on their debut studio album Space Wrangler in 1988.  After a short tease of “I Trusted You”, returning once more to NOLAween’s unforgettable Andy Kaufman theme, Panic—led by John Bell’s vocals—covered the first Talking Heads song of the night with “Heaven”. Many Playa veterans agree that the paradise of the afterlife should resemble the beloved Hard Rock Resort, which even features a “Heaven” section.

The beat from Night of Joy’s “Old Neighborhood” bounced right into the Jerry Joseph co-written collaboration “Time Zones” as the band made themselves at home on the coastline of Mexico. A thirsty “Tall Boy” preceded “Papa Legba” for the second Talking Heads cover of the night. To close out the first set, a raucous “Junior” featured hard-hitting interplay from each member of the band; yet it was John Bell that was the powerhouse, emitting tremendous energy with his voice. “Junior” was written by mixing several of Junior Kimbrough’s songs, who shared a record label with JoJo at Fat Possum Records.

Widespread Panic sauntered back onstage to dish out an instrumental take on “Rumble” by Link Wray & his Wray Men before JoJo’s vocals recounted the humorous tale of joining the band with “One Armed Steve”. The jaunty beat of Alan Price’s “Sell, Sell” dropped into a bass-heavy bombardment of “Bear’s Gone Fishin’” from 1999’s Til’ the Medicine TakesJimmy Herring (pronounced Chimi Herring, below the border) celebrated his 58th birthday a few days late with his signature tone and sizzlin’ guitar solos.

The jam accelerated into the cosmos before slowing down to set the mood for a spirited “Hatfield” with a mystical introduction. While Dave Schools laid the rhythmic foundation, John Bell displayed his sharp wit and vivid imagination during his customary, improvisation section with quick-lipped references to an early childhood memory of his.  (“I remember Hatfield’s mama, big German lady who’d bring us beer when it was hot, hot, hot in the summertime” & “Put a little martini on our tongue, our first Christmas”).

Adding a third guitarist to the melodic crockpot, Widespread Panic welcomed up-and-coming guitar prodigy Marcus King to the stage. Dave Schools took lead vocals for a haunting rendition of the traditional blues song “One Kind Favor” while Herring and King chased each other down musical rabbit-holes.

The sage wizard and young King continued to duel throughout Buffalo Springfield’s Mr. Soul.” Thursday, Neil Young became an official American citizen. Widespread Panic with Marcus King welcomed Old Neil to the States with a hard-hitting performance on the opening night of PELP 9.

After thanking Marcus, Panic steamrolled into a greasy “Thought Sausage”—called chorizo down yonder. Dave Schools stirred his home-made hot sauce into Mama’s simmering pot of world-famous gumbo until JB beckoned the audience to “COME N’ GIT IT!”. As the last original of the set, Panic knocked out a starry-eyed “Radio Child.” Another electrifying Jimmy Herring solo cut died out, allowing JoJo to transition into the organ introduction of Jerry Joseph and Glenn Esparza’s “Climb to Safety” to finish the second set.

Widespread Panic returned to the stage to dish out a hearty encore sandwich in which they wrapped a dizzyingly fast-paced “Tie Your Shoes” with the slow and deliberate structure of Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys”. The contrasting juxtaposition of tempo gave JB time to captivate with his soaring voice during “Low Spark” while the rest of the band whipped the resort courtyard into a frenzy with the whirlwind jam section of “TYS.”

Even after an incredible first night at Playa, the music continued on another stage with a late-night set from Marcus King. The music went to the wee hours of the morn with people who signed up for Sonny Ortiz’s Golf Tournament tucking in earlier than the rest. For others, the tequila flowed abundant until sunrise. Drink your water and pace yourself, because there’s still three nights of music on the horizon. The ones still standing on the fourth day are real ones. Godspeed, good people; remember the old words, “It’s a marathon; not a sprint” and kudos to those “who trained for this.”

Check out a video of the opener from the first night of Widespread Panic at Panic En La Playa below. Audio of the entire show is also available via PanicStream.

Setlist: Widespread Panic | Panic En La Playa | Hard Rock Resort & Casino | Riviera Maya, Mexico | 1/24/20

Set One: Lawyers, Guns & Money (Warren Zevon), Chilly Water, Stop-Go, Heaven (Talking Heads), Old Neighborhood, Time Zones, Tall Boy, Papa Legba (Talking Heads), Junior

Set Two: Rumble (Link Wray & The Wray Men), One Arm Steve, Sell Sell, Bear’s Gone Fishin’ > Hatfield, One Kind Favor* > Mr Soul*, Thought Sausage, Radio Child, Climb To Safety

Encore: Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys (Traffic) > Tie Your Shoes > Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys

* w/ Marcus King on guitar


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Widespread Panic – “Lawyers, Guns & Money” (Warren Zevon cover) – 1/24/20