Red Rocks Amphitheatre is widely considered the premier music venue in America. Widespread Panic holds the record for the most amount of sold-out shows at Red Rocks. Therefore, when Panic comes to town in late June every single summer since 1997 with the exception of 2004, 2009, and 2012, people travel from far and wide and gather to celebrate the music of this magnificent band. On Friday, June 22, the band that draws the most people to this music mecca played here for the 53rd time for their 49th consecutive headlining sell-out. Fans from all over the country fly in for this special occasion, and on this night, they delivered.
With the anticipation built, the humble band confidently walked on stage without gimmick and full of class, and after the traditional raspy welcome by bandleader/singer John Bell, they opened with Bob Dylan’s “Solid Rock.” It was a fitting start to the run especially with the background and clout that they hold at this famous venue. The classic “One Arm Steve > Glory,” which was the least played song on the night and a nice unexpected combination to kick off the first night.
“Contentment Blues” and a cover of Van Morrison’s “Send Your Mind” gave the crowd a breath before the melee of jams where often guitarist Jimmy Herring sounded as if he was choking his guitar to death. The high point of the first set was “Sleeping Man > Jam > Driving Song > Space Wrangler > Driving Song.” Keyboard player John “Jojo” Hermann joined Herring at the end of “Sleeping Man > Jam,” and they took the song to a new level. The sweet sounds of John Bell’s voice sang a slower, but more pronounced “Driving Song > Space Wrangler > Driving Song.” Just then with a smack of Boy Wonder’s, aka Duane Trucks’ cymbal, Panic closed the first set with a fan favorite cover of J.J. Cale’s “Travelin’ Light.”
The second set opened with two songs written by Vic Chesnutt “Protein Drink > Sewing Machine.” The late Chesnutt was a great friend of the band, and he also wrote the aforementioned “Sleeping Man.” Hermann’s “1 x 1” was next, and then two instrumentals’ “Happy” and “B of D.”
“Love Tractor” got the crowd singing along before “Jam > Drums >.” After, the best song of the night came forward. It was 42 shows since they played Dr. John’s “I Walk on Guilded Splinters.” That went into a fiery “Papa Legba.” These two songs were the climax of the night for me. “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues” brought the second set to a close, but not before J.B. sang the lyrics to Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Give Me Back My Wig” during the song.
After the 90-minute second set, there was only enough time for a 14 minute “You Got Yours” and “Climb to Safety.” The encore sing-along was fun, and there was still much more music to be had on the weekend. The record-setting Southern rock jamband that first came to Red Rocks in 1991 and 1993 with the legendary HORDE tour, then opened for Blues Traveler in 1994 has been selling out and headlining this one of a kind venue since 1996. Finally, after playing with Sturgill Simpson the show before this one, then opening with this heater, believe it or not, the best was yet to come on this run. The legend of Widespread Panic at Red Rocks continues until next year.