Words by Erika Rasmussen
Photos by Jerry Friend
Ladies and gentlemen, Widespread Panic took Durham Performing Arts Center by storm with three nights of Southern rock and jam band goodness February 9-11. That's right, three nights of sweaty dancing, beer-soaked camaraderie, and more guitar licks than you can shake a stick at, all in the home state of their first lead guitarist (Michael Houser) and their current lead guitarist (Jimmy Herring). Let's dive into the setlists, shall we?
Thursday night was all about introspection and longing. "Send Your Mind" kicked things off with a Van Morrison cover that set the tone for the night. "One-Arm Steve" followed, which is not about a pirate, but rather a song about seeking salvation. "Holden Oversoul" and "Genesis" explored the passing of time and the journey of life. "Cotton Was King" and "Cease Fire" tackled the history of a place and the need for peace and unity. I not only wrote about "Cotton Was King" in my preview of the weekend, but I was lucky enough to catch the first time it was played at one of my birthday shows in Greenville, SC, on 5/5/10. The set ended with Tom Petty's powerful "Honey Bee".
The second set began with "Aunt Avis," a Vic Chesnutt cover about seeking guidance and striving to be a good person. "You Should Be Glad" encouraged gratitude and happiness despite difficulties. "Wonderin'" reflected on the search for meaning and connection, and "Hatfield" featured another glorious JB Rap that I can't wait to read in detail. After "Henry Parsons Died", we were treated to an electric "Dyin' Man" which featured some truly rockin' JoJo chords and some samples that took you back to seeing DJ Logic perform this live with the band. The set ended with "Barstools and Dreamers" and "Machine." The encore was a doozy, with "Old Joe," "Walkin'," and "Knockin' Round the Zoo," a "Thursday afternoon" cover originally by one of our most famous Tarheels, James Taylor. JB noted "This song is 66 years old", which is true, and the song was also the single to follow Taylor's hit "Carolina In My Mind". The song is about feeling trapped and caged while he was receiving treatment in McLean Hospital (during which time he saw Ray Charles, who'd come in for help with his heroin addiction). The crowd exploded with the first line of "Knockin' Round the Zoo" and rocked until the show closed the evening.
Friday kicked off with "Bear's Gone Fishin'," a song about finding escape and freedom through imagination and make-believe. This is also a song that just seems written for Schools to perform, with his lovable bearish features and his masterful command of the bass. "Blackout Blues" followed, exploring feelings of hopelessness and the desire to escape from life's difficulties. "Time Zones" and "Can't Get High" delved into different stages of life and struggles with substance abuse. "Radio Child" celebrated the power of music to provide comfort and solace, and "Pleas" explored the hardships and difficulties necessary for growth and self-discovery. The set ended with "Love Tractor," and we all know what that's about...
The second set began with "Little Kin," a song about the contrast between a prince's comfortable life and the lives of those who work hard to provide for him. Neil Young's "Mr. Soul" tackled the tension between being true to oneself and conforming to societal norms, while "You Got Yours" emphasized the importance of meaningful relationships. The set ended with "Papa's Home," a song about being away from family but connected through memories and stories. Oh, and let's not forget the bass and drum jam, drum solo, and reprise of "Papa's Home"! The drum solo also featured those DJ Logic-esque samples and Duane and Sunny's hard work was definitely well received by the crowd.
Saturday night started with "Imitation Leather Shoes," a song about searching for real experiences and connections. "Postcard" described a person's experiences in a new place, and "Makes Sense to Me" explored characters acting in ways that may not be deemed acceptable by society. "I'm Not Alone" addressed facing one's own thoughts and emotions, and "Jaded Tourist" reflected on feeling disillusioned and disconnected. "There is a Time" and "Visiting Day," encouraged us all to cherish the moments we have with those we love. "There is a Time" is a song by The Dillards, who appeared on the tv show of NC native, Andy Griffith, as the fictional bluegrass band, The Darlings. This was mainstream America's first introduction to bluegrass, and the song was sung by the band on two episodes and by Andy himself on one episode. Fittingly, Panic played the tune for the first time on 10/31/15 during their Griffith-inspired Pink Floyd's Barbershop Halloween show in Asheville, NC. Way to bring it all back to the Ole North State, y'all. The set ended with perhaps my favorite-ever "Chilly Water" which featured a bass-heavy intro and a real spotlight on Jimmy Herring's skill.
The second set was all about hope and positivity, starting with "Hope in a Hopeless World." This set was a rollercoaster of emotions, with "Worry" and "Contentment Blues" showcasing the struggle to maintain hope, and "Pigeons" encouraging everyone to break free from the mundane routine and find joy. The crowd was in for a treat with the lighthearted "Jack," and the whiskey-fueled "Honky Red." The set was a reminder that despite the struggles and stress, things will get better. "Drivin' Song" was a nod to moving on and adapting to change, and "Tall Boy" was all about seeking growth and change. The set ended with the introspective "Saint Ex," exploring the search for identity and place in the world.
The encore was a beautiful conclusion to the night, with "Blue Indian" bringing comfort and belonging, and "Climb to Safety" reminding us to work together to overcome challenges and find stability.
In conclusion, this weekend of Widespread Panic was a tale of struggle and hope, light and dark. I was so pleased to see the creativity with which the band made their nods to North Carolina and the innovation they brought to the jams we thought we knew so well. There are few modern venues as beautiful or as acoustically precise as the Durham Performing Arts Center, and there are few bands who can do it justice as well as Widespread Panic did. Thanks, y'all, and come back again real soon.