After the Covid-19 pandemic took the needle off the record and unceremoniously paused live music for almost a year and half, a string of cancellations weighed heavy upon the souls of the Goodpeople. However, all was right in the world on Friday as Widespread Panic arrived at a sold-out (61 and counting), full-capacity Red Rocks for their customary three-night, late-June run—a symbolic return to normalcy.

All the boredom, despair, and feelings of being cooped up were immediately forgotten when backwards-hat John Bell and the rest of the band walked out on stage to cook up a scorching show entirely comprised of original songs.

The music fell with the rain, washing away the doldrums of the hiatus like a garden hose for muddy dog paws.

Opening the first night, Panic dusted off “I’m Not Alone” to commemorate the return of the live music with that heartfelt reminder. It’s been months since most of the community has seen each other. Dirt was kicked up in clouds as friends ran to each other to give those much-needed hugs.

Keeping it classic, a slow “Porch Song” accelerated into the lightning-fast instrumental “Disco”. Dave Schools’ diabolical whims kept the inferno a-blazing as he bounced his merry way through “Rebirtha” and “Blackout Blues. John “JoJo” Hermann held down his end of the bargain with his bawdy barroom vocals.

To follow, WSP extended the instrumental “Happy” into a euphoric, 14-minute jam that sent dopamine receptors to firing like pistons in an unstoppable locomotive barreling down the tracks. JoJo dazzled on the organ and Jimmy Herring showed the audience how he spent his time off the road.

Widespread Panic proceed with a tribute to the loyal audience and tight-knit, eclectic community with an extended “Good People” featuring a bonus “Dark Bar” JoJo section led by the mysterious prophet of piano. After returning to and finishing out the latter half of “Good People”, Widespread ended the set with “Pigeons”, a soaring flight over the valley until crash landing into Herring’s catacombs. Those ancient crypts are filled with the souls that never returned from the cosmic limits of a Jimmy Herring guitar solo. When you hitchhike at light speed, it’s best to buckle up.

After set break, Panic retook their respective positions and continued the stream of heavy-hitting originals. JoJo, the smiling assassin, blazed the way into a rockin’ “Bust It Big”. Jimmy Herring’s guitar peppered in sizzling licks. Schools barreled from one thumpin’ bassline into the next with “Little Lily” bleeding into a massive, improvised jam section.

JB led the wayward audience through a wandering “Pilgrims” before Jimmy Herring expertly piloted into “Saint Ex”, cutting through the clouds like an airplane’s minigun in a dogfight. The song was based on the story of a German pilot who shot down his favorite author, Frenchman Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in WWII. (“If I knew I knew you, I never would have shot you down”).

JB once more commanded the vocal helm for a tumbling take on “All Time Low” with some sly teases melted down into the alloy mix. After, the vocalist conspired with the scoundrel “Jack” and the two rogues “whomp[ed] up biscuits for us all.”

Digging deeper into their repertoire, Panic resurrected back-to-back originals with “Give”, performed for the first time since a 2016 show in Knoxville. Once Herring touched ground again, the band followed with succinct version of “Down” for the first time since the second LOCKN’ Festival in 2014. (“Take along some of your favorite things / ‘Cause you’re gonna need ’em!”), an homage to the song’s longtime featured vocalist, late founding drummer Todd Nance, who passed away last summer at the age of 57.

To round out the second frame, an uplifting, piano-laden “May Your Glass Be Filled” overflowed into the beloved MichaelHouser tune, “Space Wrangler.” In both songs, JB offers honest blessings and raises his spiritual glass to a full-capacity cheers! (“To friends so near!”). As the song broke down and the band picked up speed and intensity, the skies opened up and heavy rain fell.

Remaining in the catalog of their 1988 debut album, Widespread Panic carved out the rowdy first track “Chilly Water” for a standalone—though standout—encore. JB introduced the curtain call with a thank you to the audience for “Coming out and braving the rain.” If any water still survived the night, it didn’t manage to escape its free-flying fate. Not that the air needed any more water with the rain still falling by the bucketful.

Widespread Panic returns to Morrison’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre again tonight for the second installment of the three-night run. As always, come prepared for anything. The vibe and excitement cannot be contained; the boys are back in town.

Check out the setlist and a selection of videos from the first night of Widespread Panic’s three-show run at Red Rocks below. For a full list of upcoming Widespread Panic tour dates, head here.

Widespread Panic – Set One Preview – 6/25/21

[Video: Widespread Panic]

Widespread Panic – Set Two Preview – 6/25/21

[Video: Widespread Panic]

Widespread Panic – “Down”  – 6/25/21

[Video: D Ragoose]

Setlist [via PanicStream]: Widespread Panic | Red Rocks | Morrison, CO | 6/25/21

Set One: I’m Not Alone, Porch Song > Disco > Rebirtha, Blackout Blues, Happy, Good People > Dark Bar > Good People, Pigeons (66 mins)

Set Two: Bust It Big, Little Lilly > Jam > Pilgrims, Saint Ex, All Time Low, Jack, Give, Down, May Your Glass Be Filled, Space Wrangler (76 mins)

Encore: Chilly Water (10 mins)

Notes – slow ‘Porch Song’
– ‘Give’ LTP 4/25/2016 Knoxville (171 shows)
– ‘Down’ LTP 9/17/2014 Lockn’ Festival (293 shows) RIP Todd
– Entire show with Edie Jackson, ASL interpreter