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Published: 2001/08/06
by Matt Fleming

Widespread Panic- Oak Mountain Amphitheater, Pelham, AL 7/27-29

With only three nights left on a summer tour whose 33 shows graced 22 states
in 46 days, it was time for a few last fireworks last weekend when Widespread
Panic struck a slow-roasting Pelham, AL for the last three dates of their
summer tour at Oak Mountain Amphitheater.

"Conrad the Caterpillar" opened the weekend on an explosive note, clearly
warning fans to buckle up for the three-day rollercoaster that is Oak
Mountain. This "Conrad" was a smoker, and left no doubt that the boys meant
business. After a wah-wah soaked "Barstools and Dreamers", "Action Man"
roared out of the gate like its lyrical protagonist Man-O-War, the famed
racehorse. This "Action" was fast and furious from start to finish, leaving
many fans dizzy and streaming sweat. The set was highlighted late by Chuck
Berry's Alabama anthem "Let It Rock". The thick blues number was played
almost to perfection and, after a raspy "Alabama Bound" rap from soul man
John "JB" Bell, rocked its way into a set closing "Radio Child".

"Disco" kicked off of the second half, and soon twisted its way into
"Bear's Gone Fishin'". "Bear's" was long and very experimental, showcasing
the effects and sinister tones of bass villain Dave Schools. After a
sickeningly graceful "Driving Song" > "Blight" > "Driving Song" sandwich,
Panic continued to surprise the crowd with Neil Young's "Last Dance". This
version was as good as it gets, and faded into a nice mellow jam as the band
welcomed Dr. Arvin Scott to the stage to join in on percussion. Dr. Scott is
the long time percussion teacher and friend of Panic's "Sonny" Ortiz. With
Dr. Scott in place, the boys went to work on Jimmy Cliff's classic "The
Harder They Come". This marked the first ever performance of the song by
Widespread, and it couldn't have possibly sounded better. The band held
perfect tempo and speed the entire song. Guitarist Mikey Houser and
keyboardist Jojo Herman each nailed solos, and as usual JB's vocals left skin
crawling all over Alabama. The joy and satisfaction radiating from the stage
during this tune was as evident as anywhere else I've ever seen. They were
having fun! The jamming bounced on for some time, but never left the reggae
groove territory that it's loved for. Finally, guilty parties began leaving
the stage, and "Drums" began. Dr. Scott stuck around for "Drums" – allowing
both student and teacher to demonstrate their love for each other as well as
their instrument. "What could possibly follow 'The Harder They Come?" many
asked during "Drums", and everyone was answered when the boys kicked into the
Col. Bruce Hampton staple "Fixin' to Die". This Aquarium Rescue Unit gem is
a rare treat in Panicland, and was last performed when the good Colonel
himself joined the boys on the third night of last year's Oak Mountain run.
This version was a quick, fun one, and as the final crashing notes faded,
Sonny raised the sticks and rattled out the familiar opening rhythms of "Low
Rider". Proving that they could keep up with their own set pace, this "Low
Rider" rages to intense heights, peaking several times before riding smoothly
into a frantic "Love Tractor" that would rise to the occasion as set closer
to this memorable set. The encore began with a great "Ride Me High". After
a little of the triple X funk that always accompanies "Ride Me High", the
band downshifted to a lower gear and melted into their own rock lullaby
"Dream Song". This is a simply beautiful song that never fails to overwhelm
you if it catches you at the right time, and this was definitely the right
time. The white lights shone bright across JB's face as he howled his heart
out and the music reached its final climax. The song ended, the band said
goodnight, and the lights hummed to life – revealing a blanket of freaks
standing dumbfounded beneath the Birmingham sky, already waiting for Game 2.

7/27/01 – Oak Mountain Amphitheater – Pelham, AL

I: Conrad the Caterpillar-> One Arm Steve-> Barstools and Dreamers, Action
Man, This Part of Town, Greta-> Christmas Katie-> Let it Rock-> Radio Child

II: Disco-> Bear's Gone Fishin-> Driving Song-> Blight-> Driving Song-> The
Waker-> Last Dance, The Harder They Come*-> Drums*-> Fixin to Die, Low Rider-> Love Tractor

E: Ride Me High-> Dream Song

  • w/ Dr. Arvin Scott on percussion

[First 'The Harder They Come' (Jimmy Cliff cover)]

