Widespread Panic-Red Rocks 2017: Keeping The Tradition Alive (A Reflection On Widespread Panic) by Jam Band Purist
The ultimate southern jam band, Widespread Panic returned to Red Rocks Amphitheater this year to defend their title for most sold-out shows with 54 total sold-out performances. I have personally witnessed 12 of these concerts and this was my fourth consecutive year catching WSP Red Rocks run here in Colorado.
The yearly pilgrimage back to Colorado is well worth it once I set my feet on the rocks and feel the vibrations resonate through my body. Mind the 24-Hour Drive from Virginia and the long expanse that is Kansas... dear God. I took my time and experienced America, taking in the sights and the scenery, the feeling of the Midwest, the western plains and everything in between.
After driving and reflecting on this journey, I have come to realize the importance of small rural communities. These small towns make up most of the United States and are very important to the stability of American culture and American life itself. This importance in small communities can be juxtaposed with our small musical community, without which we wouldn't have such ravenous and fanatic fans and bands like, Widespread Panic could never hold sold-out records for one of the highest rated venues in the world. Without our small group of fans, Phish could never play a 13 night run at Madison Square Garden's, one of the most famous and prestigious venues in the country. Our bands do the biggest things, in the best places because we as fans support them like no other fans in the live music industry.
Mile High City has continued to thrive and grow, although the allure of the foothills has dwindled with each return, the energy inside Red Rocks is always palpable, like a proverbial powder-keg waiting to explode: light fuse, get away.
I will not delve deep into the setlist from this years sold-out performances but I'll just say Friday night was a scorcher. My favorite rendition being, "Tortured Artist." The lyrics and vibe of this songs are haunting and emotional. I hope they bring it back into rotation. JB was in rare form with an amazing solo from out of nowhere that showed off his versatile guitar skills. Jimmy Herring must be showing him a few scales and techniques, or has he always been this good? Friday night exemplified their original material and it provided one of the best renditions of "Chilly Water" I have ever heard; it was dark, ominous, foreboding and JB was wailing like a demonic barn cat.
Saturday night was all about the covers with Leon Russell's "A Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall" which has been following me around all summer; a sloppy, "Ride Me High" and very expected, "New Mother Nature" culminating in an outstanding version of "Low Sparks." Before the band came onstage for the encore, NASA radio controls could be heard through the PA, a lift off countdown was started and it felt like something serious was about to happen. A space shuttle erupts into take-off, projected onto the main screen; the lights go crazy for "Disco."
Sunday was a very slow show, one of the slowest I have witnessed since 9/11/16 last year in Philly. This show marked my 70th Widespread Panic concert and although I did get some outstanding rarities, the band never seem to achieve lift-off like the night before. Very few build-ups and breakdowns for a somewhat lackluster performance. The Studio 54 logo was projected on the main screen in representation of Widespread Panic's 54th sold-out performance at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
These shows also mark my one year anniversary of starting this music journalism, writing adventure and I want to thank everyone who has supported me and helped along the way. I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for this scene and the amazing bands that drive it forward. Thank you all.
Widespread Panic continues to push forward, never really slowing down, just taking it a little easier each year. Just a few years ago fans were afraid that Panic had called it quits but Widespread Panic endures and continues headlining festivals and selling out venues all over the country, including the greatest outdoor venue in the country, if not the world. As a constant fan of this band and their musical accomplishments, I would love to see Widespread Panic dig in their heels and return to the improvisationally raw and highly formed jam techniques that they once mastered. Try new things, keep the audience on their toes, don't become stagnant, allow for freedom and looseness within the songs that we all know and love, take chances, improvise to the point of utter chaos, don't rely so heavily on drums (every night) and work on new Southern Gothic material. All that being said Widespread Panic will always be one of my favorite live bands and I look forward to seeing what they will bring this Halloween in Las Vegas. See you then.
Jam Band Purist
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.