This year, the long-running SweetWater 420 Fest is celebrating its 15th anniversary overall as well as its 5th Anniversary in Atlanta, GA’s Centennial Olympic Park. On Saturday, the fest offered a heady lineup featuring Cory Henry & the Funk Apostles, The Band of Heathens, Everyone Orchestra, BIG Something, Moon Taxi, and Iration, amongst many others.
This year’s festival designated a generous 3.5-hour Saturday headlining slot to the musical kings of the Georgian swamps, Widespread Panic. A free video stream was offered by Nugs.tv, capturing the glory in video form as well as the usual live streams presented by the MIXLR app and panicstream.com. As is tradition these days, the rockers threw down a badass old-school show with John Bell in the forefront wearing an entirely black letterman jacket with a backward Bojangles hat that declared “I love my chicken!”
The six-piece band of holy crusaders emerged from the endless smoke clouds billowing from the audience to nail a sizzling rendition of “All Time Low”. Jimmy Herring tumbled barrel after barrel of lightning licks down the waterfall while JB advised to “shoot first; ask questions later, if anybody mess with you.” The intense tempo cascaded downward as the Panics soared through the first half of “Surprise Valley” before a smokin’ cover of P-Funk’s “Red Hot Mama” threatened to consume the entire city in flames.
A sanctified “Pleas” restored order in Centennial Olympic Park as the uplifting music nurtured the wounded souls, reminding the audience “Don’t let it get too dark.” “Who Do You Belong To?”, a crisp cover of fellow Georgian rockers, The Bloodkin, transpired through the wisps of smoke before the percussionists led into the second half of “Surprise Valley.”
John Bell led the stage through a mystical “Hatfield” where the chance of rain skyrocketed as the “smoke teared an angel’s eye” and JB captivated with a whirlwind improvised rap. A serene “Holden Oversoul” saw Jimmy Herring accompany the “ghost of a clown, [who] danced in and did a few tricks and danced out again.” The jaunty rhythm of “Sell, Sell” transitioned fluidly into a bouncing “Love Tractor” for an explosive end to the first set.
Upon return, Widespread Panic dazzled with the absurdly wild ride of “Pigeons”, the audience bobbing their heads to the beat. Dave Schools kept that bass line stomping with a cover of J.J. Cale’s “Travelin’ Light” which reminded everyone of the only way to fly. JoJo Hermann took the vocal lead on “Greta”, while JB echoed yowling punctuations with his own personal reverb and Schools provided feral howls to the vocal mélange. After a burning-hot transitional jam, Widespread introduced the lively beat of Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” while JB lit a cardboard and charcoal fire in a barrel and began to warm the place up with his suave vocals.
After giving the barrels fire time to grow, JoJo’s keys teased Little Feat’s “Dixie Chicken” before patiently dancing his way into “Ribs & Whiskey” as Schools stepped up to hammer home the swinging bass. JB, JoJo, and Schools threw a grate over the barrel-fire and began roasting meat. As the jam wound on, Schools and JB drizzled barbecue sauce over the slow-cooked ribs and took a break to eat while Jimmy Herring brought the audience to a time and place where hunger didn’t exist. The boys finally returned with whiskey breath and saucy fingers to pick up the shards of the time-space continuum that Jimmy Herring left shattered.
Sticking to the classics, Schools introduced “Rebirtha” and shadowed JB’s lead vocals (“I know I’ve seen your face before… Maybe in a past life…? Maybe, it was last night, I really don’t know”). An exuberant jam returned to Earth on cue with a Jimmy Herring head nod, and after a small pause, JoJo’s piano blazed a trail into the crowd-favorite “Tall Boy.” The crowd guzzled down a double dose of JB and JoJo sharing vocals in this tasty treat as Schools lent his potent additives to the choral concoction. Schools and JB were sporting identical devilish grins, and some exchange between the two caused JB to include “Monumental expressions/ Silhouetted faces” into the second verse with a chuckle.
JoJo remained at the helm for a prehistoric romp around the boneyard with a lively “Big Wooly Mammoth” to resurrect the shaggy beast from the Ice Age into the “Fortnite world” of today. Not many lighters were thrown for this “Mammoth”, as many in the audience elected to save their personal torches for other holiday-appropriate purposes.
To close the second set, the Panic men performed a raucous “Chilly Water”. The position in the setlist seemed to intentionally give tokers ample time to light up before the water flew, and equal parts water and smoke were released into the local atmosphere. The party anthem, written during a time when JB worked as a landscaper, examines the political discussions of enclosure and water privatization.
Returning for an encore, the band wisely chose these two songs to extinguish the several small fires around the park that were threatening to connect and burn the stage down. First, they unleased a 4/20-friendly cover of Van Morrison’s “And It Stoned Me.” Widespread Panic finished off their first night of music with another Bloodkin cover, “Makes Sense to Me.” The song posits three different social injustices that provoked violent retribution outside the courtroom in which the narrator admits that it “Makes Sense to Me.” The last verse begins with “Talking to a black man from Atlanta”, appropriate to the setting.
Widespread Panic returns to the stage at 6:30 PM EST tonight for one last gallivant through Atlanta with a special Easter Sunday service. Never miss a Sunday show, especially when Widespread returns to the South.
Widespread Panic – Sweetwater 420 Fest – 4/20/19 – Full Pro-Shot Video
Widespread Panic will once again take the stage at SweetWater 420 Fest tonight, Sunday, April 21st, beginning at 6:30 p.m. ET. You can watch a free live webcast of the performance here. For a full list of Widespread Panic’s upcoming tour dates, head here.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | SweetWater 420 Fest | Atlanta, GA | 4/20/19
Set One: All Time Low, Surprise Valley > Red Hot Mama > Pleas > Who Do You Belong To? > Surprise Valley, Hatfield, Holden Oversoul, Sell Sell > Love Tractor (68 mins)
Set Two: Pigeons, Travelin’ Light, Greta > Life During Wartime, Ribs and Whiskey, Rebirtha, Tall Boy, Big Wooly Mammoth > Chilly Water (77 mins)
Encore: And It Stoned Me, Makes Sense To Me (11 mins)