On Saturday night, Athens-based Southern rock heroes Widespread Panic and their lovingly cultish “Spreadheads” descended on Red Rocks for the jam band’s 65th performance at the iconic venue. For the 65th time in 21 years, two legends joined forces yet again to deliver another astounding performance of rock ‘n’ roll and another Mile-High celebration. What for days, if not weeks, had been predicted as an incoming cold front with monsoon-like moisture turned out to be a comfortably temperate evening of dry skies and raucous fun.
Maybe because of the forecast, or maybe because they’re just that consistently awesome, Widespread Panic threw a raging dance party, starting with a jaw-dropping first set of heavy hitters that left absolutely nothing to be desired — except for more. Kicking off the stacked first set with the aptly named “Rock,” fearless frontman John Bell and his band of immensely talented and lovable musical characters wasted no time getting right into the thick of it. Keyboardist JoJo Hermann took the lead on “One Arm Steve” before the band busted out two fan favorites, “Bear’s Gone Fishin'” and “Porch Song,” with the instrumental “Take Out” placed intricately between.
The fun didn’t slow there, with the twangy sing-along “Ribs and Whiskey” and funky instrumental “Disco” up to bat, moving the night in precisely the right direction. “Bust It Big” was played halfway through before a drum solo from Duane Trucks and a rendition of Dr. John’s psychedelic-voodoo-gospel tune, “I Walk on Guilded Splinters.” Then it was back to “Bust It Big” for the last and loudest verse before the band took their leave from the stage.
At just about sundown, while the world was turning dark, Widespread Panic returned to the stage and lit the place back up for a second set that is best described as both feral and seductive. The evening became an all-inclusive family affair, with tour manager Steve Lopez featured on percussion for a version of War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness.” A slew of oozy, jamming originals followed with “Thought Sausage,” “Travelin’ Light” and “Surprise Valley” leading into the final crescendo with “Hatfield.”
Now fully immersed in the second set, Bell brought it even deeper and turned things sensual with J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High” and Widespread Panic original “Second Skin.” Returning to a previously unfinished “Surprise Valley” and bringing us back to a blissfully earthly plane, the band rolled through a smooth “Heaven” and a groovin’ “Tie Your Shoes.” Ending the second set came an excellent interpretation of the Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime,” with the band briefly departing to gear up for the last and final round of the evening.
A trifecta of an encore is what sealed the deal Saturday night, including the haunting lyricism of “Nobody’s Loss,” the heavy rockin’ “Saint Ex” and Hermann’s crooning on “Blackout Blues.” The end of the show but certainly not the end of the weekend for many, fans old and new left immensely fulfilled and yet always ready for more from their favorite Southern rockers and their most-anticipated weekend every summer — 65 shows and counting.