No band encompasses the traditions of both Southern Rock and Jam like Widespread Panic. They are an odd Venn diagram of stoner, good ol’ boy, the psychedelic, and the down home. WSP is at the tippy top of their game with 33 years of touring under their belt and an unprecedented run at Red Rocks Amphitheater. Sunday would mark their 60th sold out show at the famed venue; a record unlikely to be broken anytime soon. To put it plainly their set on Sunday afternoon was old school. There was plenty of daylight left when the band took the stage as the fans roared with their arrival.
As Panic came out for their final night of the run to that huge welcome there was magic in the air. Fans travel from around the world for this yearly sojourn to the foothills of Colorado. It’s a chance to see old friends, make new ones, and see the boys at what has ostensibly become their second musical home. They started slowly almost delicately winding up a very nice “Pilgrims” to get the ball rolling. “C.Brown” soared before JoJo took over mic duties on “Blackout Blues.” This was already feeling like a Panic show circa 1998 before they treated fans to a sublime version of Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West.” JB’s vocals bounced off the rocks as the fans swayed to the music. In fact, “Vampire Blues” was the only song in the first set that was penned in this century, and it went dark and rowdy fast. The “Driving Song” sandwich with the “Disco” meat was a huge highlight for set one. They closed it perfectly with a punchy “Greta” into Jerry Joseph’s “North.”
You can always tell a sell-out crowd at Red Rocks by taking a look from the top. The audience spills out into the aisles and they crowd into the planter boxes on both sides. Room is scarce and fans can get a bit more territorial. Fortunately this place was chocked full of old friends and happy people. They opened the second set with the Guess Who hit “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature.” Digging deep they pulled out another classic with “Conrad” before JB wowed us with a very dirty “Dirty Business.” At this point WSP used a couple of chunky jams as vehicles to get to the next tune. The first of which bared a striking resemblance to “The Other One.” After a tight “All Time Low” the band went into another extended improvisation that Panicstream titled “Zambi Jam.”
Someone had a sign that read, “Let Duane Sing.” As I was watching the show I was thinking to myself hell ‘Let Duane Smile.’ That kid’s got a pretty good seat. They kept tossing the potato with the jam before diving head first into a powerful rendition of Steve Winwood’s “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.” The segues were spot on as they charged into “Impossible” then a steamy “Cease Fire.” They closed this mesmerizing set of music with a version of the Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime.”
JB greeted the audience with an enthusiastic, “Well, thank you” as they returned for the encore. For just the second time ever they treated fans to a version of The Dillards’ “There Comes A Time,” it was 173 show gap since it was first played. The short but sweet instrumental “The Take Out” was a solid transition into “The Waker.” Fans sang at the top of their lungs as they soaked it in. This was only the second time that the band has played this song since the passing of founding member Mikey Houser. This is the stuff of Widespread legend. They finished the night with a joyous “Porch Song.” Shows like this are the reason why Widespread Panic is the best at what they do. Their music is intoxicating and this concert was a celebration of how far they’ve come. I think it’s totally possible they could sell out another 60 shows at Red Rocks before calling it quits. We’ll see.