October 24-26, 2007
When it comes to touring in the South, Widespread Panic are the undisputed kings – a group capable of naming their own schedule, and filling most any venue. When the band released their fall tour itinerary, fans were giddy to see a three night run at the historic Ryman on the schedule. From the opening of the first show, you could sense that members of the band, always known to pay proper respects to their musical forefathers, were equally excited and prepared to show the packed house a really good time.
From 1943 to 1974, the venue now known as the Ryman Auditorium was the home of the Grand Ole Opry. The venue is housed in a converted church, complete with church pews, leading to its nickname "The Mother Church of Country Music." When the Opry built a larger venue just outside Nashville, the Ryman sat mostly vacant until 1992, when Emmylou Harris performed a series of concerts that renewed interest in the restoring the Ryman; which was reopened as an intimate performance venue and museum in 1994.
Fast-forward to 2007. When Panic’s run kicked off on October 24, the venue seemed ill equipped to handle the capacity crowd of 2362, with lines failing to move, bathrooms overflowing, and bars running out of beer. That hardly stopped any fun being had on stage, as the band came out strong with “Pilgrims.”
“Chunk of Coal” seemed an appropriate song choice given the setting, and “From the Cradle” continued to be an overwhelming crowd favorite during the first set. As is the norm at any good Panic show, the band turned up the heat during the second set, particularly during the trilogy of “Impossible > Machine > Barstools and Dreamers.”
Night two kicked off in roaring fashion as “Climb to Safety” pulled the crowd in to an instant sing along. The extraordinary first set was highlighted by “Surprise Valley > Blight > Surprise Valley,” along with a stirring “None of Us Are Free.”
The venue was far better prepared for the crowd this second night, with additional staff that ensured much quicker entrance, shorter lines, and an all around more enjoyable show going experience than the crazed mess of the previous evening.
By the third and final night of the run, the size of the crowd outside the venue grew considerably. While there had been spare tickets to be found before the first two shows, show three took place on a Friday night, and the number of fingers in the air out numbered available tickets by at least 50 to 1.
Those that did get through the door were treated to the best of the three shows, including a few extra special treats, namely “The Last Straw,” a song that had not been performed since Jimmy Herring joined the band, and the debut of “Up All Night,” a great song the band had just begun offering via free download from their yet to be titled 2008 CD release.
The second set of the final night showcased the band at their very best. Herring lead the charge with a blistering lead during “Holden Oversoul” before giving way to John Bell’s down and dirty vocals on “Sharon.” By the time they launched in to “Tall Boy” the atmosphere in the crowd kicked in to overdrive.
The party only grew when JB started The Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime,” and would not stop until the set ended with “Goin’ Out West.” In between, Panic brought out a pair of the heaviest hitters – “Proving Ground” and “Papa’s Home,” with a “Fixin’ to Die” sandwiched in between that was literally breath-taking for a crowd that had been dancing without nary a pause as the momentum continued to build with each passing song.
As much fun as the crowd had visiting the Ryman, the band seemed to be enjoying themselves even more. While JB may have been joking late in the first show when cracking “that’s the way Minnie Pearl would have done it,” JB and the entire band delivered three performances that Pearl, and all the other alumni of the Grand Ole Opry would have been proud of.
World class musicians, playing honest tunes that had the fans dancing, and church pews swaying. In the Church of American Country music, Widespread Panic proved to be a class act, true American originals that filled the historic room for three grand nights of memorable bliss.