There’s a term used by the Allman Brothers Band – "hittin’ the note." It’s the moment where everyone’s firing on all cylinders – the band’s locked in with each other and the audience, creating the perfect symbiotic relationship. It’s what most musicians attempt to achieve on stage, and what most audience members seek out each time they purchase a concert ticket to see their favorite band.
Some fans who see enough music witness great moments frequently, but ask yourself – how many truly great moments do you see over the course of a lifetime? Moments that you maybe call zen, where you are teleported to another place?
That’s what the music is about – finding that other place, where you can’t help but move to the beat, no matter how hard you try. Moments that really and truly move you are few and far between, and the one that sticks out in my mind took place on October 24, 2003.
The place: Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis, Tennessee.
The band: Widespread Panic.
Now, most Panic fans immediately laugh, because this moment took place during the band’s so-called "off years;" the years post-Houser, pre-Herring. The George McConnell years.
But, sure enough, that’s where I had my mind truly blown away, and it brings the hugest smile to my face each time I pop the CD into my stereo and relive that one moment (thanks to tapers everywhere for allowing us all to relive our own personal moments.)
Second set, and fifth song. I saw it coming during set break, as that long, blonde ponytail emerged on stage to tune up. Yep, Derek Trucks was in the house. Playing his own show across town at the New Daisy, billed as a post-Panic show, this one wasn’t hard to call. But, who knew.
The song was "Stop-Go." Schools’ bass bellowed the opening notes, and the crowd let out a yelp, yet no one knew the magnitude of what was to come. Maybe it’s just me, and to this day, I overanalyze what I saw, but that’s the beauty of any concert – you get out of it what you get out of it, and each moment is truly personal.
Trucks rang in, his slide guitar wailing like a crying baby as the rest of the band pulsed ahead, easing into the song. About two minutes in, Derek held this one screeching note, and slid that glass up and down the neck of his SG in notes of pure beauty, notes that just don’t exist.
With Derek Trucks Band drummer Yonrico Scott sitting in as well, there was a triple percussive attack going on behind the scenes, keeping near-perfect time. A shaker here, a kick drum there, some Latin rhythms.
As John Bell came on on vocals, the crowd began to sing along in pure joy.
McConnell took the first solo at the first chorus, and played a tasteful little turn at his guitar before giving way to Derek, who did what only he can – he hit notes that fry your brain.
Widespread Panic is best when the band is locked in – "hittin’ the note." Adding Derek Trucks to the sound created an all new animal. With JoJo Hermann throwing a little keyboard into the mix as Trucks took a breather, it started up the tension and release. Schools and Derek played off each other, and things started to build.
The song passed the seven-minute mark with Derek making his guitar cry out like a wounded animal, pushing the band farther and farther. Then, the thing blows up.
As Derek wails away in perfect slide guitar he hit this one part, locking in with Todd Nance, who does what Todd Nance does – drum roll, but this time, it wasn’t cliche, and as Derek builds up to the breaking point – the release, the crowd explodes.
That was my moment, and I can’t help but grin every single time I get to the nine-minute mark of my copy of the show. It’s like the entire crowd knows that they’re witnessing something special, and everyone "got it" at the exact same time.
Derek stayed on stage for "Arleen" and "Hope in a Hopeless World," and those tunes were stellar as well, but my "moment" was during "Stop-Go."
You see these churches on TV, the ones where the congregation is praising the lord. For some people, their transcendent moments come at a place of worship. These people are nearly moved to tears by what the preacher speaks from the pulpit.
Other people get it at events like college football games. I was a student at the University of Florida during the Gators’ 1996 championship run. I know the kind of intensity that can build at a truly great football game, as your team tryies to push the ball in from the five-yard line in the fourth quarter with just a few minutes on the clock.
For me though, on this night, I found wat I sought at the Mid-South Coliseum.
Widespread Panic and Derek Trucks were my preachers, and their sermon was fire and brimstone.
They delivered the absolute perfect words I needed to hear to cleanse my soul, at least at that juncture in time.
It’s this that as music fans we seek. A place to get away, where our troubles, fears, and issues are set aside, even for a brief moment. These great moments are truly what being a music fan is all about.