Dream Weekend: Allman Brothers & Widespread Panic (Part I)
“Ain’t life grand”
Two nights of Widespread Panic and The Allman Brothers in the southeast. This isn’t just a dream weekend, this is a dream weekend come true. Somewhere along the way I must have had a prayer answered, done a good deed, or unknowingly clicked my heels enough times to land myself in the parking lot of the Verizon Wireless for both nights. I would’ve been thrilled with one night. Having tickets to both nights..maybe I am just dreaming this but I wasn’t about to poke anyone to see if they were real. The venue in front of me and the tickets in my hands were proof enough. Besides, I don’t think anyone appreciates a poke, never mind one from a complete stranger in a Widespread Panic shirt.
I pulled into the lot a few minutes after 3 and headed straight to the box office for tickets to that night’s show (here’s a tip: buy your tickets at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater box office if at all possible to avoid additional Live Nation fees; it will cost you a bit less than ordering online or over the phone). It’s largely a gravel lot capable of reflecting enough heat to make you grab that next beer pretty quickly, if it doesn’t nearly force you into spending the four dollars for a water inside. There are no shortage of hippies with smiling faces, colorful tie dyes, grills, beer and illegal substances here. We’re talking something resembling an old fashioned Grateful Dead lot which, not coincidentally, would remind one of the line to get into Winterland in the 70’s. The paradox in the midst of this scene is this modern phenomenon of setting up a DirecTV dish to a computer monitor, sitting outside your car or SUV and watching a college football game. Now I was always in the mindset where you got into the lot, set up your grill, you had your beer and you blared your band’s songs louder than the car next to you. A satellite dish to a computer monitor? Really? What’s on TV that’s so important that you miss out on partaking in a real lot scene? Blast your band’s music! Take on the car next to you in “The Battle of Volume!” Nonetheless, it’s always a joy to walk through the lot of these particular types of shows, a show in and of itself and sometimes worth the price of admission. For someone like myself it’s almost like comfort food. I know this place. This is home. This is where I belong. I know these people. I know you even if I don’t really know you. The more colorful scene was apparently going on in the adjacent lot, a spot I wouldn’t hit until the following afternoon. Nevermind that though, it was time to hear some music, and oh, did we hear music . . .
“Wake up mama, turn your lamp down low”
The Allman Brothers started their 8 song, two hour set with a 30+ minute Mountain Jam, Widespread Panic’s Jimmy Herring standing in for the missing Warren Haynes, Gov’t Mule’s Danny Louis on keys Gregg Allman. Herring took little time asserting himself as one of the “Brothers,” matching Derek Trucks’ slide playing with his fiery, soaring leads. Gregg Allman had yet to take the stage but didn’t seem to matter much. This version hit extremely high peaks, Herring and Trucks trading wild solos, setting the tone for an amazing Saturday evening set. Gregg Allman finally took to the stage and took the guitar for a blistering “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin'” with the promise that “we’re gonna boogie!” He would play the guitar for the evening, due to a temporary paralysis affecting two fingers. As those notes faded, the extremely tall guy next to me turned to get my attention and said simply: “I’d say he kept his promise.”
Next up was the slow, bluesy “Stormy Monday.” Sadly, many chose this song as their “bathroom” or “beer break” song, which is a shame as this version took its time to develop into a blistering blues jam.
Then the Allmans really took off and remained in flight for the rest of their set.
“Statesboro Blues” was nothing short of blazingly hot. I almost feel guilty in saying that I didn’t miss Warren Haynes all that much as Jimmy Herring more than made up for his absence. Oteil Burbridge took vocals for a cover of Derek and the Dominoes‘ “Anyday.” How could you not raise your hands to the heavens during the chorus? Dance like nobody’s watching? Sing like nobody’s listening and louder than you ever have in your life? How could you not have to hold back a tear of joy? This wasn’t just sound, this was aural happiness, a celebration of life punctuated by teasing the solo to “Blue Sky” in the middle of this joyous music. Herring flashing ear to ear grins, Trucks jamming so hard that he breaks a string, Brubridge’s fingers all over his bass, the music soaring and climbing, higher and higher, the crowd roaring in return. After “Trouble No More” the Allmans launched into the evening’s other major jam session, a half hour long “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” There’s a girl in front of me, long flowing hair, dress down to her ankles, twirling and gyrating, bending forward and leaning back, arms gently flailing to the blues/psychedelia pouring through the speakers. As the intensity picks up so does her dancing, making it impossible to not feed off of both the music and her energy. This was no longer the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in 2009, this was the Avalon Ballroom in 1968. The Carousel. No, this was the Fillmore West (or East depending on your coast of preference) complete with liquid light show behind the band. This must have been what it was like. This version built to an eventual three man percussion jam that had to have been heard to be believed. Closing their two hour set was the classic “One Way Out.” All one could think of afterward was, “Widespread Panic has one hell of an act to follow.” I don’t think there was any doubt that they could do just that.
“Oh, kiss the mountain air we breathe. Goodbye it’s time to fly”
Widespread Panic hit the stage a bit before 9. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist John Bell greeted Charlotte dressed in his normal button down shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows as usual, almost as if he were saying, “We got work to do, boys.” The band stormed out of the gate with an absolutely driving “Little Kin.” This is serious. Tonight they mean business. After a solid “Holden Oversoul” the band blasts into a potent “Surprise Valley” complete with one of their signature percussion breakdowns, drummer Todd Nance providing a solid bed of groove for percussionist Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz to pound a calypso style rhythm over. Whether you were sitting down (and shame on you if you were) or standing up, you were going to move to this. You were going to dance. You were going to groove and do so without any say in the matter. “Pilgrims” is a powerful traveler’s ballad, a drifter’s lament where your only best friend just might be your car radio.
We left superstition on the roadside
A few cities ago
They spent our souls, maybe
But they didn’t take our smiles
If a song like “Pilgrims” came off as reflective, their next song, “Blackout Blues” came off as a controlled freight train. If you managed to resist the urge to groove during “Surprise Valley,” “Blackout Blues” took care of that. Honky Tonk on a roller coaster, what a barroom brawl might sound like if it were set to music. “This Part of Town” provided a much needed sit down for a lot of us and while the energy was there it wouldn’t come back quite to “Blackout Blues” level until “Diner” where it would stay for the rest of the evening. Their main set ended with a ferocious “Fishwater” with Gov’t Mule’s Danny Louis again onstage, guesting alongside JoJo Hermann on keys. The band is no longer playing guitars, keys and drums, they’re playing drills and jackhammers. They’re playing construction equipment, pummeling not only the stage but the earth below. This music is not for the faint of heart. As the song barrels towards its end, I find myself wishing I was holding onto something. Anything. Close your eyes, It’ll be over soon, but I don’t want it to end. Finally, and maybe with a bit of relief, the song ends. Yes, the ceiling has held up. There aren’t any visible cracks on the walls, columns or floor. Everything is still intact. The encore of “End of the Show” with John Keane on pedal steel and Danny Hutchens taking vocals, probably played by design to end things on a less adrenalized note, sent us on our way home. One phrase kept creeping into my train of thought driving out of the lot of the Verizon.
“I’ve got another night of this”
Ain’t life grand, indeed.
–Brian Hedden, Entertainment Editor