Photos by DaveDeCrescente
Just two miles from the Canadian border in Vermont sits a quiet amphitheater that might be on the most scenic locations in the country for live music. Stateside Amphitheater at Jay Peak in Jay, VT has played host to a handful of shows since opening last year, including the Dark Star Orchestra led Jeezum Crow Festival, now in its second year. Among the few shows on the calendar this year was Widespread Panic with Umphrey’s McGee, a pairing that is becoming a regular part of summer tour, with performances dating to 2013. While this remote venue is only a 90 minute drive from Burlington it felt as though you were thrust into the wilderness of the Green Mountains with a scenic backdrop showing rolling hills in various shades of green. A vibrant lot scene anticipated the show where the mercury dipped to the lower 40s for a chilly night that made it feel like a fall tour show and not two days short of the first day of summer. For Widespread Panic’s first show in Vermont since 2000, you’d think they would have turned the heat on to make them feel at home.
Featuring a small stage and only 3,000 capacity, the venue remained half full during Umphrey’s McGee’s opening set, a surprise given their frequency and fan base in the Northeast. A full throttle set featuring no covers found highlights among songs off recent albums Similar Skin and The London Session. “The Floor > The Linear > The Floor” began the night and led to “Educated Guess” which had a strong build highlighted by Jake Cinninger on guitar. “Bad Friday” on a Friday night was apropos and the lone exception to a run of four songs that didn’t seem to take many chances. Only “The Triple Wide > Hajimashite” provided the meat at the end of this 90 minute set, one oddly devoid of covers.
Given that Widespread Panic is a rarity to find this far north, let alone in the state of Vermont over the last fifteen years, the crowd was drawn for the headliner and the venue filled in tightly for Panic. Among the crowd were locals and those who summer in Vermont, all coming out for a taste of the deep south and a band they otherwise may not get a chance to see; therein lies the additional beauty of Stateside Amphitheater’s location.
As hoodies and jackets were donned by fans, Widespread opened up with a “Chilly Water” propelled by guitar virtuoso Jimmy Herring, an attraction in himself for many. A dark “Up All Night” followed a vibrant “Blackout Blues” while the first cover of the night, the traditional blues number “One Kind Favor” let Dave Schools sing and featured a pseudo-segue into “New Speedway Boogie” with the lyrics “One way or another…” finding their way at the end of “One Kind Favor”, both a part of the Grateful Dead’s catalog. A gentle encore of “City of Dreams” preceded John Bell letting the crowd know it was time to “step on the gas one more time” and burst forth with the one-two punch of Vic Chesnutt’s “Protein Drink > Sewing Machine”, thoroughly rocked loud and proud. A lack of sit-ins with members of Umphrey’s McGee might be the only thing missing from this night.
With a band lineup solidified with Duane Trucks taking over for founding member Todd Nance on drums (at least until Todd’s reported return in 2016), Widespread Panic is entering a period of true rebirth and a sound that has evolved significantly in the past two years thanks to Trucks behind the kit. An argument could be made for Widespread Panic as a modern day Allman Brothers Band, and with the blues base for each band and a lineup that has found a refreshed sound with Trucks’ arrival, the comparison of two Georgia bands is more fitting than ever.