7/28/01 – Oak Mountain Amphitheater

The second that Mikey Houser ripped the opening chords to "Postcard" to open
Saturday night's show it was like Friday night had never ended. The chills
set in immediately exactly where "Dream Song" had left off the night before.
This was a huge way to open the show. Having never seen "Postcard" out of
the encore slot, I could only scratch my head in disbelief as the song
screamed on. At this point I was literally afraid of what was in store for
the 13,000 freaks spread throughout the amphitheater this evening. To my
surprise and delight, the world did not end at the conclusion of "Postcard". Instead Dave Schools thumped out the opening lines to "Ophelia". After
running through this Band classic, Sonny's whistle and cracks on the timbales
signified the beginning of "Coconuts". The energy from the audience was
incredible at this point, and the band was all smiles as they played a near
perfect version of this old favorite. Next came the smooth instrumental
rarity "L.A.", which offered a brief moment for everyone to catch their
breath before segueing into "Impossible". The jazzy piano portion of this
rocker was stretched further than usual, allowing space for some great
improvisation before falling almost unnoticeably into "Mercy". JB's chilling
lyrical delivery on "Mercy" never fails to stop me in my tracks and hold my
full attention for the entire song. Tonight's was no exception as he hit
every note dead on before raising his Washburn and beginning the song's jam
segment. This jam out of "Mercy" seemed somewhat funkier than usual, and
soon, after some weird solo exchanges from everyone, dove into "Worry". This
was my first time hearing this tune live, and it stood out as the highlight
in an entire set of highlights. "Worry" was full speed from beginning to
end, and still had my head spinning when "Dear Mr. Fantasy" started.
"Fantasy" sounded as beautiful as always. This is another one where JB never
ceases to amaze me with his vocal range and emotion. After blatant "Hey
Jude" teases from Schools near the song's end, I thought this would be the
set closer, but the boys had other plans – slamming into new horror anthem
"Imitation Leather Shoes" and bringing the set to an ear piercing close. The
first set had completely surpassed my expectations 100%, and still stands out
in my mind as one of the summer's most roundly solid sets.

The second set began in the "Casa del Grillos". "Casa" was a nice way to
kick things off, but a clear departure from the edgy headfirst rock that had
so littered the first set. It was a solid version, and quickly gave way to
the drum intro of "Surprise Valley". As the "Valley" jam started to take
off, it was evident that it was going somewhere special. Every member of the
band seemed on fire as the pace continued to quicken and the energy seemed to
skyrocket. After a few minutes of downright funk from everyone, the band
busted into "Down on the Farm". With more than 2 years and almost 250 shows
gone by since the last time this one was played I don't think the roars
coming from Oak Mountain could've possibly been any louder. "Down on the
Farm" was nailed in every possible way, and left fans cheering wildly over
the first few notes of the "Holden Oversoul" that followed. "Holden" was
equally tight, and included teases of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" from
Jojo. After an energetic "All Time Low", Dr. Arvin Scott appeared beside
Sonny on the drums, and Panic slid into fan favorite "Arleen". This one got
everybody shaking instantly, and only when JB added a "Ribs and Whiskey" rap
could the frenzy increase anymore. "Arleen" shook her way into "Drums",
where Sonny and Dr. Scott were joined for a while by WP's drum technician
Peter Jackson. After "Drums" and an eerie "Astronomy Domine" jam from
Schools, the band returned to the stage and slowly inched their way into "All
Along the Watchtower". This was Panic's second live performance of
"Watchtower", and it was evident that the band was just as excited to be
playing it as the fans were to be hearing it. When Schools belted out the
"wind began to howl!" lyric the crowd burst forth again with cheers and
glowsticks alike. "Watchtower" jammed momentarily before knocking the energy
up one more level and segueing perfectly into "Fishwater". This "Fishwater"
was of course a smoker. The three drummers blended together in perfect rhythm
while Houser and Jojo both offered up perfect solos before winding the set to
a perfect close. The encore of "Down" and "Ain't Life Grand" was a solid
one. "Down" has a nice laid back feel to it, and seems to grow on me the
more I hear it. "Grand" is pure Panic, and even though a lot of tour kids
despise it, it is still someone's favorite tune every time its played. And
after a "Postcard" opener, a "Down on the Farm" bust out, and a "Watchtower",
life certainly is grand. Only the post show PA blasting out Michael
Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" could make smiles grow any larger.

The second night of Oak Mountain lived up to the first night in every way, and will probably grow to be one for the books. Two down, one to go!

7/28/01 – Oak Mountain Amphitheater – Pelham, AL

I: Postcard-> Ophelia-> Coconuts-> L.A.> Impossible> Mercy-> Worry, Dear
Mr. Fantasy-> Imitation Leather Shoes

II: Casa del Grillos, Surprise Valley-> Down on the Farm, Holden Oversoul->
All Time Low-> Arleen*-> Drums**-> Astronomy Domine Jam*-> All Along the Watchtower*-> Fishwater*

E: Down, Ain't Life Grand

*w/ Dr. Arvin Scott on percussion

**w/ Dr. Arvin Scott on percussion, Peter Jackson on percussion

7/29/01 – Oak Mountain Amphitheater

Sunday's crowd was noticeably smaller than Friday or Saturday due to
Monday's workday. Many fans seemed either weary from the humidity and heat
or exhausted from Saturday's all night festivities, but tired or not – the
third day and final show of the summer was upon us.

