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Widespread Panic Tears Down The Wall With All-Star Guests, One Original Set, One Cover Set On Final Night In Mexico
The sturdy machine that is Widespread Panic, rusted from years in the swamp and miles on the road, rolled to a stop following the fourth night of jubilation at the Hard Rock Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico on Monday. Last night was the culmination of four epic days of misadventure, sunshine, alcohol-fueled celebrations, and unrelenting music by Panic and a few other acts hand-picked to join the international fiesta.
As if challenging the clouds to precipitate, Widespread opened with “Chilly Water”, allowing rowdy audience members to relinquish the water from their bottles. The wiser among the raucous crowd held onto their hydration kits; the night was merely beginning, and the final stretch of a long weekend laid ahead. Keeping the badass level (fun meters, for some) to a maximum, the band segued into “Saint Ex”. After flying leisurely among the clouds, the music crashed and burned, and nothing remained but the upbeat, instrumental “Disco”.
After grooving and building the rhythm in casually paced measures, Panic migrated into a rolling “Pilgrims”. An ode to the music brotherhood of the audience, “Good People” followed with John Bell changing the opening lyrics to “We are the goodpeople, the ones your Grandma warned ya ‘bout!” “The Last Straw” broke the camel’s back before segueing cleanly into “Sundown Betty”. The band had previewed a snapshot of this song during soundcheck ahead of night one, but last night they unleashed the modified version. “Sundown Betty” premiered during last year’s Panic en la Playa and has made quantum leaps in each of the seven times that it has been performed since. Like a caterpillar in a cocoon slowly metamorphosizing, “Sundown Betty” appears to have finally turned into that beautiful, psychedelic butterfly.
Keeping the hallucinogenic tone in the tunes, traces of “Pigeons” gave way to a maelstrom of squawking as John Bell transformed into a funky-fried city chicken. JoJo Hermann was truly spectacular as Jimmy Herring wove ancient spells from hieroglyphic tomes. To conclude the first frame, Widespread addressed an appreciative “Postcard” to ice that sparkplug of a set comprised completely of original tunes.
A long setbreak gave the sun-burnt, haggard crowd time to sit, drink refreshments, ahead of Panic’s final Playa Ocho set. “Honey Bee” opened the second set as the band paid tribute to Tom Petty, leading the way for a full set of covers. This marked only the sixth time ever that the band played “Honey Bee”.
Working off the brute. repertoire—songs co-written by Vic Chestnutt and WSP—the boys aced a “Bastards in Bubbles” > “Puppy Sleeps”. “Bastards in Bubbles”, from the co-written Nine High a Pallet album, debuted a few weeks ago as part of the New Year’s Eve encore. “Puppy Sleeps” resurfaced after almost twenty years at last year’s Red Rocks run, and has been played by Widespread only five times.
The set soon turned extra special as Dave Schools introduced guitarist Eric Krasno. Krasno and Herring traded guitar licks in a musical fencing match and took turns shredding both Steve Winwood’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and the funky rhythms of J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High”. John Bell was in fine form throughout “Dear Mr. Fantasy” with his emotionally distraught lyrics. JoJo Hermann provided all the sauce to the “Ride Me High” jam. After welcoming NOLA legends George Porter Jr. and Ivan Neville to the stage, JoJo completely took over the program with a fulfilling serving of “Red Beans”, the Muddy Waters-penned song popularized by Professor Longhair—another Crescent City icon and one of JoJo’s biggest influences.
The stage was crowded with all-star musicians and Schools admitted, “Now, we’re cooking with gas” before tearing into the bass licks opening Calvin Carter & Bobby Rush’s “Bowlegged Woman”, a crowd favorite. John Bell captivated with his careful improvisation, and the song reached a whopping conclusion before sliding into an organic, freestyling jam capturing the spirit of the heavy-hitting roster onstage.
Duane Trucks and Sonny Ortiz were given time to abuse their percussive kits, teasing “Cease Fire” before introducing the gritty cover of Tom Waits‘ “Goin’ Out West” without the guests. Two back-to-back Neil Young songs—“Don’t Be Denied” (first time since 2017) and “Last Dance”—brought the second set of covers to a close. John Bell mystified during “Last Dance”, enrapturing the audience with his bittersweet words: “Time to go…. Time to go. No, no, no!” Even the toughest in the crowd were seen leaking quiet tears of gladness before the band whipped into a whirlwind of energy to finish the tune with an explosive bang.
Before welcoming The Bloodkin (Daniel Hutchens and Eric Carter) to the stage, John Bell humbly admitted that they were responsible for “Half of our catalog.” Hutchens and Carter added their names to the already prestigious guest list by accompanying the Panics onstage for two more covers from the Bloodkin archive. The tumultuous “Makes Sense to Me” described circumstances where individuals lay out the social injustices that shaped their current situations in life. An emotional “End of the Show” sung by Hutchens threatened to end the final night in tears, but, alas, one last original—the high-voltage “Action Man”—ended the four-night run in Mexico, with Bell appropriately changing the “old Kentucky home” lyric to “back to Mexico!”
Widespread Panic will eventually leave the Hard Rock Resort and Mexico. When? That is an answer that can’t be known by us humble observers. But with a heavily stacked March schedule, one can only presume that it will be before St. Panics Day run Part Two near Washington D.C.
This weekend was yet another definitive example of why people will go to the ends of the world to see this band play. Somehow, some way, they manage to surpass even their own expectations and standards every time. And the community, goodpeople, you keep bringing the infectious enthusiasm and comradery that leads by shining example across all other indices of life. Like the sun piercing its way through the clouds, the happiness radiated by the audience was tangible. Now, spend the last of your resort credits. Get that massage or play a round of golf. For those lingering, go to Tulum, or the cenotes, or Cozumel. Take the inspiration and share it. Inspire to live, live to inspire. One day at a time, never forget how happy you are at this moment. On that note, let me offer you one last time: “Tequila, señor?”