The Southern kings of jam-rock, Widespread Panic, returned to the Harrah’s Cherokee Center one last time on Sunday to close out a three-night run in Asheville, North Carolina. With the delta variant on the rise and news of Jazz Fest‘s 2021 cancellation looming in the air, the band and fans alike seemed to approach the Asheville finale as if it could be their last show for a long while. Panic did its part and required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test before entering the venue (prior to the show, rapid testing was conducted across the street).
John Bell stepped up the mic and introduced the show with a simple yet effective “Evenin’, everybody!” and promptly ended any further thoughts about disruptions to the ongoing tour. Panic jumped headfirst into a pair of originals, opening with a rare “Coconut”, which hadn’t been performed in an opening slot since Panic En La Playa Ocho in 2019, before John “JoJo” Hermann teased “Dark Bar #2” on the way into a howling “Greta”.
Widespread Panic – “Coconut” – 8/8/21
[Video: Patricia Hatcher]
JB’s raw vocals led the way through a glorious cover of Talking Heads’ “City of Dreams” before JoJo’s organ introduced Jerry Joseph and Glenn Esparza’s “Climb to Safety”. The message about helping your fellow brothers and sisters continued with an emotionally wrought “I’m Not Alone” (“Feelin’ a little bit easier now / Knowing that you’re all here!”).
The relatively new arrival “Sundown Betty” made her dance with assistance from Jimmy Herring’s corner as the audience became locked in an “ancient, hypnotic trance.” Duane Trucks’ drum set rolled into a hard-hitting performance of “Junior”. The tune was written as a tribute to the songs of Junior Kimbrough, a label-mate of JoJo’s at Fat Possum Records.
As the first set wound down, the instrumental “Party at Your Mama’s House” gave Jimmy Herring space to roam before The Guess Who’s “No Sugar Tonight / New Mother Nature” closed out the first frame in a raucous uproar.
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Panic emerged from the shadows to interrupt the silence with “From the Cradle”, which has only been performed six times in just as many years. JoJo’s piano melded with Herring’s guitar to carve out an elated “Dear Mr. Fantasy” before segueing into the percussive rhythms of “Rock”. Sunny Ortiz added a wide array of sounds to the mix before a quick-lipped call-and-response section between JB and Schools put the finishing touches on the performance.
Widespread Panic – “Dear Mr. Fantasy” (Traffic) – 8/8/21
[Video: Jonathan Walser]
Jimmy Herring navigated the band through a soaring “Saint Ex”. The song’s build-up and break down of tempo and intensity was inspired by the incredible story of a German pilot shooting down his favorite author, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (of The Little Prince fame) during World War II.
Widespread opened its wings and took flight once more for the first half of “Surprise Valley” before jamming out to an extended improvisation on Black Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral”. In the middle of “Surprise Valley”, Panic first dissected a bone-chilling cut of Funkadelic’s instrumental masterpiece, “Maggot Brain”, and followed that up with an exuberant presentation of Skip James’s “I’m So Glad”. Herring’s guitar strings echoed a sorrowful siren’s song before switching gears into fiesta overdrive for the crowd-favorite tune that was often covered by the band’s late mentor, Col. Bruce Hampton.
Widespread Panic finished out the second half of “Surprise Valley” with the help of the zealous audience’s eager participation before an ass-kickin’ “Postcard” paid the postage on set two and sent it on its way. JB mirrored the crowd’s sentiments with the lyrics, “This town is nuts / My kinda place / I never wanna leave / I never, never, never, never wanna leave!”
Before walking offstage, JB thanked Edie Jackson for her hard work and dedicated services as an A.S.L. interpreter.
Upon returning for encore, Widespread Panic performed Fabian’s “This Friendly World” for just the second time. The debut of the song came during the band’s Andy Kaufman-themed 2019 NOLAween Special. Fittingly, Kaufman famously sang the song “as a reminder to be humane as well as human.”
The treats continued with “Down”, a tribute to late Panic drummer, Todd Nance, who sang vocals on the album’s studio version. The song had recently been revived for the first time since 2014 at the band’s return to Red Rocks in June.
For the grand finale, The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” emerged for the 14th time ever to remind us all of this timeless life lesson (“You can’t always get what you want / but if you try sometimes / you might find / you get what you need!”).
Widespread Panic – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (The Rolling Stones) – 8/8/21
[Vidoeo: John Ellis]
With mystery enshrouding the future of live music, JB erased any doubt among the Widespread Panic faithful with a simple statement after the last cymbals crashed in Asheville, “Thank you, everybody! See you in Austin!”
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Widespread Panic is scheduled to take the stage next week on August 13th-15th at the Moody Theater in Austin, Texas. On Monday, the band announced a similar vaccine and/or testing requirement for the upcoming Austin shows to the one used in Asheville this weekend, with the notable addition of required masking for entry.
I, for one, will do just about anything to ensure live music is here to stay. It may not be what you want, but right now, it’s what we need. Stay healthy, be smart, travel safe, see you in Austin… WSMFP!
For a full list of upcoming Widespread Panic tour dates, head here.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Harrah’s Cherokee Center | Asheville, NC | 8/8/21
Set One: Coconut, Greta, City of Dreams, Climb To Safety, I’m Not Alone, Sundown Betty, Junior, Party At Your Mama’s House > No Sugar Tonight / New Mother Nature (77 mins)
Set Two: From the Cradle, Dear Mr. Fantasy > Rock, Saint Ex, Surprise Valley > Maggot Brain > I’m So Glad > Surprise Valley, Postcard (72 mins)
Encore: This Friendly World, Down, You Can’t Always Get What You Want (19 mins)
Notes – ‘Dear Mr. Fantasy’ LTP 8/04/19 St Augustine (35 shows)
– ‘Electric Funeral’ bass jam out of ‘Surprise Valley’
– ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ LTP 3/31/19 Durham (50 shows)
– w/ Edie Jackson, ASL interpreter, entire show