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Widespread Panic Electrifies Before Heavy Rains End Panic En La Playa Set Early

LIVE FOR LIVE MUSIC - January 27, 2018

The weather matched the anticipatory mood of the crowd awaiting Widespread Panic’s first night of music at the Hard Rock Resort at the Riviera Maya in Mexico. A warm, suggestive wind whipped mischievously around the stage, indicative of the storm system working its way up the Yucatan peninsula, and the electricity in the air was tangible. A sincere welcome toast was relegated that encouraged people to “Give more. Live More. Love More.”

After, the southern kings of rock and roll assumed their battle stations and immediately delved into Vic Chestnutt’s heavy, psychedelic ode “Protein Drink” with Dave Schools attacking his bass. This segued into a Jimmy Herring-led jam, which was immediately followed by a killer rendition of “Climb to Safety”. John Bell—with the audience singing along—admonished the advice that “we need to grab each other’s collar, rise out of the water, ‘ cause you know as well as I do, it’s no fun to die alone!” The band then returned to the Georgian roots with a fiery version of Bloodkin’s “Henry Parson’s Died”. At some point during this jam, Jimmy Herring felt more comfortable playing in lightspeed and the band professionally matched his devout intensity.

Widespread Panic transitioned smoothly into a laidback version of the rarely played, “Better Off” from their album “Everyday” which was followed by the Willie Dixon tune, “Weak Brain, Narrow Mind”. This song’s lyrics accentuate the themes of a tropical destination getaway with the choral refrain providing the knowledge:

You know the strong overpower the weak,
And the smart overpower the strong.
The clever are the only ones enjoyin’ the world,
While the greedy save all and enjoy none.

This epic reminder to live our lives to fullest was followed by the classic ripper “All Time Low”, with John Bell doggedly admitting that “his principles are reaching an all time low.” This original tune segued into a JoJo Hermann-led piano-heavy transitioning in a roundabout way into a nasty version of “Shut Up and Drive”, which gave John Bell another opportunity to demonstrate his vocal dominance. Jimmy Herring was phenomenal in this song from the album “Dirty Side Down” adding credence to his status as the “White Wizard”.

Keeping the fire ablaze, the band nailed a dirty performance of “Up All Night”—with standout sections from JoJo Hermann and John Bell—before Duane Trucks hammered his name into “Cease Fire”, another badass song from their latest album. To conclude this heroic first set, the band completed the second half of Vic Chestnutt’s opener with its counterpart “Sewing Machine”.

After a short break, the band resumed their positions and opened the second set fittingly with the original “Airplane” with a killer Herring-led “Take-Off” jam before playing Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” all the way through, but without vocals. An outstanding cover of New Rhythm and Blues Quartet’s “Help Me Somebody” emerged after the Pusherman jam.  JoJo took over lead vocals for this one, which hasn’t been played since 2014 except for once, in Milwookie last October.

Widespread Panic then demolished a dynamite version of Tom Waits’ “Goin’ Out West”.  The winds began to lash out more violently, building progressively and concurrently with the heavy bluesy riffs. As John Bell sang the ending of “Goin’ Out West”, Schools added an afterthought to “Help Me Somebody” which together provided an amalgamated blend of awesomeness that sounded like “I’m going out west (Bell)…. Help me somebody (Schools)” which they repeated several times before diving into another superb transitory jam which eventually emerged as “Solid Rock.”

As Widespread Panic progressed deeper into Bob Dylan’s cover, the winds carried hints of water in a misty current that all the while was steadily strengthening. By the end of the song, it was raining sideways with banners and flags threatening to disentangle themselves.  The rain came down heavily and from all directions.  The band—and the audience, shortly thereafter—had no option except to take cover. To quote Forrest Gump “We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain, and big ol’ fat rain, rain that flew in sideways, and sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath.”  With no alternative, the rest of the music was cancelled—including the late-night show “Big Something”; though it was rescheduled for the next day.

Some takeaways from this first shortened night of music include a strong performance by the entire band, but especially Jimmy Herring. The man proved to be an unstoppable force of nature, possibly summoning the storm with his sorcerer’s power and raw energy.  All in all, it was a very strong showing of the fundamentally sound sextet, and it laid strong foundations for a spectacular weekend of music.

Widespread Panic Electrifies Before Heavy Rains End Panic En La Playa Set Early

Setlist: Widespread Panic | Hard Rock Resort | Riviera Maya, Mexico | 1/26/2018

Set One: Protein Drink > Jam > Climb To Safety, Henry Parsons Died, Better Off, Weak Brain, Narrow Mind, All Time Low > Jam > Shut Up And Drive, Up All Night, Cease Fire > Sewing Machine

Set Two: Airplane > Pusherman Jam > Help Me Somebody > Goin’ Out West > Solid Rock