The undisputed kings of Red Rocks, Widespread Panic, retook the mountain stage on Friday for their long-established run, which historically takes place on the last full weekend of June. Most of the Panic community was already entrenched to support the band opening for the Rolling Stones on Thursday at Empower Field in Denver.

The doors opened earlier than usual—at 5 p.m.—and the sun was still sizzling skin, the parking lot’s blacktop, and the surrounding geological features, indifferent of its target. When the zealous fans took their spots in line, the heat was emanating from all the nearby stone, baking them like a landscape-sized oven.

JB and the Panics emerged from the shadows offstage to their respective positions. John Bell rocked out with sunglasses on and Jimmy Herring wore a baseball cap to protect his face from the sun. JoJo Hermann, protected from the canopy’s shade, was hatless.

The excitement was palpable when Widespread collectively rolled up their sleeves and started the weekend’s festivities with Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul”. Jimmy Herring took the reins on two early solos during the opener before maintaining momentum for a euphoric “Ain’t Life Grand”. Always on point, Sonny Ortiz added a dreamlike flourish of wind chimes to punctuate JB’s lyrics, “gonna bring her a kiss.”

Passing the jam baton around, “Up All Night” showcased the seamless coordination during transitions between JB’s vocals, JoJo’s piano, and another monster Jimmy Herring solo. Afterwards, Sonny’s castanets welcomed “I’m Not Alone” to the feel-good party. JoJo’s piano accelerated the tempo until another breakdown left Jimmy Herring in the reins with his black and white PRS. Dave Schools had the final word as he cut a swathe into the mix with a downtempo bass solo.

“Good People” reminded the dehydrated crowd to drink water before JoJo took the helm to guide the audience through a labyrinth of winding back alleys and into “Dark Bar”. After JoJo’s piano and vocals echoed into the distance, WSP returned into “Good People” before setting the stew to simmer during a girthy “Thought Sausage”.

For the 12th time since its debut at Red Rocks last summer, WSP crowned “King Baby”. Little by little, WSP has been perfecting this tune with every performance and last night hit hard. To close out the first frame, Panic shifted gears for one final ride on a “Love Tractor”, complete with all hootin’, hollerin’, and yee-mafkin-hawin’.

Coming back for round two, Dave Schools barged into the second set with a slew of bass-heavy tunes, leading the pack with Parliament Funkadelic’s “Red Hot Mama” before segueing into “Bear’s Gone Fishin’”. Appropriately, “BGF” was inspired by the recently fallen longtime WSP fan, Thomas “Bear” Guenther, who long resided amidst the mountains of Colorado.

Bloodthirsty for more action, Schools took lead vocals for Vic Chesnutt’s “Blight” and used his opportunity to riff on Louisiana’s new law that mandates the 10 Commandments in classrooms. After cruising through the familiar backroads of the first half of “Driving Song”, Dave stepped aside to relinquish control to JoJo, who steered into a raucous “Greta”. With the full moon rising high in the distance, the crowd transformed into a rabid pack of howlin’ animals.

JoJo slid over on his bench, switching between piano and organ, and dug into “You Got Yours” after a tease of Gary Numan’s “Cars”. During the song, a refreshing breeze began to circulate between Creation and Ship Rock. In response, the crowd cheered gratefully to the wind gods. Dave Schools anchored the music with a bass solo under the spotlight as WSP teased Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon” and The Meters’ “Hey Pocky Way” before diving into the furious jams of “Tie Your Shoes”.

After a maelstrom breakdown, the two drummers combined forces for a fatty-daddy “Drums” section. Duane Trucks kicked it into high gear early, and Sonny flexed his agility, adeptly switching between two drumsticks, one stick and one hand, and then finally no sticks as his hands became a blur as they danced across his multi-faceted kit. As the other four bandmates returned to their instruments, Jimmy Herring accelerated through the instrumental “Party At Your Mama’s House” before dishing out a quick “Tie Your Shoes” reprise as well as the second half of “Driving Song”.

With the second set winding down, Widespread broke the silence with a heartfelt performance of “Down”. Many will remember when WSP brought this tune off the shelf in honor of fallen bandmate, Todd Nance, amidst a downpour at Red Rocks in 2021 after a seven-year hiatus. To carve out the finale of the second set, JB embraced his inner Hannibal Lector during “Halloween Face” in what can only be described as a straight evil heater.

Always ready to honor their fallen heroes, Widespread Panic tipped their metaphorical caps to one of their recently fallen heroes, the hall of fame baseball player, Willie Mays, with a three-song encore. A bass-heavy “Rebirtha” described a town where “real life’s a game / and baseball’s all that’s real” before JoJo took the helm for “One Arm Steve”. The song contains the lyrics, “Well Say Hey Willie Mays / what’s in your suitcase full of wonders?” as well as, “Willie Mays is not a toker / but he always knows / what’s going on!”

Lastly, Panic buried the dagger into the first night of Red Rocks’ weekend with Vic Chesnutt’s “Expiration Day”. As is tradition, John Bell’s vocals cut like a spiritual scalpel right into the souls of those lucky enough to be in attendance.

Two more nights ahead. Hydrate, the sun and stairs will beat you if you let em, but we prepare for this so let’s show ‘em what we got tonight on the Rocks. Safety third!

Watch all of Widespread Panic’s Red Rocks run live via Single-night and three-show pay-per-view webcast bundles are available here. [Editor’s Note: Live For Live Music is a nugs affiliate. Ordering your nugs subscription or purchasing a livestream pass via the links on this page helps support our coverage of the world of live music. Thank you for reading!]

Widespread Panic – “Mr Soul”, “Ain’t Life Grand” – 6/21/24

Setlist [via PanicStream]: Widespread Panic | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO | 6/21/24

Set 1: Mr Soul, Ain’t Life Grand, Up All Night > I’m Not Alone, Good People > Dark Bar > Good People, Thought Sausage, King Baby > Love Tractor (58 mins)

Set 2: Red Hot Mama > Bear’s Gone Fishin’ > Blight > Driving Song > Greta > You Got Yours > Entering A Black Hole Backwards > Tie Your Shoes > Drums > Party At Your Mama’s House > Driving Song, Down, Halloween Face (108 mins)

Encore: Rebirtha, One Arm Steve, Expiration Day (RIP Willie Mays – 18 mins)

Notes – ‘Hey Pocky Way’ and ‘Paint It Black’ teases during ‘Tie Your Shoes’