Halfway through the Jack Johnson set, on the soccer field, in the dark, it suddenly seems like Altamont. The ground is covered with plastic water bottles and beer cups, making it hard to walk properly as we make our way toward the stadium to catch the Widespread Panic gig. Some people are actually sitting beneath the crazed throng, on their blankets, only to be trampled over and then barraged with heartfelt apologies.
I arrive at Panic not knowing what to expect. I have never seen them, much less heard them. I know they are huge. I know their following is intense. Truthfully, I have absolutely no interest in this band, but their reputation is such that I feel compelled to check them out.
I arrive with my friend, we'll call him "R," and manage to stake out two very nice seats, about halfway up the stage right riser at the fifteen yard line. These same seats were in the VIP section whenever the Dead played at this place, so you know they're good seats.
The band comes out and jumps into this country rocker, hard-edged like the Outlaws but with a Marshall Tucker kind of flavor. In fact, it seems like Marshall Tucker on crystal meth. It is so horrible I have this sudden flash that ten million years ago someone stepped on a moth and Jerry was never even born and this was the band that rocked a generation and started a whole new culture, but a culture rooted more in Dale Earnhardt than Kerouac or Cassady.
But then something happened. It all started to make sense. Suddenly I realized just how hard these fuckers were rocking, and how good they were at it. Suddenly I tasted something I hadn't tasted since I saw Hot Tuna at the old Academy of Music...
This was some hard rockin' shit. The bass player, Dave Schools, was dropping bombs left and right, driving the music to insane depths and heights. I could not believe how tight these guys were. And how hard they rocked. I say this in all honesty: this was the hardest I have ever seen a band rock. Ever. And this was one of the best live concert experiences I ever had, hands down, slam dunk.
What fascinated me was that the harder those fuckers rocked, the more relaxed the crowd got, like they had to sit down just to process exactly how hard, and articulately, these motherfuckers were rocking. It was insane. It was so brazenly physical, yet also so mental. I turned to this girl next to me and told her, "This is some rockin' shit." She just looked at me and nodded emphatically...
The next thing I know, Trey hits the stage and they dip into "Slipping Into Darkness," which was astounding, and then two more numbers, with Trey and Schools and all of them in each others' faces just tearing it up. And the longer they play, the more I'm worried that I need to get out of there and make it over to the Hard Rock where Phil will be performing his midnight show at The Joint...
But I can't leave. And why should I? I'm seeing one of the greatest acts I've ever witnessed and I'm supposed to leave?
Two friends of mine spot me and tell me it's time to go.
"Why?" I wonder.
"Because we're gonna miss Phil. It's gonna be a fuckin' madhouse over there."
"But this band is great!"
"I know, I know. They are. But we need to go."
"But there's no way Phil is gonna be better than this. Seriously. It's impossible. There's no way."
"Look. They're doing a drum solo now. They'll probably do two more songs and then an encore. You heard it already. They're great. You saw it. Now let's get the hell out of here while we can."
He was right, of course, so we left...