On the Road with Widespread Panic
The last two weekends I have been lucky enough to catch Widespread Panic, the southern jam band out of Athens, Georgia. Over the weekend of the 25-27 of June, the band made their triumphant return to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which they missed the past two years, stopping at the Mile High Music Festival instead. After selling out 12 straight years at Red Rocks, their 13th, 14th, and 15th sold out shows were special ones. With so many huge Panic fans in and around Colorado, the summer stop at Red Rocks had always been a fan favorite, giving this three night run an electric atmosphere. The scene driving up was truly inspiring. There was not a frown to be seen in the entire crowd of 12,000 plus people. Everyone was enjoying the sun, the beautiful surroundings of red rocks, a few beers, the great company, and old friends, all the while shaking with anticipation. It felt as though I could reach out and cut through the excitement in the air.
The energy of the band matched this excitement; in the first set on the Friday they played “Red Hot Mama” with Karl Densen standing in at saxophone, and took care of business the rest of the weekend with big songs like Climb to Safety, Arleen, Surprise Valley, Solid Rock, Chilly Water (during which the fans spray water across the crowd), and Ain’t Life Grand. It was a weekend chalked full of great music and fun, and to quote JB from the song “You should be Glad”; “its good to be back again.”
I have been seeing Panic since my older brother took me to a show at red rocks in 7th grade, and ever since I have been unable to see enough of them. Not only is the band unbelievably talented and has a catalog of 100’s of songs, but also the feeling at the show is second to none. I cannot stress enough, the people you meet, the memories from past shows, and the pure thrill to being involved in the show, truly makes your soul glow; there is nothing else like it.
This past weekend, over the 4th of July, I drove to Yellowstone on my way out to a small town called Driggs, right over the Wyoming boarder in Idaho, to see Panic yet again. The drive was nine hours to Yellowstone, and another two and a half to the venue, which was an old drive in movie theatre just outside of Driggs. Quite honestly, it was worth every minute crammed into our small Subaru. When we got to the venue thousands of other Panic fans had driven from all over the country to see the band’s July 4th set. Their fan base is just so excited and truly in love with the music, it fills the show and seemingly their entire area with energy. Fans pick out songs in a matter of chords and dance like crazy all night. Many of the people I see at Panic put my 37 shows to shame, some having seen around 100 or more.
John “JB” Bell the lead signing and rhythm guitarist, John “Jo-Jo” Herman the keyboardist, Jimmy Herring the lead guitarist, Dave Schools the bassist, Domingo “Sonny” Ortiz the percussionist, and Todd Nance the drummer, truly appreciate their die hard fans, always putting on a fantastic show for special nights such as red rocks and the fourth of July. The night before their three night run at Red Rocks the band did a set at Twist and Shout in downtown Denver for only 300 if their biggest fans, which included a signing and time to meet the band. On the fourth, they played one of the best shows I have ever seen playing rare fan favorites like Diner, Christmas Katie, Driving Song, Bear’s Gone Fishing, Coconuts, and even Warren Zevon’s “Lawyer Guns, and Money,” one of Panic fans’ most treasured songs, which hadn’t been played in roughly two years.
Satisfied is a word often used by Panic and their fans to describe their show, however there is only one thing wrong with that. Like a drug, a Panic show only whets your appetite and can only hold you over for so long, until soon there is an insatiable burning to see them again and again just to catch a glimpse of that incredible feeling of satisfaction.
John Spina currently attends the University of Vermont where he will be entering his senior year with a double major in history and political science. He loves being outside with his dog McKinley hiking, back country skiing, and rock climbing. Along with The Elephant Journal, he writes for the Nederland paper, The Mountian Ear, the UVM school paper, The Cynic, and hopes to have a job in journalism within the next year.