January 27-29, 2012
It seems like many moons have passed since the days when rumors began to swirl about a potential Widespread Panic hiatus, though most acknowledged that the boys were long overdue on a well deserved Â break from the unforgiving road.
In early fall of 2010, the hiatus was all but confirmed when Panic ivory tickler JoJo Hermann went on the record with a Vanderbilt University newspaper, stating that the cast of players were “probably going to call it (quits) for awhile.”
Of course all of that seems like ancient history now, and since then there has been near constant touring, the loss of yet one more Widespread family member, equipment manager and friend Garrie Vereen (whom Dave Schools speaks of at length here)and a 25th anniversary celebration in the band’s hometown of Athens. In other words, it has been the mountains and valleys that have defined the career of a band whose unfailing perseverance in the face of strife has been nearly as necessary as their stellar musical capabilities that make contact with the souls of the throngs that crowd their stage night after night and town after town.
Once the hiatus announcement was official, there was really only one question left: How would the boys go out? None would have guessed the way in which they chose and some second guessed the decision even after it was made: Widespread Panic, a band that is primarily known for their electric jams that seamlessly segue one unto another, would shut down shop after a series of dates that was just the six men and their acoustic instrument of choice. It would be called The Wood Tour and it would close leg one in Panic’s home state, at The Tabernacle in Atlanta, GA.
Widespread Panic graced the old church at The Tabernacle in Atlanta for an amazing three-night run (January 27-29, 2012). The acoustic incarnation of the band was a treat for the fans, and perhaps the most appropriate way to sign off for awhile; no frills, just honest instrumentation that gave all just as much of an opportunity to reflect as it did dance.
Peppered through the three nights included a respectful nod to Athens favorites, the late Vic Chesnutt (songwriter, member of brute., writer of “Aunt Avis” and co-writer of “Blight” and “Protein-Drink/Sewing-Machine) and Bloodkin. Both of which were of much appropriatenessÂ as a part of this Â farewell sojourn that is the Wood Tour, especially as part of the special Georgia chapter.
The six virtuosos packed the house all three nights while John Bell picked on acoustic guitars, banjo, mandolin and a dobro. Jojo Hermann delighted the crowd playing a harmonium, a baby piano and a piano talk box in addition to his usual keys. Dave Schools displayed once again that he is arguably one of the top bass players in the business while playing a Tacoma all three nights.
The highlights of the first night included a “Heaven” opener followed by a stellar “Surprise Valley>Iâ€™m Not Alone.” The set included the Willie Dixon cover and always crowd favorite, “Weak Brain, Narrow Mind” and Bukka Whiteâ€™s “Fixin’ To Die” that featured the man that Jimmy Herring refers to as his “Crazy Uncle,” Col. Bruce Hampton on vocals, the man who introduced the song to many throughout his Aquarium Rescue Unit Days.
The aforementioned Chesnutt’s “Letâ€™s get Down To Business“ opened the second set and the emotive play was pouring from the stage. Observing bassist Dave Schools, it was as though he was alone on stage, departed for a moment — perhaps remembering his friend, or maybe it was the choral accompaniment being provided the crowd, something that he was obviously enjoying. The balcony at the venue bounced through the rest of the set â€“ how could it not with “Use Me, Diner>Ribs and Whiskey” and a resounding closer- Jerry Josephâ€™s “North?”
Though the first night was sold-out, on night two, it looked even more sold-out. A ticket stub vs. patron count probably could have yielded interesting results, but hey, there is only one chance to witness history in the making. A fan’s got to do what a fan’s got to do in certain situations.
Of the three nights, this night opened with the most celebratory feeling and the crowd had apparently rested well after the previous night’s offering. To say that the opening “Driving Song” was one for the ages would be an understatement, simply due to the crowd’s input. Â The entire night would be about belting out a memorable song selection and guitar maestro Jimmy Herring breathing new life into sentimental favorites, the aforementioned “Porch Song” and “Vacation” during the first set.
The boys delivered a dream second set – an “Ainâ€™t Life Grand” opener that weaved its way through Robert Johnsonâ€™s “Me and The Devil Blues” into old favorite “Quarter Tank of Gasoline.”
The defining moments of the show laid in what came during the improvisation riddled “Driving Song>City of Dreams>Driving Song>Breathing Slow”. Hearing Bell’s crooning over the backing acoustic ensemble was like being visited by an angel. Further, the most experimental part of the jam — beginning Â with interplay between JoJo and the Nance/Domingo percussion section and yielding to psychedelic guitar work — would have been a series of face melting episodes on any other night but were instead, spine tingling blissful moments in time.
