Wrapping up the St. Louis run before lead guitarist Jimmy Herring’s birthday on Monday, Widespread Panic rolled out the red carpet at the Stifel Theatre for a rare Saturday night finale in Missouri. The third night provided medicinal music for the community that recently has been staggering under the weight of the world after losing lifelong fans and pillars of Panic’s scene.

The gang of rock and roll troubadours emerged from the shadows, John Bell adjusted the microphone and gave a simple “Good evening!” to the audience. Dave Schools cut a swathe into the plodding bassline of “Wonderin’” before Jimmy Herring kicked his spurs into “Holden Oversoul”. Without finishing, JoJo’s piano carried the transition into Bloodkin’s “Makes Sense to Me” before winding their way back into “Holden Oversoul” for a short, but sweet, reprise.

Consecutive covers of Willie Dixon’s “Taildragger” and Murray McLauchlan’s “Honky Red” paired together like a spit-roasted duck and Bordeaux or a dirty ol’ Blue Jay burger and Swish. A switch flicked in JB’s brain to sharpen his voice from a werewolf’s growl into the soul-cutting blade necessary for “We Walk Each Other Home”.

The tune was rumored to be inspired by the pain felt when losing a dog companion and last night marked the sixth time that this newly debuted original was played. Anybody that has suffered loss of any kind, pet or not, took a gut punch, right in the feels. It’s the good type of pain, the hurt from having too many good memories without the chance of any more to come. That’s love… and it’s a special thing to share.

Wiping tears away, JoJo Hermann manned the helm for “One Arm Steve” before welcoming the Sunday Church crowd in for a midnight mass during an extended introduction to “Pleas”. (“Don’t let it get too dark! / “You can’t have the good / until you shared some bad”). To punctuate the first set with an exclamation point, the Panics donned “Halloween Face” and Hell followed with it. A crescendo by JoJo’s organ was trailed by a furious combination of bass and drums in cataclysmic synchronization.

Not wasting any time, Widespread Panic returned and launched immediately into Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” to jumpstart the second set’s energy levels. The first of four instrumental jams followed as WSP progressively accelerated through “Party At Your Mama’s House” and into a percussive introduction of “Rock”. Jimmy Herring was allowed to roam free during PAYMH and made the most of the opportunity.

After a quick pause, a spacy introduction to “Barstools and Dreams” proceeded “Machine” in atypical order. “Machine” marked the second instrumental of the set. Without stopping, WSP spread its wings to sandwich “Surprise Valley” around Steve Ferguson’s “Flat Foot Flewzy”. Schools got “dog gone dirty” singing “boogie woogie on a Saturday night!”

Perched high atop a mountain of vibes, Panic rounded out the back half of “Surprise Valley” before emerging, as if in a trance, among the spirit world of “Jamais Vu”  Equipped with a shaman’s eyes, JB sung the poignant lyrics with an intent and direction that couldn’t be mere happenstance, “I’ll meet you there / you can find me / my old friend.” The lingering psychedelic fog dissipated with the echoes of the last note and to clear the air completely, WSP sunk its teeth into the third instrumental of the set during a blazing “Disco” inferno.

Rounding out the second set without stopping, JoJo’s piano led the segue into “Blackout Blues” which conjured images of a bawdy barroom honky-tonk with batwing doors and sawdust floor. Still unfinished, WSP segued into a classic take on “Porch Song” to close out the second set by “Havin’ a Good Time!”

Widespread Panic sauntered back onstage for the last time this weekend and embarked on the fourth instrumental of the night with “St. Louis” for the first time since June 28th, 2019 at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Afterward, an emotionally charged performance of Vic Chesnutt’s “Expiration Day” showcased JB’s impeccable control of his voice as he warbled alongside JoJo’s pristine piano.

Letting the final note resound into silence, JB joked “I guess we only got one song left” before pulling out his unique hollow-body guitar for “Ain’t Life Grand”. All in all, it was the quintessential way to conclude this show and weekend in St. Louis.

A not-so-quiet gathering will be held this Sunday afternoon at 4 Hands Brewery to celebrate the life of recently fallen, lifelong fan and wizard of the lot, Chris Covington, whose original designs can be seen far and wide on shirts at every show. Today, January 21st would have been his birthday.

Safe travels home everybody. Chicago lies over the horizon next month. For the full tour breakdown, including their recent New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival announcement, click here.

(“I’m feeling a little bit easier now / knowing that you’re all here!”)

Widespread Panic – Stifel Theatre – St. Louis, MO – 1/20/24 – Full Audio

Setlist: Widespread Panic | Stifel Theatre | St. Louis, MO | 1/20/24

Set One: Wondering, Holden Oversoul > Makes Sense To Me (Bloodkin) > Holden Oversoul, Tail Dragger (Willie Dixon), Honky Red (Murray McLauchlan), We Walk Each Other Home, One Arm Steve > Pleas, Halloween Face (64 mins)

Set Two: Life During Wartime (Talking Heads), Party At Your Mama’s House > Rock, Barstools and Dreamers, Machine > Surprise Valley > Flat Foot Flewzy (Steve Ferguson) > Surprise Valley, Jamais Vu, Disco > Blackout Blues > Porch Song (93 mins)

Encore: St, Louis > Expiration Day (Vic Chesnutt), Ain’t Life Grand (16 mins)

Notes – LTP “St. Louis” 6/28/19 Red Rocks (149 shows)