John “JoJo” Hermann, keyboardist for Widespread Panic and New Orleans’ jazz fanatic, returned to the digital stage on Thursday night for the seventh and final episode of his Shut Up and Play series. As always, JoJo performed from Todd Snider’s The Purple Building in Nashville, with all proceeds from the stream benefitting Nuci’s Space.
While this week’s stream featured the customary Shut Up and Play mix of Widespread Panic favorites and classic covers, Thursday’s stream also included a pair of notable cover debuts.
JoJo kicked off the night with “Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand”. Although written by Ray Charles, JoJo’s musical idol, a popular version of the song was also recorded by various other Hermann favorites, from Professor Longhair to Mose Allison. To follow, JoJo revived “Smoking Factory” off his 2003 solo album, Defector. Panic hasn’t covered this song as a group since the “Milwookie” run of 2017.
To round out the first trio of uninterrupted songs, JoJo performed “Bayou Lena”, the sought-after WSP cut inspired by John Kennedy Toole’s novel Confederacy of Dunces. After the music subsided, JoJo delved into the song’s lyrics, “goin’ up to New Orleans,” explaining how they wanted to switch it up and be different from everybody else who writes about going down to New Orleans.
JoJo also predicted a lively May in New Orleans. “Gonna be playing down at the Maple Leaf in May,” he revealed. “It’ll be when Jazz Fest would have been. Even though they moved Jazz Fest to later [in the year]. We’re gonna have Jazz Fest anyway and New Orleans is gonna be cookin’ for Jazz Fest. I’ll be there.”
Returning to music behind a piano flourish, JoJo played “Dyin’ Man”, which marked the song’s first appearance during a Shut Up and Play stream. Before the performance, JoJo mentioned that he wrote this song in Taylor, Mississippi, like several of his other compositions. Shifting melodies, JoJo segued into his well-known version of “Dark Bar”, which has been included on several setlists since its resurrection at Red Rocks in 2019 after a seven-year disappearance. “Visiting Day”, another Widespread Panic crowd favorite, finished up the second triumphant triad of tunes with its bouncing rhythm and honest lyrics: “I’ll sing a sad song / If you get me high!”
After embracing the silence, JoJo pulled the Willie Stargell bobblehead off the coffee table in the background to help explain the meaning behind the titular lyrics, “like an orphan’s eyes on Visiting Day”. JoJo previously spoke about the ways in which star outfielder influenced on him last year in Episode 3 and Episode 4.
Taking a request from Bailey in the audience, JoJo debuted a cover of Dr. John’s “Such a Night”. The late Hall of Fame pianist, born Malcolm John Rebennack Jr., was another New Orleans legend who helped mold JoJo’s musical perspective. JoJo segued from there into “Junco Partner”, the NOLA standard originally recorded by James Wayne in 1951, before flowing seamlessly into “Jaded Tourist” for the first time this year. JoJo injected “wobbling all over Bourbon Street” to keep the New Orleans theme omnipresent. The song hasn’t been covered by Widespread Panic since the opening show of a two-night run in 2006 at Atlanta’s Fox Theater.
Before continuing with the final three selections, JoJo thanked the audience members who contributed to Nuci’s Space and hinted that the return of live shows may be nigh: “I think it’s time to start playing live shows again,” he mused. JoJo went on to admit that he noticed songwriters tend to write different songs with different titles and he wanted to go against the grain by having three different songs with the same name to mess with his publisher. He pondered calling the collective of compositions the “Bar Wars Trilogy” before ambling through the intoxicating rhythm of his side project Slim Wednesday’s “Dark Bar”.
Quickening the pace, JoJo unearth an evolutionary “Big Wooly Mammoth” which featured several tempo changes as JoJo reined in the prehistoric beast for a barnyard boot stomper. Ending on a positive note, JoJo thanked the crew behind the scenes and dedicated the final song to the producer of the Shut Up and Play series, who was not only celebrating his birthday but is also big Vic Chesnutt fan. While brainstorming on the expansive Chesnutt repertoire and reminiscing about his first time meeting Chesnutt during the recording of Ain’t Life Grand (“or possibly Bombs & Butterflies…”), JoJo recommended a music documentary on YouTube entitled What Doesn’t Kill Me, directed by Scott Stuckey.
To conclude both episode seven and the Shut Up and Play series as a whole, JoJo performed “Rabbit Box”, his personal favorite Vic Chesnutt song. The slow and lyrically intensive ballad, characteristic of Chesnutt, came off his 2004 album, Little.
This is not the end of JoJo’s time on stage as he prepares for his consecutive shows on March 12th and 13th with Jerry Joseph at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek, Colorado. Hopefully, this dark cloud lingering from the one of the worst years in recent memory can disperse and new light can shine on the horizon. As JoJo himself admitted, the time has come for live music to return. I cannot guarantee much (besides death and taxes) except that the next Widespread Panic run will feature yours truly in the pit strutting like a peacock with a beak full of whiskey. And that’s a promise. Stay well, Goodpeople.
JoJo Hermann – Shut Up and Play Episode 7 – 3/11/21
[Video: Widespread Panic]
Setlist: JoJo Hermann | Shut Up and Play Episode 7 | 3/11/20
Set: Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand > Smoking Factory > Bayou Lena, Dyin’ Man > Dark Bar (#1) > Visiting Day, Such a Night^ > Junco Partner > Jaded Tourist, Dark Bar (#2) > Big Wooly Mammoth, Rabbit Box^
Dark Bar #1 : traditional WSP
Dark Bar #2: Slim Wednesday
^FTP: “Such a Night” (Dr John) & “Rabbit Box” (Vic Chesnutt)