For the 62nd time since 1996, the kings of the Georgian swamps, Widespread Panic, returned once more to Morrison, Colorado headlining the first of three shows at the mythical Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Just 10 miles west of Denver, the aesthetic venue has become a veritable Mecca for music aficionados who regularly make the pilgrimage to see the most celebrated acts in a natural space that was carved out of the Rocky Mountains. Red Rocks Amphitheatre is unanimously agreed upon being one of the best places to see a show due to its combination of clean, acoustics and the serene backdrop of Denver’s city lights from atop the elevated rows of seating.

Jimmy Herring immediately kicked the first night’s show into overdrive with a scorching rendition of Vic Chesnutt’s “Puppy Sleeps.” The tune first debuted at their 2001 NYE show, but was shelved until it’s subsequent return at last year’s Red Rocks run. John Bell and Dave Schools shared vocal duties. Bell’s mane of long, brown hair flowed from underneath his red Houston, forward-facing ball cap, as Schools casually chewed his gum and Herring entranced the audience with the siren’s song of his custom PRS guitar.

The bottom of the melody dropped out and rolled right into the thumpin’ beat of the Bloodkin’s “Henry Parson’s Died.” Herring kept his sweet lullabies more like knock-out punches as he effortlessly strewn together an endless stream of notes. A third consecutive cover opened up the first set with Neil Young’s “Walk On”, icing this triad of tributes. Schools spit his gum, swigged some liquid inspiration, and began chiseling out Old Neil’s bass framework. Herring kept the jam elevated with soaring solos while Bell did his best to keep the tune grounded with the colloquial lyrics.

With a sudden shift, Domingo (Sonny) Ortiz‘s drums and JoJo’s clavinet led the muddled masses down a familiar trail to New Orleans with an especially dirty “Fishwater”. Infused with psychedelics, the jam built patiently with appetizing introduction and saucy verses before culminating into a life-or-death battle as the demons of insanity, namely Schools, threatened to push the music past the farthest reaches of even the wildest imagination. A drum breakdown hosted by Duane Trucks and Ortiz kept the boat afloat before Schools dribbled his bass faster and faster leading into a savory call-and-response with Bell. As a passionate wrestling fan, Trucks sported a black “Austin 3:16” shirt in honor of the beer-guzzling, working-class hero, Stone-Cold Steve Austin, but also as a solemn tribute to bluegrass hero and recently passed Jeff Austin.

After a short pause, Herring led the band through the dreamy instrumental “St. Louis” from Dirty Side Down, which was performed for the first time since the September Nashville run last year. Getting back to their roots, Panic hammered out a classic cut from their self-titled second album with a heavy rendition of “Rock”. Another juicy Bell & Schools call-and-response section gave way to a bouncing beat, building until the consequent explosion caused by Jimmy Herring’s fistfuls of dynamite.

Schools fiddled around for a measure or two before introducing the funky rhythm to “Rebirtha”. At some point, Herring took off and never looked back, taking off like a rocket with the audience and band hanging on for dear life. Bell was the quintessential example of an unreliable narrator with his humble admittance, “This isn’t the first time, no, I know, I’ve seen your place before. Maybe, in a past life… or maybe, it was last night… I really, really don’t know!”

Clearly, the birds were drinking the psychedelics from the water, as another psychedelic masterpiece “Pigeons” flew free into the open sky to close out the first set. During the tune, Herring unleashed his fury into the cosmos as Schools was doing his soul-stealing stare with the wrath of ten thousand malevolent spirits and Bell desperately imploring the merciless gods to allow him to “Wake Up, Wake Up” and end this lunatic-fringed, first set.

Widespread Panic – “Puppy Sleeps > Henry Parsons Died > Walk On” – 6/28/2019

[Video: Widespread Panic]

When Widespread Panic sauntered with the customary casualness, nobody expected they were about to pull “Down on the Farm” off the shelf from a 464 show gap since the Spring Tour 2011 at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre (formerly Verizon Wireless Music Center) in Pelham, Alabama. The tune was written by Little Feat’s Paul Barrere and has been covered nearly 50 times with half of the performances pre-dating 1990.

The classic, “Tall Boy” emerged next as the audience reciprocated the enthusiastic energy before slowly transitioning into yet another fan-favorite “Little Lily.” “Lily” had a slower tempo throughout the introduction of the song, but the pace quickened into its normal speed.

The band was not done, in fact, they had only just begun to work through this dream of a second set as they segued into the mechanical pulse of “Machine.” The diabolical Schools was at the helm, leading the music down this rabbit hole with a quick-fingered Herring in tow. The natural sequence was completed as “Barstools & Dreamers” followed as per tradition with Bell’s voice giving charisma to that hazy, lost-in-the-sauce-again barroom feel of the tune like an unfazed bartender that has seen it all and unconcernedly mops the roughhewn bar with his filthy dish rag.

The fan-favorites came non-stop, as the bouncing hayride “Love Tractor” was grown from seed-to-sprout and harvested in bountiful glory. The transitional jam juxtaposed contrasting tones and mellowed the celebratory joyride into the soulful acceptance of “I’m Not Alone” in which Bell admits, “I’m not alone, I’m just blue” but also that he’s “Feelin’ a little bit easier now, knowing that you’re all here!”

Rounding out the set, the boys worked hard to dig up the prehistoric remains of “Big Wooly Mammoth” to resurrect the ancient behemoth. The song was written about a Wooly Mammoth skeleton that was discovered in Colorado, and JoJo and his band of self-proclaimed archeologists worked with due diligence to pay respect to the fallen beast. To end the second set, Panic nailed another sought after cover of Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, & Money” as time-after-time again, the pins are set up and knocked down by this incredible troupe of musicians.

Widespread Panic returned for the encore and sizzled through a rendition of Link Wray’s 1958 instrumental “Rumble” for only the second time ever. The song was inducted in the Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 and has been used in numerous well-known movies including The Warriors, Blow, and most notably Pulp Fiction. Panic first debuted the song during the whacky Halloween show in Las Vegas 2017 with the Hunter S. Thompson theme running rampant only a day after the notorious Ladies’ Night show. To finish the first night of dreamy badassery, Widespread cooled down the smokin’ rocks with an extinguishing “Chilly Water” with whatever liquids left in hand being donated to the steamy Colorado night sky.

Widespread Panic – “Down On The Farm” – 6/28/2019

[Video: Widespread Panic]

The gang and their attending zealots will return to the musical mecca tonight to continue their three-night devastation. Get ready for what will surely be just as wickedly awesome, good people, as the anxious ticketholders thank their stars and count their blessings to be in attendance.

Below, you can check out a gallery of Widespread Panic’s show courtesy of Bill McAlaine.

Setlist: Widespread Panic | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO | 06/28/19

Set One: Puppy Sleeps > Henry Parsons Died, Walk On > Fishwater, St Louis, Rock, Rebirtha, Pigeons (67 mins)
Set Two: Down On The Farm, Tall Boy > Little Lilly > Machine > Barstools and Dreamers, Love Tractor > Jam > I’m Not Alone, Big Wooly Mammoth, Lawyers Guns & Money (78 mins)
Encore: Rumble, Chilly Water (13 mins)