Widespread Panic | 04.19 | Alabama

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Words by: Frank Etheridge | Images by: Ian Rawn

Widespread Panic :: 04.19.09 :: The Wharf :: Orange Beach, AL

Dave Schools :: 04.19 :: Alabama
Sunshine forced a glorious break through gloomy clouds covering coastal Alabama around 4 p.m. last Sunday, the final day of Widespread Panic's three-day run in Orange Beach and the last show of a mini spring break tour.

The sun's sustaining warmth and energy could not have arrived at a better time. Word had spread of a friend lost along the way (RIP Paul Stanley Grimes, with love and prayers for his family). The wind, dreary sky and rain that morning made it even harder to get out of bed, the cobwebs that much harder to shake.

And yet, the moment had arrived. Amateur hour was over and as such those looking merely for some fun on a Friday and/or Saturday night had returned to reality, leaving The Wharf as the stomping ground reserved only for the heady and hardcore, those baptized in the truth that you never miss a Sunday show. So, when the sun serendipitously appeared just as the local classic rock station cranked "Sweet Home Alabama" while a beer-buzzed caravan trekked from the beach to The Wharf, the magical concoction brewed only with the ingredients of Panic and a blissful stretch of beach known as the Redneck Riviera was good and ready.

The Avett Brothers' unique blend of folk and rock, delivered with a punk ethos, provided an excellent warm-up. One highlight was Scott Avett's excellent banjo work on "At the Beach," with its apropos lyric, "I have worries to give to the sea." The band alternated between its more-typical three-piece arrangement of acoustic guitar (Seth Avett), banjo and stand-up bass (Bob Crawford) on mellow numbers such as "Shame," which highlights the band's stellar songwriting, and a four-piece with cellist Joe Kwon. The Avetts ended their set with a furious, all-electric instrumental that was a fun far cry from their normal tone.

John Bell :: 04.19 :: Alabama
After a brief greeting from frontman John "JB" Bell, Widespread came out of the gates hot with a fast "Radio Child" that built nicely on expert drum-and-bass rolls from drummer Todd Nance and bassist Dave Schools. The classic "Pigeons" came next, and while not the longest or craziest version, was played well and hit fans hard when JB, in a spontaneous showcase of the transcendental virtues of his songwriting, changed the lyrics from cloudy to "working on a sunny day" in probable reference to the day's weather. The band really kicked into high gear with a cover of Chuck Berry's "Let it Rock," with JB growling its opening line, "In the heat of the day down in Mobile, Alabama" for one of the weekend's best moments. Keyboardist John "JoJo" Hermann's R&B swagger really drove this crowd-pleaser, with guitarist Jimmy Herring laying down blistering riffs more than worthy of the opportunity to cover the great Berry.

A spacey, slow rendition of the instrumental "L.A." came next, followed by the serene "Pickin' Up the Pieces," which flowed into the up-tempo sing-along cover of Neil Young's "Walk On." Percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz worked some magic on his kit and created some bizarre grooves with Schools in a prolonged intro into "Better Off," which showcased another lyrical switch by JB, who put on a somewhat positive spin by using "smiles" instead of the more frequent "brown-nosing" or "bullshit" in the line, "Haven't we seen through all the smiles yet?"

Jimmy Herring :: 04.19 :: Alabama
The stage lighting came to vibrant life during The Meters' "Ain't No Use" that followed, casting crazed hues down as the wind blew JB's hair about as he whispered the last refrain before the band launched into the night's first serious jam to close the song. The only new song of the set, "Angels on High," revealed a solid growth, its sweetly melodic identity emerging before the bass and growls of a thunderous version of "Goin' Out West" closed out the first set.

Panic can take excruciatingly long set breaks, at times leaving the buzzed audience to all manner of disorientation ("What am I to do with my hands now?... I wanna dance... Why isn't there music playing?... Please don't talk to me... Dear God, will the music PLEASE come back on?"). Combating this, the band has of late often recruited DJs to fill this dangerous void. At Orange Beach, some preferred the original, but a bit esoteric, work of Pretty Lights on Friday and Saturday, but DJ J. Boogie Sunday night kept the party moving during set break, spinning a mix that included everything from Steve Miller to James Brown and closing with Pink Floyd's "The Wall," which Schools joined, smiling big, to lay down this classic's grooves.

The band all ventured on stage one-by-one and jammed for a while before moving into "Driving Song." The timeless refrain of "a bowl for the cat, bowl for the dog and a bowl for me" had the entire Wharf seemingly connected in Panic bliss. The band jammed the instrumental "A of D" before moving back into "Driving Song," which ventured into the fun boogie of "Tall Boy." During "Tall Boy," Panic stopped expertly on a collective dime after the line "I'm feeling weak" in a sick segue that slammed right into the sinister opening riffs and rhythms of "Rock." Another flawless segue moved back into "Tall Boy" before the band took it down a notch with "Sleepy Monkey." While Herring's guitar stepped on JB's line, "Swing on back to the jungle," one of the song's signature moments, this old favorite was still perfectly placed and well played.

Widespread Panic :: 04.19 :: Alabama
A quintessential Panic tune, "Diner," came next, with Herring launching a pure face-melting jam that led into perhaps the show's biggest highlight, a stream-of-conscious "hallelujah" rap by JB, speaking of "somethin' fittin' for a Sunday," that took the crowd to church. Herring moved "Diner" into the last strains of "Driving Song," which found Schools beaming in delight as the finals notes finished, a sign of the joy the band is experiencing with one another of late. "From the Cradle" ended the second set. The poetic "May Your Glass Be Filled" created some warm and fuzzies before the monstrous "Chilly Water" whipped the crowd into a frenzy in its rare encore slot. Giving a final mind-fuck for good measure, Schools laid his bass in front of his amps for a wall of disturbing but welcomed feedback as the show came to a close.

There are some fans, especially of the Northeastern persuasion, that hate on and boycott Alabama Panic, drudging up memories of police stings at Oak Mountain and The Wharf, along with tired stereotypes. Though these things hold some truth, this run was much more than that. It was sunburn and sand, Dirty South debauchery, airbrushed t-shirts and rebel flag bikinis, great music and good people. Panic's spring run at The Wharf is becoming a tradition like New Orleans for Halloween and New Year's in Atlanta, one we can only hope will last for years to come.

04.19.09 :: The Wharf :: Orange Beach, AL
Set I: Radio Child > Pigeons, Let It Rock, L.A. > Pickin' Up The Pieces, Walk On, Better Off, It Ain't No Use > Under The Radar Jam > Angels on High, Goin' Out West
Set II: Driving Song > A of D > Driving Song > Tall Boy > Rock > Tall Boy > Sleepy Monkey > Three Candles > Drums > Diner > Driving Song > From The Cradle
Encore: May Your Glass Be Filled, Chilly Water

Jimmy Herring is on tour now, dates available here. Check our brand new feature on Herring here.

Continue reading for more pics of Widespread Panic and The Avett Brothers in Bama...

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