Above: A video for “Aunt Avis”
Widespread Panic kicked off its two-night New Year’s Run at Atlanta’s Philips Arena last night. The members of the band took the stage dressed in all black, presumably in memory of Vic Chesnutt—the Widespread Panic collaborator who died on December 25.
The band’s first show at the Philips Arena since 2007 opened with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Sold Rock” and celebrated the rich musical history of Athens and Atlanta, GA. Longtime Widespread Panic producer John Keane—who also worked closely with Chesnutt—took the stage with the band after a few numbers for Chesnutt’s “’Aunt Avis,” a song that repeats the line “How to continue when I feel I really shouldn’t.” He remained onstage for “Climb To Safety” and “C Brown. The four-piece Megablasters horns also appeared on “Angels on High” and “Weight of the World” at the end of the group’s first set.
Keane returned during the band’s second set for “Ain’t Life Grand,” “This Part of Town” and a version of “Blackout Blues” that also featured Athens-based saxophonist and Megablasters leader Randall Bramblett. The saxophonist remained onstage as the group moved into Traffic’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”—a song Bramblett played regularly as a member of Winwood’s band—and a take on “Fishwater” that featured Derek Trucks Band drummer Yonrico Scott (the DTB usually plays in Atlanta on New Year’s Eve, but is currently on hiatus).
The set reached its climax with a series of guest-heavy rockers: a cover of Allen Toussaint’s “One Your Way Down” that featured Keane and the Megablasters, a version of “You Should Be Glad” that also boasted the horns, and a first time cover of Warren Zevon’s “Excitable Boy” that featured R.E.M. guitarist Mike Mills. Mills remained onstage for Panic’s first take on the early R.E.M. song “Don’t Go Back To Rockville.” The night came to a close with “Imitation Leather Shoes,” a version of “Blue Indian” that featured Keane and the horns and a Keane-sung cover of The Band’s “Chest Fever” that most of the evening’s guests (including Mills).
Widespread Panic and R.E.M. both formed in Athens in the 1980s. R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe produced Chesnutt’s first two albums and is often credited with introducing him to a national audience. Mills previously sat in with the group at Athens’ Classic Center in 2000 and the Philips Arena in 2006.