May 09, 2017
When Widespread Panic took the Ford stage, they had a lot of songs fans expected to hear.
But in reality, the group was as unsure of what they’d be playing as the audience was of what they’d be hearing in the moments leading up to its set.
That’s because the group is notorious for never playing the same set twice. The members have a pre-show ritual where they go about narrowing down the options before they go on.
No matter what it decides, you can bet you’ll get your money’s worth. That’s because their sets are long and practically every song runs into another ten minute jam session.
That’s what comes with the territory when you’re one of the last big jam bands around.
The 30-year-old group’s set lasted two hours and had fans young and old nodding along and dancing under the cloudless sky.
As the six piece group walked on stage at 4 p.m. the crowd erupted into cheers.
“Good morning, SunFest people,” lead vocalist John Bell said. Those would be the last spoken words he’d utter for two hours.
The group opened with “Send Your Mind” and in the group’s truest fashion, strung it out for a while until it morphed into a jam session.
What stands out about Widespread Panic is that it stays true to its roots. There’s no screen behind them with a video, no triggers or samples, there wasn’t even merch.
That’s because that’s not the point here. The point is this: a group of veteran rockers, whose group has been compared to the Grateful Dead, playing at an expert caliber. And they make it look dangerously easy.
In songs like “Tall Boy,” keyboardist John Hermann played the piano introduction to a giant wave of applause. As the jam progressed, you could see bassist, Dave Schools climbing up and down his five string bass without so much as cracking a smile. Like I said, dangerously easy.
With a collection of songs that spans over 12 studio albums, the group had plenty to choose from for that impromptu set list of theirs.
Yet somehow, everyone seemed to get a little taste of something they wanted.
As the jam band performed “Papa’s Home,” a beach ball got tossed around, a lawn flamingo was hoisted into the air and beaded parasols were twirled around throughout the crowd. It was just an untouchably happy set that mixed the band’s southern rock roots with pieces of blues, funk and even some New Orleans-Cajun flair. The latter comes out especially when Hermann switched from piano to organ sounds on his keyboard setup.
In the end, each musician got their turn to shine. From the group’s most recent addition, drummer Duane Trucks — the nephew of the late Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks — with a brief solo, to percussionist Domingo Ortiz with a spotlight on his conga-playing.
The band closed with a ten-minute version of “Protein Drink,” when finally, Bell spoke once more.
“Thank you very much,” he said quickly before walking off stage.
So he may not be one for small talk. But man, can that band rock.