Friday night, Widespread Panic returned once again to Red Rocks Amphitheatre for their annual celebratory get down. As per the usual, the band performed to a sold out crowd on the opening night of three and brought their southern heat to the faithful. This weekend also brings Panic’s count to over seventy shows at the infamous venue since their first performance back in May of 1996 and between the turnout and the turn up, neither the band nor the crowd showed signs of this anticipated weekend event coming to an end anytime soon. Although being off the road for nearly a month, this tried-and-true band of talent needed no warm up or a moment to kick off the rust of rest and gave the capacity crowd everything they had.
With perfect temperatures and an overcast sky, set one got going at a little past 7 pm. John Bell stepped to the microphone and greeted the crowd with that undeniable raspy voice, “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.”
With that, the band opened with “Pigeons” and the night was on. The sound was dialed in from the start and the whole place began to shake. The venue was wall to wall good vibes and from that first note it was easy to feel that it was going to be a great night. Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” filled the second slot and kept everyone enjoying the soulful blues that this band delivers oh so well. This number would also start the almost non-stop segue delight that would be the whole of the set. Without pause, the band moved into “Chilly Water”. With the intermittent raindrops, and the cool evening, this selection seemed appropriate and the transition into fIREHOUSE’s “Sometimes” just kept everyone smiling and bouncing right along with the band.
Stopping only for a moment, Jorma Kaukonen’s “Genesis” was warmly recognized by the audience. The buildup was precise and beautiful and gave way to a dizzying climb before moving into the thunderous “Big Wooly Mammoth”. The pachyderm of power was the last piece before the closing of the “Chilly Water” sandwich, which came in at almost ten minutes and with the level of energy put out, it certainly didn’t come out as an afterthought or forgone conclusion. One would think after nearly an hour of solid, dynamic playing, the group would take a breath, but instead, the six just kept it going, transitioning again into the unsettling “Blight”. This piece was the first comment on the Roe vs. Wade decision and had Dave Schools belting his opinion, commanding everyone to “stand by your woman ‘cause her body is her f*&$#ing own” and then at the tune’s close reminding everyone that “we are stronger together, we have to stick together.” “Greta” was up next and its bounce was a perfect juxtaposition to its uneasy predecessor. “Greta” shifted into a nice, funky five-minute jam before settling into the Panic classic “Space Wrangler” for the set closer.
With a forty-five-minute pause, set two opened with a one two punch of Tom Petty’s “You Wreck Me” and the band’s hard edged original “You Got Yours”. “C.Brown” hit third base and started another run of arrows in the setlist as the group would play the rest of the night in transition with only one noticeable pause. “Little Lilly” came in next and the group dropped a great four-minute jam in the middle that was full of angular rewards and showed that the band can certainly still bring out high level improvisation. “Radio Child” and “All Time Low” continued to reveal why this group has sold out this venue for decades and that the ticket is worth every penny and probably for most, we are all getting off cheap.
Everyone needing a break to revitalize, JB took the venue through a soft and lilting rendition of Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied”. The melancholy of the piece visibly spawned many hugs and longing looks throughout the venue. At its close, the band took a short breather, got a drink and gathered themselves for closing the set. Setting to the skies, “Airplane” took off and soared high, transitioning into a great jam before landing at “Diner”. Closing the frame with a reminder of positivity, “Ain’t Life Grand” was a sing along from the first word and had everyone moving.
For the encore, the band showed that they love playing this venue as much as we love attending it. Showing no signs of exhaustion, the group delivered a two-song encore in “None of Us Are Free” and “Lawyer, Guns, and Money”, both of which gave the band one last chance at social commentary and show the fans exactly on which side of the line they stand: with us and against all that is wrong, corrupt, and that which must be challenged by love, protest, and for the positivity of change.
In the end, everyone got what they expected: nearly three hours of soul-freeing music that swung the spectrums and genres, and showed that what this group brings is original, inspired, and worth the trek and the time. The fan base certainly demonstrates the family aspect and it was refreshing once again to see this camp filled with fans of every race, age, and gender, gathering in community and sharing in the notes that bind us together and make us stronger as a group while strengthening us as individuals.