Sunday's show took flight about 7:45 when Schools dropped the familiar intro
to "Bowlegged Woman", which fit perfectly with the other two big openers the
previous nights. This "Bowlegged" featured JB rapping about Al Green and
Marvin Gaye records, and even briefly quoting Gaye's "What's Goin On?"
"Space Wrangler" came second, and was met by an impressive display of
fireworks from the parking lot. This goodie was jammed well by everyone,
especially Houser, whose solo couldn't have been much tighter. After a
soulful "Little Lilly", and the always beautiful "I'm Not Alone", it was time
for some heat. Jojo stepped up to the clavinet and Schools to the mic for an
energetic funkfest in the form of "Sleeping Man" Jojo's clavinet work was
fast and furious throughout the entire tune, and made this "Sleeping Man"
stick out, along with the "Bowlegged" opener, as the highlight of the set.
The first set ended on a strong note a few songs later with "Henry Parsons
Died". The entire band really got behind this one and rocked it out loud and
hard before ending the set.

"Back to work!" JB shouted before drummer Todd Nance began the beginning drum
rolls of "Travelin Light" to begin the summer's last set. Back to work,
indeed. "Travelin Light" was solid, and as followed up by the thick wah-wah
crunch of "Thought Sausage". As "Thousage" growled to an end, School's went
to work on "Sharon" and the crowd burst into instant frenzy. This fan
favorite cover is always a well-received one, and as JB sang "The same rowdy
crowd that was here last night is back again." it was pretty obvious that
this was in fact a true statement. A few songs later, we were treated to a
beautiful sandwich of "Pilgrims"> "Diner"> "Pilgrims". During the first
"Pilgrims" a tremendous glowstick war broke out in the upper tiers. Not a
big fan of the glow stick phenomena, I tried to ignore it and concentrate on
the stage, but soon it grew too big to ignore and engulfed the whole
amphitheater. Glowstick "wars" like this are very rare at Widespread Panic
shows, but seemed to fit right in to the festival atmosphere that had been so
evident throughout the weekend. So if you threw one, I hope it made your
day. Oh look! There's a band on stage! The segue into "Diner" was one to be
proud of for sure. So fluid in fact that I'm sure many glowstick-ers didn't
even notice. The "Diner" was also of epic proportions just as every other
summer "Diner" has been. After some sick jamming, Jojo led the lead back into
the ending of "Pilgrims" – which contained only the last section of music and
no lyrics. "Drums" came next, again with the assistance of Dr. Scott on
percussion. This "Drums" seemed to go on a bit long, which only fueled my
head as to what the boys could be cooking up backstage. When the band
finally returned, Schools let the opening chord to "Stir It Up" fly from his
bass. Pure joy is the only way I can describe the feeling inside the
amphitheater at that moment. It would only get better, as JB stepped to the
mic and began to sing Marley's words. His angelic howls sounded absolutely
perfect on the vocals and every instrument sounded great. Mikey's solo was
so perfect that it surprised me. Jojo's work on the organ was flawless, and
of course the grin on Dave's face said it all. They were having too much fun
to have not paid admission! As "Stir It Up" came to a close, the
well-deserved cheers were as loud as they had been all weekend. New rocker
"Give" shot out of the Panic cannon next, ending the second set on a
thunderous high note. Before the encore JB extended warm thanks to everyone
who had been part of "this whole big ole tour" including crew, fans, and
friends. The dead silence that came over the amphitheater during JB's speech
was scarier than the "Stir It Up", "Harder They Come", and "Watchtower" put
together. This special moment really showed how much appreciation there is
between the band and its' fans. The first encore of "Wind Cries Mary" was
almost enough to bring on tears, and the "Climb to Safety"> "Porch Song" was
a big collective "Thank You" to all the fans for making the summer of 2001 a
memorable one.

7/29/01 – Oak Mountain Amphitheater – Pelham, AL

I: Bowlegged Woman, Space Wrangler-> Walkin'(For Your Love)-> Little Lilly,
I'm Not Alone, Sleeping Man, Don't Tell The Band-> Visiting Day-> Henry Parsons Died

II: Travelin Light, Thought Sausage, Sharon-> North, Stop Breakin Down,
Pilgrims-> Diner-> Pilgrims-> Drums*-> Stir It Up*, Give

E: Wind Cries Mary*, Climb to Safety*-> Porch Song

*w. Dr. Arvin Scott on percussion

[Last 'Stir It Up' – 1/1/86 – 1831 shows]

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