The rock and roll titans, Widespread Panic, retook the stage at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado, for the 59th time with 55 consecutive sell-outs on Friday night. With temperature dropping following a sweltering, sunny day, a cool breeze began to circulate as the musicians took their appropriate positions in their customary nonchalant manner. The unofficial seventh member of Widespread Panic, Edie Jackson, was crushing it front stage, half-translating, half-dancing with her American Sign Language interpretations of the band.
To commence the three-night run, the band dove right into an energetic cover of Bob Dylan’s “Solid Rock.” On the last time this song was played, a torrential downpour lashed violently and forced the first night of Panic en la Playa Siete to end early. Luckily, the weather showed no signs of such violence this time. After a crashing conclusion, Jimmy Herring dished out the opening licks to the original heater “One Armed Steve.” From Til the Medicine Takes, the song describes the humorous story of JoJo Hermann joining the band, and JoJo retold the story flawlessly while singing and playing keys.
Brushing the dust off another original, the musicians kicked into “Glory”, which hasn’t been played since October of last year in Milwookie. John Bell was in rare form as he began to generate raw power from the venue’s intrinsic energy. Following with another classic, the band drove a heavy “Contentment Blues.” From their debut album, Space Wrangler, the sizzling jam features a lively John Bell romanticizing about fried chicken and sweet-smelling air.
A fiery rendition of Van Morrison’s “Send Your Mind” followed, which hasn’t been played since the atypically political setlist in the second night of Birmingham following the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Dave Schools took the vocal reins for a cover of Vic Chestnutt’s “Sleeping Man.” A possessed Schools hammered out the jaunty bass notes of this old-school jam from their self-titled second album while singing with a mystical concentration.
This led to a series of smooth transitions beginning with Sonny Ortiz’s tinkling introduction of “Driving Song.” After a rocking first verse, the band changed gears and manipulated the music into Michael Houser’s ode, “Space Wrangler”. During the song, a picture of Elon Musk’s Starman behind the wheel of his red Tesla Roadster was displayed on the backdrop. Elon Musk tweeted a picture of this and gave the Widespread Panic a respectful kudos. The Starman appropriately commemorated Michael Houser in his similar astrological quest of immortality through legacy.
The musicians segued back into the second half of “Driving Song”, which culminated into a frenzied outburst of energy. To end the first set, the band covered a version of J.J. Cale’s “Travelin’ Light”, which reminded the audience that “Travelin’ light is the only way to fly!.” Dave Schools nailed the pulse of the song, and Jimmy Herring dashed spiraling circles of melodies in his off-the-cuff, lightning fury.
After a short set break, the musical clan returned to the stage to destroy another tribute to Vic Chestnutt with the combination cover of his songs “Protein Drink” into “Sewing Machine”. During “Protein Drink”, John Bell weaved a short rap into the lyrics after “That mushroom that tasted so very, very nasty in my mouth”, declaring that “Mushrooms that tasted… like America… in my mouth!” Dave Schools stood out most prominently during the raucous “Sewing Machine” with its pounding bass line.
JoJo Hermann reemerged to take vocal duties for a killer rendition of the original “1×1”. Hermann aced the lyrics describing a bridge over Clear Creek, a section of road of the 1-80 that collapsed in 1939. Thirteen cars and one truck were thrown into the river and many people drowned, but a legendary storyteller, “Sugarman”, who witnessed the devastation swam in cold waters by himself and managed to save eight people that fateful night.
A remarkable 20 minutes of instrumental jamming followed, beginning with the organ-driven “Happy” before transitioning into “B of D”. These songs were written over twenty years ago and have always been a sought-after staple of Widespread Panic’s repertoire. The gloriously divine jam settled down into a barn-stompin’ original “Love Tractor.” The lively beat was handled unflinchingly by the dependable Dave Schools, and the song broke down into a powerful jam led by JoJo Hermann on keys and Jimmy Herring on lightning guitar.
Next, the percussionists, Duane Trucks and Sonny Ortiz, abused their drum kits and gave the rest of the band a chance to catch their breath offstage. When the guys returned, they took the audience to a swampy trip to New Orleans with an elongated cover of Dr. John’s “I Walk on Guilded Splinters.” The audience’s response was ravenous. John Bell transformed using the ancient energy below the venue’s mountains and sung with a piercing force. This song hasn’t been played by Widespread Panic since Panic En La Playa Seis in February of 2017.
“I Walk On Guilded Splinters”
Another tribute to voodoo followed with a cover of the Talking Head’s “Papa Legba.” JoJo kept it jazzy on keys in this ode to the mystical deity represented in voodoo cultures as the great elocutioner who facilitates communication, speech, and understanding. For many reasons, “Guilded” into Legba” was the highlight of the show. To conclude the second set, the boys executed a cover of Robert Johnson’s blues classic “Stop Breaking Down”. John Bell was brilliant when vocalizing this song and throughout the entirety of the night.
After allowing the rowdy crowd to settle down, the band returned to stage to encore a formidable “You Got Yours” from Bombs & Butterflies. The musicians remained in peak form throughout the heavy jam. The magical might of Jimmy Herring was on full display as he shredded his guitar work with spirited brilliance. JoJo’s keys and School’s bass erupted into several explosions of energy throughout the song’s progressions. To finish the first night, the boys played a slick version of the crowd favorite “Climb to Safety.” The song was played with emphasis on the themes of brotherhood and the kinship reminder that “It’s no fun to die alone!”
Widespread Panic will return to the stage for two more shows this weekend to complete their three-night run at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Stay tuned for tonight’s show. Good luck, and Godspeed to all. Setlist found below, courtesy of Panicstream.com. Special thanks to Curtis George for all his hard work.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO | 6/22/2018
Set 1 Solid Rock, One Arm Steve, Glory, Contentment Blues, Send Your Mind, Sleeping Man > Driving Song > Space Wrangler > Driving Song, Travelin’ Light (65 mins)
Set 2 Protein Drink / Sewing Machine, 1×1, Happy, B of D, Love Tractor > Drums > I Walk On Guilded Splinters > Papa Legba, Stop Breakin’ Down Blues (90 mins)
Encore You Got Yours, Climb To Safety (14 mins)
Notes: ‘Guilded Splinters’ LTP 2/28/17 Playa Seis (42 shows); Entire show with Edie Jackson (ASL interpreter)