The first time I ever saw Widespread Panic play live they opened for Blues Traveler at Red Rocks on the Horde Tour. If I remember correctly, it was the Forth of July weekend and Panic ripped up the stage. That was nearly twenty years ago, the year nineteen-ought-ninety-three.
It wasn’t long before Panic was headlining multiple nights at Red Rocks, a summer tradition we’ve all grown accustomed to here in Colorado. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all those years, never, ever, miss a Sunday show.
Yesterday was a perfect example of how the band rewards fans for enduring the two previous nights shows and returning for the Sunday, or as we like to call it, “Funday” show.
Now, let’s be clear about this; one does not simply “attend” a Panic show at Red Rocks (or any other venue for that matter). It is a rite-of-passage, a process, a ceremony full of rituals and preparations months in the making. Tickets over the years have become more and more difficult to obtain, and good seats in the general admission venue are fought over tooth and nail. With rumors swirling that the band is struggling internally, there is a very real chance that a much needed “break” for the band will turn into a “breakup” and we’ll never see Panic perform at Red Rocks again. (Until their reunion tour, tentatively scheduled for next summer.)
With the added sense of importance associated with this weekend, we armed ourselves with tarps and duct tape. Twelve friends in three cars were dispatched in a staggered fashion, no one incident could thwart our efforts. With just an hour before the doors to Red Rocks would swing open and the race to claim space would begin, our first team left Denver. An unspeakably late departure with little chance of getting in line soon enough to stake out respectable space. Were it not for an ace up our sleeve, we would have seen yesterday’s show from the nose bleeds, pretending the distorted sounds didn’t bother us and that it was worth the view.
If you’re going to go see Widespread Panic’s last performance at Red Rocks for fuck sake man, do it right. We were like a team of professional riders, breaking wind for our teammates so they could trust forward in the final sprint to the venue. One would think the lead car breaking down en route to the venue would scuttle dreams of good seats, not so my friend, not so. With multi-layered safety measures in place and a dose of good luck, a team member was lost, but the team very much still in the race. With just fifteen minutes to doors open, our lead team rendezvoused at the Trading Post with the critical contact (names withheld) and were quickly whisked through a backstage security line and “vous la”, three tarps on rows eight, nine and ten, School’s side.
While my personal interest in Widespread has waned since the passing of founding lead guitarist and namesake of the band Michael “Panic” Houser back in 2002, they proved yesterday that they can still rock it like they used to. The first set was a mix of mostly older music off their first few albums, and by most accounts it was an improved sound compared to Friday and Saturday nights. The second set they blasted out of the gates with a cover of “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” (The Guess Who) and followed it with another cover, and another, and another, and another. The entire second set was covers, An unheard of event.
As if that wasn’t enough, they came back out for an encore and completely floored the audience with a rendition of Dire Straits’ “Sultans of Swing” where lead guitarist Jimmy Herring, for the first time in the show, seemed to earn his keep by smoothly transitioning into the sexiest, most sultry version of “Gilded Splinters” I have ever heard. When the music stopped, I looked up and saw J.B. shouldering his mandolin, I knew it could only mean one thing…
“Everybody’s waiting to find the last drink, the last word to say, the last place to go, the end of the show.”
Thank you Widespread Panic for what I will fondly remember as the best show ever, except, of course, for all the other “best ever” shows we’ve seen over the years.
And more importantly, thanks to all my friends that made it happen.