Widespread Panic returned to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, TN for the band’s first show on New Year’s Eve in three years. The jubilee in Music City featured three sets, tons of improvisational jams, tributes, covers, and two very special bust-outs after midnight to celebrate the new year.

After a simple greeting from the humble frontman John Bell (“Hello, everybody!”), Dave Schools steered the gang into the bouncing rhythm of “Little Lilly”. JB remained seated and wielded an acoustic guitar during the entirety of the first set. As JoJo Hermann’s fingers retraced familiar trails across his piano, Schools and JB harmonized the concluding refrain, echoing to silence. (“It’s only real if you believe.”)

Consecutive classics followed as “Walkin’ (For Your Love)” strolled into “Wondering” before JoJo sailed into turbulent waters for a heart-wrenching performance of “Nobody’s Loss”. After a brief pause, JB got saucy during a rendition of Bukka White’s “Fixin’ To Die” and their late mentor Col. Bruce Hampton was clearly on their minds. (“I don’t mind dying / But I hate to leave my children crying”).

Schools saddled up the wagon for a trailblazing tribute to Vic Chesnutt with brute.‘s “Blight”. After the second verse, the impish bassist quipped, “… You gotta scrape the shit off of your shoes sometimes.” Keeping the fire burning, WSP presented Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross” for only the fifth time since the reggae superstar joined Panic onstage at LOCKN’ ’15 and only the 13th time ever. Four of those performances took place on New Year’s Eve weekend.

Related: Jamaican Cult Classic ‘The Harder They Come’ Headed For The Stage As A Musical

Closing out the appetizing first frame, JoJo took the helm for an intoxicating roadhouse rendition of “Blackout Blues”. Panic walked offstage for the first time of the night, giving the rowdy audience a chance to refresh and relieve themselves before the approaching two sets.

As the band returned for the second set, JoJo stayed in control for a lively retelling of his first gig with Widespread during “One Arm Steve”. Following a soaring segue, the band landed atop a mountain perch high above “Surprise Valley” but midway into the song, the melody plummeted into a heavy “Rock”. Before hitting the ground, Panic spread its wings wide and took flight into the second half of “Surprise Valley”.

John Bell’s slide guitar slathered tasty guitar riffs all over the smoking bass rhythms of “Ribs and Whiskey” until switching gears for a growling vocal performance of Murray McLaughlin’s “Honky Red”. The gravelly vocals spilled over into Willie Dixon’s “Tail Dragger” before slowing it down for the lyrically verbose cover of Bloodkin’s “Trashy” (RIP Daniel Hutchens).

Without stopping, Panic charged into a howling “Greta” and kept the music flowing as “All Time Low” was devoured by the audience of hungry piranhas. Widespread tied a bow on a euphoric second set and 2022 with a lengthy, thirst-quenching “Chilly Water”. The party anthem wouldn’t be complete without participants freeing their water/beer/smuggled liquor from their containers and into the air.

Before the third set, Panic’s road manager, Steve Lopez, led the audience through a countdown into 2023. After “Auld Lang Syne” rang out briefly from the stadium’s speakers—with JB and Schools joining in on kazoos—accompanying the falling balloons and confetti, the members of Widespread Panic returned to their positions to bust out Stephen Stills’ “Love the One Your With” for the first time since WSP’s earliest days. This marked only the 11th time in band history and the first time played since 1987—a gap of 3,083 shows.

Without pausing, Panic seamlessly transitioned into “Ain’t Life Grand” as the energy soared through the roof of Bridgestone Arena. Herring’s sizzling guitar licks synergized with Schools’ steady bass to fuel the reliable engine of “Love Tractor”, keeping the pistons firing in mechanical harmony. Duane Trucks‘ rolling drums excavated “Big Wooly Mammoth” for a piano-laden, prehistoric romp around Music City.

An infernal “Disco” then blazed into a massive “Second Skin”. Schools led the vanguard, breaking down and rebuilding the rhythm like the rising tide. The crest of each subsequent wave reached a little higher than the previous peak. Following a loose section of enigmatic jamming, Schools anchored into the spiraling maelstrom grooves of “Tie Your Shoes”.

The New Year’s party kept the vibes unmatched as WSP segued into J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High”. One final uninterrupted transition—which featured a short “Little Lilly” reprise—meandered into Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In the Free World” to wind down the third set of the night and the first set of 2023.

Three sets in and Widespread Panic was far from done as a three-song encore kept the fans on the edge of their seats until the very end. After wishing the crowd a happy new year, John Bell acknowledged that “This was the first time in three years that we were able to play on New Year’s and thank you very much for bringing us back.”

Without further ado, JoJo’s piano introduced Vic Chesnutt’s “Expiration Day” to break through the applause. The craziest bust-out of the night followed as WSP unburied “Sandbox” for the first time in 20 years—the first performance since the passing of guitarist Michael Houser.

Fans have been begging for this song’s return for so long that most people believed it would never come back. As JB introduced Mikey’s song with the opening lyrics, “Barstool rodeos in town,” jaws hit the floor in astonishment. Once the initial surprise wore off, the tears began to flow, and friends and companions hugged and sang along arm-in-arm.

For the last song of the night, Widespread Panic went back to its first album to conclude the run with a timeless “Porch Song.” Fast-paced and joyous in its merriment up to the bittersweet ending, Widespread Panic walked away from the glowing stage lights and ascended into the pantheon of greatness.

With spring runs starting to fill the 2023 schedule, all eyes are set on Panic en la Playa Once. See ya’ll in the lagoon. Happy new year, everybody.

Widespread Panic – “Fixin’ To Die” (Bukka White) – 12/31/22

[Video: Fred Ramadan]

Widespread Panic – “Blight” (brute.) – 12/31/22

[Video: Fred Ramadan]

Widespread Panic – “Chilly Water” – 12/31/22

[Video: Fred Ramadan]

Widespread Panic – “Love The One You’re With” (Stephen Stills) – 12/31/22

[Video: Mike Wallace]

Widespread Panic – “Second Skin” – 12/31/22

[Video: Fred Ramadan]

Widespread Panic – “Sandbox”, “Porch Song” – 12/31/22

[Video: Fred Ramadan]

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Widespread Panic – Bridgestone Arena – Nashville, TN – 12/31/22 – Full Audio

Setlist: Widespread Panic | Bridgestone Arena | Nashville, TN | 12/31/22

Set One: Little Lilly, Walkin’ (For Your Love), Wondering, Nobody’s Loss, Fixin’ To Die (Bukka White), Blight (brute.), Many Rivers To Cross (Jimmy Cliff), Blackout Blues (53 mins)

Set Two: One Arm Steve > Surprise Valley > Rock > Surprise Valley, Ribs and Whiskey, Honky Red (Murray McLaughlin), Tail Dragger, Trashy (Bloodkin) > Greta > All Time Low, Chilly Water (91 mins)

Set Three: Love The One You’re With (Stephen Stills) > Ain’t Life Grand, Love Tractor > Big Wooly Mammoth, Disco, Second Skin > Tie Your Shoes > Ride Me High (J.J. Cale) > Rockin’ In The Free World (Neil Young) (71 mins)

Encore Expiration Day, Sandbox, Porch Song (16 mins)

Notes – 1st set with JB seated & acoustic

– LTP “Many Rivers To Cross” 8/25/19 Nashville (94 shows)

– Countdown by Steve Lopez followed by a brief  “Auld Lang Syne” played over PA

– LTP “Love The One You’re With” 1/3/87 Macon (3,084 SHOWS!)

– LTP “Sandbox” 10/28/01 New Orleans (1,246 shows); First time since Mikey