The beaming faces on stage launched into Guess Whoâ€™s Â “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” to end the set and returned for an encore that included “Expiration Day,” “Tall Boy” and Jimmy Cliffâ€™s legendary “Many Rivers To Cross” â€“ capping off a fantastic evening that was also a cliffhanger for what would come on the third and final night of the run.
With the dust settled and the venue restored to its proper order, fans descended once again for the third and final night, and for many, what would be the last time they would see the band that they hold so near and dear — the band that literally plays the soundtrack for their life — for quite awhile and definitely longer than they have ever been accustomed to.
Day three was Colin Vereenâ€™s night. Introduced as a gentleman who has “been with [the band] since before he began, Colin is the son of Garrie, who as mentioned previously, passed away on February 16, 2011. Â It is safe to say that Garrie would have been proud of his son on this night as he surely was on many nights. His lyrical exchanges with Bell during “Trouble” were poignant as was the moment in and of itself. There was hardly a dry eye in the house.
Another moment that will have people talking about for awhile was the offering of “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” the bridges allowing JoJo to shine with that jazzy way that he relishes in when given the opportunity.
The band took stage for the final set of the three-nights with favorites “It Ain’t No Use,” “Fishing,” “Jack” and Chilly Water. Taking the stage for a cover of Warren Zevon’s Carmelita was a man that Bell playfully stated “needed no introduction, or if he did, he ain’t getting one anyway, Mr. John Keane.” Â While there was nothing really special about the song, the subsequently played Chesnutt number, “Degenerate,” (also with Keane) was magical. It was not only a tribute to their departed friend but a testament to anyone’s struggles, and there were many in the crowd at this point whose emotions had begun to get the best of them as they thought back on their years with the band, their own friends, life paths chosen and the like. Musically, it was played in pristine fashion, with Keane shining during the bridge to the closing choral refrain; but from a setlist perspective, it was pure genius.
Never ones to leave without a surprise, the boys ambled their ways back to the stage for a triple encore: “C. Brown,” “Blight” and “End of the Show” with Sunny Ortiz playing congas while Todd Nance beat on a bucket and an egg shaker and JoJo on tiny keys before returning to the upright. It was both funny and impressive.
It was indeed a memorable three nights. Deep and dark at times, often honest and playful. Widespread Panicâ€™s songs yet again won the hearts of their ardent fans who now await their return from an imminent deserved hiatus. Most would describe this 25 year journey of the band as magical, but all would agree that everything good that has come their way has been deserved. For a band of Panic’s magnitude to have stuck it out for 25 years, mostly on the highways of the United States, and remain friends, Â is remarkable. In thinking of this, perhaps Â John Bell said it best when he described the way that he and Michael Houser came up with the lyric “an honest tune with a lingering lead has taken me this far”. He said he “was just describing what [he and Houser] were experiencing together.” Â To echo Driving Song – Itâ€™s just time for them to move their lives again…
I: Heaven, Send Your Mind, Surprise Valley > Iâ€™m Not Alone, Weak Brain, Narrow Mind > Pickinâ€™ Up The Pieces, *Fixinâ€™ To Die, Blackout Blues, Travelinâ€™ Light
II: Letâ€™s Get Down To Business > Who Do You Belong To?, Henry Parsons Died > #Visiting Day > Use Me, Diner > Ribs And Whiskey, #Nobodyâ€™s Loss, Smokestack Lightninâ€™ > Â Big Wooly Mammoth > North
Encore: Up All Night, #Chunk Of Coal, Canâ€™t Find My Way Home
* With Col. Bruce Hampton On Vocals; # John Bell On Banjo
I: Porch Song, Space Wrangler, Walk On, Papa Johnny Road, Coach > Time Zones, Vacation, Â Pilgrims > Imitation Leather Shoes
II: *Ainâ€™t Life Grand > Weight Of The World, Gradle, Holden Oversoul > Me And The Devil Blues, Quarter Tank Of Gasoline, Drivinâ€™ Song > City Of Dreams > Jam > Drivinâ€™ Song >
Breathinâ€™ Slow, No Sugar Tonight > New Mother Nature
Encore: Expiration Day, Tall Boy, #Many Rivers To Cross
* John Bell On Banjo; # First Time Played
I: Papaâ€™s Home, Wonderinâ€™, Hope in a Hopeless World, Counting Train Cars, Help Me Somebody, Trouble*, Hatfield, The Ballad of John & Yoko, Climb to Safety
II Pleas, Canâ€™t Get High, Ainâ€™t No Use, Blue Indian^, Carmelita^, Degenerate^, Fishing^, This Cruel Thing^, Jack, Chilly Water, Going Out West
Encore: C. Brown%, Blight%, End of the Show%
* w/ Colin Vereen; ^ w/ John Keane;% Todd on 5 gallon bucket, JoJo on tiny keys, Sunny on small bongos Except Blight & End of the Show JoJo on upright piano
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