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Best of 2002

Published: 2003/01/23
by Greta Boesel

Widespread Panic, Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA, 12/31

Is it just me, or was 2002 one mixed up, muddled up, shook up year? It all
seemed to hit the fan during those twelve short months. I knew I needed to
end the madness on a high note, and so I sprung for that one sure thing to
close out the year: I flew across the country with a few of my favorite
people to see Widespread Panic in their home state of Georgia on December
What a stellar decision. As with most great shows, the music went right
through me: at the end of the night it took four of us an hour just to
reconstruct the setlist. I can’t spout any statistics or analyze the song
placement format. But I can tell you something about the visceral
experience of this night, and after all, isn’t that why we go to shows-to be
moved, touched, rearranged somehow?
Widespread Panic attracts a diverse crowd, though we are all somehow
recognizable to each other: shaggy bespectacled boys; prissy girlfriends;
loud laughing couples; 30-somethings like me from the south who remember
when people called them Widespread, not Panic. But tonight when the lights
went down, we became one, became a great roaring beast with 36,000 legs, as
soon as the band, our band, walked onstage. Tonight for the first time I
felt, in a very physical sense, the coupling between band and audience, the
truth that we are all the band-each such a powerful force that just as they
gave to us, so did we to them, in equal measure. We all sang together as
the energy cycled like a giant paddlewheel, coming at us and then being
returned, again and again. There was an immense presence in that room,
something we created-or was it something that created us? Either way, I’m
pretty certain a beam of light 200,000 miles long was shooting out the roof
of Philips Arena for five hours straight-the man in the moon is a musician,
and he surely heard us tonight.
I could go on about the engaging acoustic set, the grinding horns, the
out-of-this-world cover of The Talking Heads’ "Blind," George’s trial by
(lighter) fire during "Big Wooly Mammoth," the generous and genuinely
emotional hugging and kissing of strangers at midnight, the heart-wrenching
"I’m Not Alone," the heavy "Chilly Water—>Imitation Leather Shoes—>Chilly
Water" closer, and a thousand other moments by turns elegiac, playful,
devastating, and triumphant. But what really made this show my favorite of
2002 was-dare I say it?-the love. That’s right, dammit. Love for each
other, for the band, for the dearly departed Michael Houser, for our friends
and family, and for our fellow man in all corners of the globe-is it silly
to think that if everyone on the planet could just experience the haunting,
unearthly beauty, the joy and the hope that we experienced tonight, the
world might be a very different place?
We left the arena with the words of wise men echoing in our hearts. Think
of this, they seemed to say, when times get tough: You remember how to fly?
Or you can sit in the grass, if it feels good. For we live in the city of
dreams, and if we can live together, the dream it might come true. We must
grab each other’s collar, we must rise out of the water, because no matter
where we are, it’s this life that we’re livin’ in. It’s still a beautiful
world. And when I die, there’ll be one child born in this world to carry
Ain’t life grand?

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