Nothing is certain except death, taxes, and Widespread Panic performing some badass rock and roll in the South. After 35 years onstage and various lineup evolutions, the steadfast band continues to build momentum like a powerful locomotive running on some undefinable fuel.
This time the band targeted Wilmington, North Carolina for its takeover as thousands of dedicated fans assembled their ranks and marched downtown night after night. Sunday was due to be extraordinary, not only as the final night of the run, but also as a celebration of life for the birthday boy, keyboardist JoJo Hermann.
After JB’s “Hatfield” rap on Saturday, the omnipresent blue skies disappeared by morning and were replaced by dark gray nimbus clouds and a rolling thunder that steadily advanced toward Riverfront Park Amphitheater throughout the afternoon. As a lightning storm passed overhead, a weather delay was announced.
The hopeful attendees took shelter at the string of bars, taverns, and eateries along the Riverwalk and Front St. in downtown Wilmington. While the uncertainty lingered and anxiety grew over the next two hours, another statement from the band eventually declared that the show would go on, but in a condensed format with “one full set.”
The band members attached lightning rods to their backs to channel mother nature’s temperamental energy and supercharge an old-school show full of scorching original jams and two delicious song sandwiches.
At 9:00 p.m., three hours after the intended showtime, Widespread Panic kicked off the last night of the run with JoJo at the helm for a commemorative “Tall Boy” before slowing it down for “Space Wrangler”. Jimmy Herring kicked the spurs of his black and white custom guitar into the mighty stallion, accelerating the tempo from a trot to a gallop.
After Jimmy eventually relented, JoJo’s fingers flew furiously around his piano while he took lead vocal duties for an intoxicating “Blackout Blues”. Dave Schools dropped into a bass-heavy bombardment with an exotic dissection featuring “Stop Go” sandwiching a hard-hitting “You Got Yours”. JoJo also slipped a rare “Cars” jam section into the “YGY” jam.
Keeping the setlist full of muddy, boot-stompin’ classics and making the most of their shortened show, Panic notched an “Imitation Leather Shoes” before John Bell’s gravelly vocals chiseled out a monster “Little Kin”. Herring wielding his golden axe to defend the “kingdoms yet to come” and guaranteed that “today will outlive yesterday.”
The band sizzled throughout the instrumental “Disco” before Schools dropped the rhythm into a thumping “Little Lily”. Herring’s cosmic exploration wandered through a soul-searching “Pilgrims” before JoJo and Schools concocted a diabolical brew out of “Bear’s Gone Fishin’”.
The first covers of the night came in rapid succession with Traffic’s “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys” sandwiching J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High.” JoJo, a roguish troubadour himself, both scintillated and scorched in the pairing, displaying his diverse range—from slow, sad and sweet to ravenously frenzied revelry.
Another selection of old school originals wound the lengthy set down as a funky “Rebirtha” lead the way for a prehistoric unearthing of “Big Wooly Mammoth.” Though just a year shy of 60, JoJo was a man possessed, uncaged and spritely as a man half his age. Throughout the night, but especially during the last half-dozen tunes, he was a sight and power to behold.
Paying respects to their fallen friend and member of the Athens music community, Panic transitioned into “Henry Parsons Died” in honor of Bloodkin’s Daniel Hutchens. To close the two-and-a-half-hour set, JB picked up his mandolin for the immortal, rhetorical reminder “Ain’t Life Grand”, his salt-and-pepper locks blowing in the breeze.
When Widespread Panic shuffled offstage for the first and only time of the night in Wilmington, some of the seven thousand fans in attendance took the opportunity to belt out a rowdy “Happy Birthday” song to JoJo. When Panic came back, they mesmerized with a slow and trippy “Dream Song” before returning to J.J. Cale’s Troubador for the second time of the night with a thrashing “Travelin’ Light”.
To end the night with the appropriate precision that has come to be expected of this merry band of giants, Widespread Panic delivered a triumphant cover of Neil Young’s “Last Dance.” (“Wake up! It’s a Monday morning / No time left to say goodbye …. Its time to go / Time to go to work!”) as fireworks were launched from a barge on the river for the third and final time.
It’s been a helluva run! Good to stomp in some mud last night with y’all and kick dirt the two before that. Pleasure hanging with the GoodPeople in row 18 in the right aisle on Sunday. Tonight, I’ll be dreaming of oysters, swampy rock and roll, and safe returns of my airbnb’s security deposit. Until next time.
Widespread Panic’s summer tour continues with three shows in Asheville in a few weeks (8/6–8/10) before the band moves on to Austin, Texas (8/13–8/15); Napa Valley, California (8/21–8/29), and another 5-night run at NYC’s Beacon Theatre (9/16–9/20). For the full breakdown of Panic’s busy year ahead, click here.
Scroll down to view a selection of videos and a gallery of photos from the show courtesy of photographer Daniel Ojeda.
Widespread Panic – “Tall Boy” – 7/18/21
[Video: Squarepile 103]
Widespread Panic – “You Got Yours” – 7/18/21
[Video: Squarepile 103]
Widespread Panic – “Ain’t Life Grand” – 7/18/21
[Video: Squarepile 103]
Setlist [via PanicStream]: Widespread Panic | Riverfront Park Amphitheater | Wilmington, NC | 7/18/2021
Set: Tall Boy, Space Wrangler > Blackout Blues, Stop Go > You Got Yours > Stop Go, Imitation Leather Shoes, Little Kin, Disco > Little Lilly, Pilgrims, Bear’s Gone Fishin’ > Low Spark of High Heeled Boys > Ride Me High > Low Spark of High Heeled Boys, Rebirtha, Big Wooly Mammoth > Henry Parsons Died, Ain’t Life Grand* (142 mins)
Encore: Dream Song, Travelin’ Light, Last Dance (22 mins)
Notes: * w/ JB on mandolin- ‘Cars’ jam in ‘You Got Yours’
– Last split ‘Stop Go’ was 9/19/11 Richmond