When your favorite band hails from the Deep South, some good ol’ summer precipitation isn’t anything to write home about. Three straight days of intermittent rain and wind didn’t bother letting up for Sunday evening’s holiest of rock ‘n’ roll sessions with Athens, Georgia’s Widespread Panic. One of the tougher Red Rocks season tickets to find, the southern-bred boys served their diehard fans the last and best of their four-night run that started at the Mission Ballroom on Thursday and wrapped up at Red Rocks Sunday night. Led by lead vocalist and jam band hero John Bell sporting his staple backwards baseball cap, Widespread Panic took the fans to church for a four-hour service.
Bell sang the first lines of Bloodkin’s “Can’t Get High” to the tired and wet but purely overjoyed crowd. From the first to the last row the Red Rocks stands roared, making it clear that the people in attendance were there for the party second, and the soul music first. Wet was the theme of the evening, with the band then playing a rendition of Bloodkin’s “Wet Trombone Blues” before moving into what would become an entire set of Bloodkin covers, a fellow Athens band. “Henry Parsons Died” and “Who Do You Belong To?” were followed by Panic-fied versions of “Quarter Tank of Gasoline,” “Trashy” and “Makes Sense To Me.”
When Widespread Panic covers a song, they take a great one, make it their own and rock it out harder than ever. “Mercy Train” and “Success Yourself” came before “End of the Show” to fittingly close out the first set. A rendition not unfamiliar to the band, “End of the Show” has found itself on the band’s live catalogue nearly 100 times, but still a relatively low number compared to “Can’t Get High” appearing nearly 400 times and “Henry Parsons Died” nearly 700. The completed Bloodkin cover set wrapped up just as the weather turned from raining to pouring, and folks got the chance to head inside, regroup and prepare for one hell of a second set.
The weather passed just in time for a heater of a second set to warm up what had turned into a chilly early summer evening. “Postcard,” “Rock” and fan favorite “Pleas” were the trifecta chosen to open the second set before the band raged their version of Murray McLaughlan’s “Honky Red.” Two back-to-back Brute covers and quite possibly the energetic peak of the night came with “Protein Drink” and “Sewing Machine,” boasting the pure wizardry of lead guitarist Jimmy Herring. Originals “Diner,” “Jamais Vu” and “Airplane” came next to the sheer joy of the crowd, with Funkadelic’s “Red Hot Mama” to keep them grooving.
The blissfully raucous “Fishwater” closed out the second set, but not before a three-song encore to finish up Widespread Panic’s last and final of about 15 hours of music-making on the Front Range this weekend. The long-awaited “Blue Indian” led into a positive note, with Skip James’ “I’m So Glad” and Panic original “Love Tractor” played side-by-side to cap off another excellent weekend from the beloved southern rockers. Only three hundred and sixty-some days until Bell, Herring, Dave Schools, Jojo Hermann, Domingo Ortiz and Duane Trucks again grace the Red Rocks stage for the annual jam party.