Okay let's face it, Widespread Panic doesn't have the largest following in the city of Philadelphia. On the other hand, sometimes it's better to see a great band in a place where the crowd is small. Such was the case on this July night at Festival Pier. This was the last show before their performance at the All Good Music Festival the next day. I've never seen such a tiny crowd for a Panic show, and this is one part of what made it such an interesting evening.
Widespread Panic has been on an amazing summer tour so far, which has included almost all of the major festivals and a great honor from Denver's mayor, John Hickenlooper, who declared June 27th to be "Widespread Panic Day" in Denver. The honor was much deserved considering they've sold out 32 shows at the world famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre over the years. Most recently, the band found out that they are being inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame on September 20th in Atlanta. One of the band's founders and lead singer/guitar player, John Bell, commented on this honor by saying,
Sharing this honor... with so many of our greatest musical influences, is something I'm sure none of the Band members imagined when we first started making music together. September 20th is going to be a truly special day for the entire Widespread Panic Family," says John Bell, vocalist and founding member of Widespread Panic.
As the evening's final ships and boats sailed past the venue on the Delaware River, Widespread Panic quietly took the stage on time as usual. The openers DJ Harry and Aron Magner of the Disco Biscuits quickly brought their set to a close inside the tent, and the main event began with Colorado flavor. This opener, which consisted of "Surprise Valley" > "Porch Song" > "Surprise Valley" > "Rock," could quite possibly be one of my favorite Panic openers of all time. The band came out hot, and I began to sense a treat for the faithful fans that did show up. After that incredible run of songs the set cooled down a bit with the fairly new "Tickle the Truth" and the Bloodkin cover "Can't Get High." The title track of their new album, Free Somehow, was played next, followed by "Down." The last two songs of the set picked up with "Time Zones" and Warren Zevon's "Lawyers, Guns, & Money."
For some reason the crowd looked bigger in the beginning of the second set, but it was still small, yet dedicated. Panic came out like mavericks again with the beautiful "Disco" and the funky "Fishwater." This band has definitely turned a corner with the addition of Jimmy Herring on guitar. I've always liked all of Panic's guitarists, especially their original guitarist Michael Houser, but Herring brings power and grace to the band. He is a role player. He can use his depth of life experience gained while playing with Aquarium Rescue Unit, the Allman Brothers, or the Dead and his Guitar Institute of Technology education to lead and solo, or use his jazz fusion prowess learned from one of his biggest influences growing up, Steve Morse from the Dixie Dregs, to mix in with band members using melody and rhythm. He's without a doubt one of the best touring guitarists today.
The second set continued with "Ain't No Use," "You Should Be Glad," and the old and rare "Postcard." Besides "Postcard," there was another surprise that came. "Airplane" was the second song of the night written by the "silent genius" Michael Houser. This is a mellow song that reminds me and many others of the late Michael Houser, who passed away at the age of 40 in 2002 from pancreatic cancer. After, a sentimental "Airplane," the band went into brute's "Protein Drink/Sewing Machine." brute is a Widespread Panic side band featuring guitarist Vic Chesnutt.
The encore was the new "Walk on the Flood" from Free Somehow and David Byrne's "City of Dreams," which was an appropriate song for the Philadelphia audience. All in all, it was a great show that brought together many different genres of music, great covers, and surprises for the sparse crowd. Catch Panic on the rest of their summer tour. They are one of the hottest touring bands around right now.