Zealots from all over the country shlepped south of the border for the 11th iteration of Widespread Panic’s destination festival, Panic En La Playa. Strategically located at the Hard Rock Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico, the event drew a devoted sect of the band’s community, who overcame Southwest cancellations, an FAA outage that caused flights to be delayed nationwide, and a taxicab strike where a blockade was formed outside the Cancun airport due to a new law being passed which legalizes Uber drivers to operate in Mexico.
The obstacles made relaxation that much better when toes hit the sand and guests dined and imbibed libations while waist deep in a pool or lagoon. This is a world class experience for the lucky ones who return year after year. By the time the sun set, the main courtyard began to fill up. The stage was set; huge fifty-pound bowls of guacamole, taco carts, bars every few feet, and a medley of other eateries lined the outer edges of the courtyard.
A quarter before 8 p.m. local time, the tropical tradition was sanctified by WSP’s tour manager, Steve Lopez, and Annabel Lukins who asked attendees to direct their energy on the celebration of life today and every day. Shortly thereafter, Widespread Panic shuffled onstage to an uncontained uproar that echoed around courtyard.
Kicking PELP 11 off in an appropriately tropical vibe, Panic opened with “Coconuts” and brought back memories of PELP Ocho. Jimmy Herring wasted no time and cut a sizzling guitar solo into the mix. Maintaining the theme and keeping the reggae feel, the band swung into “Sleepy Monkey” and landed softly on the shoreline of J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High” below.
JoJo Hermann pumped up the courtyard’s energy with his keyboard and vocals (“The less you want / the more you got / so don’t you cry for more!” until Dave Schools anchored into the hefty bass line of “Bear’s Gone Fishin’” (“It’s sunny at the edge of the sea”). After a short pause, WSP cracked open a crispy, cold “Tall Boy” (“feelin’ weak in the Itta Bena hot sun”) before moving onto a gritty cover of Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West” (“Little brown sausages lyin’ in the sand”). John Bell’s gravelly vocals took the forefront as Schools jumped in to echo some harmonies to close out the song.
Opening with the mellow introduction to “Airplane”, the six-piece band soon accelerated down the runway into the “Take Off Jam”, which soared until the end of the set. Panic deftly piloted the music into a “glad” combination as a hearty “You Should Be Glad” jam washed ashore into Skip James’s “I’m So Glad” to end the first set of Playa in euphoric jubilation.
Blowing the door of the second set off its hinges, Panic returned with guns a-blazin’ as a blistering “Little Kin” and “Thought Sausage” were branded into the setlist. Slowing it down to honor fallen friend, Bloodkin’s Daniel Hutchens, WSP performed a poignant “Trashy” (“I’m telling you we’re trashy but we’re true / … / We’re the lucky ones”).
WSP built momentum with a trio of originals as “Jack” transported the audience back into the feudal age of kings, castles, and jesters with an eye for the queen. Schools led the charge on the instrumental “Machine”, and the pistons fired on all six cylinders before pulling up into an empty seat at the bar for an intoxicating concoction of “Barstools and Dreamers”. JoJo and Jimmy stirred a disco-era tease of Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” into the potent potion before Steve Lopez joined the band on stage for a howlin’ cover of War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness”.
Without stopping, WSP segued unselfishly into “Give” as the originals kept flowing. A lengthy sequence of jams began with Sunny Ortiz’s windchimes and the first half of “Driving Song”. JB’s voice ascended into the heavens as he sung the tongue-twisted lyrics of “Tickle the Truth”. The second instrumental of the set followed as “B of D” led into the conclusion of “Driving Song”. Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul” closed out the second set with an exclamation mark.
After extended sets, WSP returned for a single encore as Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy”, a song also covered by Dead & Company just down the road on the same night, rang out pure and true. JB’s vocals flawlessly executed the coup de grâce to finish the first night of festivities.
Late-night entertainment for the insatiable crowd of audiophiles was provided by the Playa Allstars (consisting of Eric Krasno, Ivan Neville, George Porter Jr., Jennifer Hartswick, Chali 2na, Cochemea Gastelum, and Raymond Weber). A cover-laden setlist that featured The Beatles’ “Come Together”, Robert Palmer’s “Sneakin’ Sally Thru the Alley”, The Meters’ “Hey Pocky Way”, Joe Scott and Don Robey’s “Turn On Your Lovelight” along with a handful or funky jams born within New Orleans’ rich music history.
WSP hits the courtyard again tonight for the second show of Panic en la Playa Once. Weather looks clear for the rest of the run so let’s soak up the sun and tequila together.
See you Good People in the lagoon! First round of drinks is on me.
Widespread Panic – “Coconuts” – 1/14/23
[Video: Michael Wilker]
Widespread Panic – “Goin’ Out West” (Tom Waits) – 1/14/23
Widespread Panic – “Jack” – 1/14/23
Widespread Panic – “Give” – 1/14/23
[Video: Michael Wilker]
Widespread Panic – “Dear Mr. Fantasy” (Traffic) – 1/14/23
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Panic en la Playa | Hard Rock Resort | Riviera Maya, Mexico | 1/14/23 8:08 ET
Set 1: Coconut, Sleepy Monkey > Ride Me High (J.J. Cale) > Bear’s Gone Fishin’, Tall Boy, Goin’ Out West (Tom Waits), Airplane > Take-off Jam > You Should Be Glad, I’m So Glad (Skip James) (82 mins)
Set 2: Little Kin, Thought Sausage, Trashy (BloodKin), Jack, Machine > Barstools and Dreamers, Slippin’ Into Darkness* (War) > Give, Driving Song > Tickle The Truth > B of D > Driving Song, Mr Soul (Buffalo Springfield) (94 mins)
Encore: Dear Mr Fantasy (Traffic) (8 mins)
Notes * w/ Steve Lopez on percussion
– ‘Genius Of Love’ (Tom Tom Club) tease by JoJo during ‘Barstools and Dreamers’
After Playa Allstars 12-2am