After being marooned in St. Augustine for a short April hiatus, Widespread Panic, goliaths in the jam scene, brought their swampy rock and roll to the Live Oak Bank Pavilion in Wilmington, NC. After christening the venue last July, Panic made their exultant return to the quiet riverfront amphitheater to perform the first of three shows this weekend.
As John Bell and the band stepped on stage, whispers began to circulate from the front to the back about the vocalist. Blue jeans, yep, red flannel shirt, check. Backwards hat?!? Buckle up, boys and girls, it’s about to go down. The giddy audience swooned as the introduction of “Jack” opened a set for the first time since 1991—a total gap of 2,459 shows.
Keeping it rolling with a first frame comprised entirely of originals, “Good People” wandered into “Pilgrims” to pay tribute to the loyal fanbase who would travel anywhere in the world to see Panic play.
Keyboardist John “JoJo” Herman led the way with an upbeat transition into a face-melting “You Got Yours” before a nourishing “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” mended the wounded with a dazzling piano section. To celebrate Willie Mays’ 91st birthday, JoJo swung for the fences and knocked a classic “One Arm Steve” out of the park, placing special emphasis on the line that says, “Well Say Hey, Willie Mays / what’s in your suitcase full of wonders?”
Honoring Yusuf/Cat Stevens and keeping the stream of Steve flowing, Widespread chased “Steven’s Cat” around the yard before donning the waders for a transcendent “Bear Gone’s Fishin’”. To finish out the first frame of originals, bassist Dave Schools bounced the rhythm into “Love Tractor”, allowing guitarist Jimmy Herring to burn rubber and do donuts in the fields before eventually running out of fuel, leaving nothing but crop circles behind for the conspiracy theorists to speculate about.
Refueled and ready to go for round two, Widespread Panic honored their fallen friend Daniel Hutchens with a consecutive pairing of Bloodkin’s “Henry Parsons Died” and “Who Do You Belong To?” for the first covers of the night. Jimmy Herring’s high-voltage guitar riffs reawakened “Sleepy Monkey” for a funky swing “back to the jungle.”
To follow, Duane Trucks and Sunny Ortiz introduced the rolling rhythm of “Diner.” JB channeled the esoteric power of his backwards hat to deliver a crisp improvised section chronicling a rough early morning wake up on a park bench and stumbling into the sanctuary of Ms. Lee’s diner for warmth and a cup of yesterday’s coffee.
The intensity from the latter half of “Diner” carried over into a tumultuous “Cease Fire” with the percussionists leading the charge once more. After yet another transition, “Jamais Vu” followed in the same sequence as the track listing of their most recent studio album, 2015’s Street Dogs.
The uninterrupted deluge of jams meandered through an improvised jam between Schools and the percussionists and into the psychedelic maelstrom “Tie Your Shoes” before coming to an end with a conclusive “Papa’s Home” To wrap up the monster second set, Panic covered Jerry Joseph and Glenn Esparza’s call to brotherhood with “Climb to Safety”.
Returning for the encore, Panic dusted off “Flicker” for the first time since 2018 before JoJo took the helm for an emotionally charged performance of “This Part of Town”. To finish off the first night, Widespread covered J.J. Cale’s “Travelin’ Light” to remind the listeners of the “only way to fly.”
Widespread Panic will return for two more nights of raucous revelry in Wilmington [get tickets], so don’t switch the dial. Plenty to do between Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, and downtown Wilmington in the meantime. Have fun, don’t be a slob, and always look out for each other.
Until tomorrow, Goodpeople, enjoy the beautiful weather and weekend.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Live Oak Bank Pavillion | Wilmington, NC | 5/6/22
Set 1: Jack, Good People, Pilgrims > You Got Yours, Pickin’ Up The Pieces, One Arm Steve, Steven’s Cat, Bear’s Gone Fishin’ > Love Tractor
Set 2: Henry Parsons Died, Who Do You Belong To?, Sleepy Monkey, Diner > Cease Fire > Jamais Vu > Tie Your Shoes > Papa’s Home, Climb To Safety
Encore: Flicker, This Part of Town, Travelin’ Light