Words and Photos by Phil Santala
After an extended push back of the start time Widespread Panic took to the stage to kick off what lead singer John Bell referred to as “first of the major holidays.” Or as it’s known to the rest of your family, Halloween. The crowd was ready, boozed up heavily and dressed up beyond that. Smoke hung heavy around the audience and stage as Panic pelted the audience with a stream of originals and covers. A stream that would last not one night, but would span the 3 day run. The name of the game over the next few nights would be jams, covers and teases.
The jams began with a heavy hitting set that would be just as at home closing a show as opening it. A few originals kicked off the 31st beginning with “Pigeons” and ending with “Rebirtha.” But Halloween has always been about both the tricks as well as the treats. The jam coming out of “Rebirtha” was the first of the tricks. An amazing and powerfully uplifting Jojo Hermann solo on the keys held the crowd captive. At times it leaned towards the earlier instrumental “Dark Bar” circa 2008. But despite the tongue wagging and build up it was pure trick and tease. The first cover was the oft covered Bill Joe Shaver’s “Chunk of Coal”, an old Panic standby.
The first of the true bust out covers of the weekend was Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”. It was nice to hear a new Neil Young cover getting the dust knocked off it. New song selections of his work seem to have fallen by the wayside since the oft maligned Mr. McConnell’s departure from the band . Jimmy Herring absolutely shredded the well placed and played guitar solo towards the end while JB batted clean up with a strong vocal showing. It was the same strong combo that would lead itself to the other Neil Young cover combo during Sundays’s encore performance of “Mr. Soul”.
Dave Schools and the deep end crew had several impressive showings throughout the weekend as well. Coming out of “Red Hot Mama” the School’s Zone team built a monster jam. Backing Dave was the newly anointed stand in drummer for Todd Nance: Duane Trucks has been sitting in on drums (for this tour only). He and the ever present Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz helped build steam and match the tempo of Dave’s bass rants. The jamming lumbered slow at times sounding like the bass line from “Blackland Farmer.” Other times it eased back into the song it would inevitably become, the Halloween themed Vic Chestnut cover “Sewing Machine> Protein Drink.” The low end jam sessions wouldn’t end there. Coming out of “Drums” and into “Arlene” Dave and company offered up another surprise. The jam was one of the most syncopated well dialed offerings Dave and the rest of the deep end have served up in a long time. Dave turned around and played literally and figuratively off Duane. As they eased out of drums and started into Arlene the rest of the band seemed almost to scramble back on stage. The first and only Arlene of fall tour was a flat out stunner! It weighed in heavily with vocal jams that built layers upon layers within the song.
The second set was filled with covers galore. The passing of the power trio drummer Jack Bruce was commemorated with the cover of Cream’s “Strange Brew” to open the second set. “Dirty Business” slithered out from what might have been thought to be another “Christmas Katie.” The mining shaft stage backdrop turned out to not just be home to Dave’s miner hat. Built into the cover was a gruff, almost spoken word performance of the Jimmy Dean 1961 hit “Big Bad John” which tells the story of another hard working town’s dreams going bust with the death throws of unsafe mining practices. As if the crowd wasn’t stunned enough a full sized candy bar treat was offered up. A “The Other One” tease/jam worked itself out of the end of the song combo. Saturday, too, featured a few break out teases, including the “Dark Star” “Jessica” and “Wharf Rat” offerings coming out of “Pleas”. A “Fire on the Mountain” tease also found its way into “Stop-Go.” Tricks in treats, and treats in tricks.
The cover combo of a song about finding love (or at least some semblance of love) was the leading punch of the one two combination. Parliament Funkadelic’s “Hit it and Quit it” pushed us along nicely into the cover of the Led Zeppelin “D’yer Mak’er” done almost rock-steady style. The audience clearly rose to the occasion with the second song, belting along with JB the lines of “OOOOO baby I love you!” Closing out the second set was another song combo which clearly crowns Colorado the king of western legal weed. Considered to be the new Amsterdam of the west by many, the Cheech and Chong costumes of Duane and Sunny came into play. The band knocked out “Earache My Eye” from the pot duo’s movie Up In Smoke. If the message was lost on any present it was nailed into the coffin with the 13th ever “Sweet Leaf.” Busted out after a retirement of just under 1000 shows the king was crowned, ColoRADo is the best in shows, and in buds.
Covers peppered the Halloween weekend, as one might expect. Closing out Saturday night the 3rd ever “I Wanna Be Sedated” was a clear sign that things were going to be wild all weekend. Band members often referenced the ruckus as well, with JB stating right before the cover “I guess we better summon up more energy since we’re not saving any..” The “Lawyers Guns and Money” cover closing out the 1st set Saturday was equally well received, but the clear winner Saturday was the true cover bust out in the 2nd set. Joe Cocker’s “High Time We Went” made up for all of us there who are still chasing “Feelin’ Allright.” High Time is a classic Cocker-style song, almost manic in it’s energy. It’s frenetic pacing grabs the listener tightly and spins around wildly until the end. JB’s gruff stylings on this song perfectly matched the staccato melody.
If you’ve been around you know the phrase to be heard on lot to describe the 3rd night’s show. NEVER miss a Sunday show. Sure we could easily say NEVER miss a Widespread Panic show. But if you didn’t have the time to take off work and thought you’d seen it all Friday and Saturday…well you, dear fellow fan….were wrong. Nicky Sanders went from playing 8 songs on the fiddle with the boys at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee to playing 16 with them Sunday in Colorado. Essentially present for the whole show, Nicky adds an element of classic Panic back into the scene. It was hard not to imagine the shows, now almost 20 years past, of the fabled “sit and ski” era. Just a few hours up into the hills the boys, complete with the loved and departed Micheal Houser, worked through a series of shows often accompanied by David Blackmon of fiddle.
Panic kicked off their set with Nicky with the first time played cover “Lake of Fire.” Instantly it was clear the fiddle would play off Jimmy’s gituar beautifully. “Honkey Red” while more often played allowed the nice juxtaposition of JB’s gruffer styling and Jimmy’s squealing guitar to matchup with the whaling howls of Nicky’s fiddle. “Drinking Muddy Water” by the Yardbirds would be the last of the bust out or rare covers for the weekend. It was time for Panic to get down to the nitty gritty.
The second set was all out classic Panic. The newest song to even be played was the encore performance of “Saint Ex”. A “Driving Song” sandwich that was so big it would more properly be called a hoagie dominated the second set. Coming out of the break after the opener the entire set was segued. “Gimme” proved to be just an appetizer to the “Driving Song> Surprise Valley> Jam> Drums> Blue Indian> Surprise Valley>Driving Song.” Words simply cannot do justice to this. Wedged neatly into the jam out of drums was an extended tease of the Jimi Hendrix song “Machine Gun.” Tricks and treats abounded throughout the weekend right up until the end.
The first and third night closed out as classy as they come. “End of the Show” is easily as fitting of a closer as when the Grateful Dead would close out with “We Bid You Goodnight.” The closing of the tour and weekend with “Don’t Be Denied” was a message that JB highlighted with his last salutation to the audience. “What tour would not be complete without one more Neil Young song?” JB questioned the audience. Indeed…or better yet what story of Widespread Panic would be complete without it. Now more then ever, as the band hits the reset button having battled through yet another change, the past means more now than ever. Nothing in this world is for certain, really all we have is today. Work for what you want, but in the meantime…don’t be denied. That, and never miss a Halloween Run, friends of mine!