Widespread Panic, Oak Mountain Amphitheatre, Pelham AL, 4/26
Widespread Panic's runs at Oak Mountain, a venue that some playfully call "Redneck Rocks" in reference to its famous native cousin out west, have become a southern tradition. I made the road trip to Oak Mountain Amphitheater in Pelham, AL from Atlanta, GA with a travelin' crew of new and old friends. This was my first trip ever to the venue. I had mail ordered my tickets the first day it was announced, and ended up getting three nights in Row D of section A right smack dab in front of bassist Dave Schools.The crazy thing about it was that half the people I came with had been blessed with Row D in section C right smack dab in front of Mikey Houser. And so began the first evening of the much anticipated three night journey at the sold out Oak Mountain Amphitheater.
It took me way to long to get into the gates of this place. It was bottlenecked like the toll booth on GA 400 at rush hour. I heard the crowd erupt in cheers as I finally made it through the endless sea of people into the show. I knew the band had taken their positions on stage. The familiar "A of D" had already begun as I maneuvered my way through the swaying bodies. I finally made all the way down to my seat. I couldn’t believe how close I was.I had found my room with a view for the next three nights
The speakers were directly to my right. Schools who was looming large and looked ready to go to battle with his trusty Modulus in hand, was right smack dab in front of me. John "J.B." Bell was slightly ahead to my left wearing a nice white Miami Vice outfit of some sort with the collar turned up. I was extremely happy to see Mr. Houser up on his perch giving us that side profile shot. I knew my friends were happy as hell to be in their spots. The Dead favorite "Cream Puff War" followed "A of D" and led into an energy driven "Fishwater." "Walk On" came next, much to my extreme delight. I had never heard Widespread play this song live, and I was extremely giddy. The spiritual "Gradle" was the next item on the menu, and slowed the tempo just enough for me to catch my breath. Then "Travelin’ Light" was unleashed with the fervor that WP brings to this much loved J.J. Cale cover. Then after John Keane emerged with his guitar, J.B. dove into "Junior" and never looked back, by sliding into "C. Brown" (another one of my favorites). "Take Out" was the second all out instrumental that led us into a kick-ass set-ending "Porch Song." As the lyrics imply, I was "havin’ a good time" on this night.
I made my way through the packed aisles over to Section C to find my friends and see what they thought about the first set. They were jabbering away about the song selection, and I decided right then that I was going to stay on this (MIkey’s) side of the stage for the rest of the show. We had a full moon above us and the temperature was perfect.
After a long intermission I began seeing people shuffle around behind the drums, and then the stage went dark. I saw Houser sneak out from the left side and slide into position. Then one by one the rest of The Boys joined him. The adrenaline producing roar from the crowd greeted them as the lights come on. The stage was so close it seemed like you were inside Austin City Limits or something, but then you turn around to thousands of people and a full moon in the night sky. The second set started with a foot stompin’ "Bow Legged Woman". "Climb to Safety" came next, followed by a new favorite of mine, "Little Lilly." Then with a full moon staring right at the band, it launched into "Werewolves of London." Panic hasn’t performed this song live in almost six years. It was a real treat, with Schools was singing his heart out, and talking about "Vinnie Barbarino walkin’ down the street." It was fantastic. As if that wasn’t enough to ignite the crowd, the band jumped into an "Imitation Leather Shoes" that left me exhausted. "Space Wrangler" came next and is the perfect antidote for what ails you. To me, "Space Wrangler" is quintessential Widespread Panic. Not just the song by itself mind you, but the whole album (Landslide version of course) and the quiet musical revolution it created. "Drums" is a time when I usually take a break to rehydrate myself with some water, but this night was different. Dr. Arvin Scott joined Sunny Ortiz on percussion, and Todd eased in and jacked up the tempo up, allowing the energy to build further.
At this point I noticed crew members were setting something up between J.B. and Houser. Dave Schools then came out of the shadows on the right side of the stage and started thumbing the Modulus. The lights shone on the now visible instrument the crew had set up in the dark, a pedal steel. Out came Robert Randolph, who sat down behind while Schools slowly made his way over and began hitting it. Randolph answered back with his pedal steel. The duel had begun and the two were exchanging licks like nobody’s business. Then Mikey and J.B joined in and took it to a feverish pace while an exuberant Robert Randolph stood up a couple of times and tilted his pedal steel forward to where it almost fell over. There are Jams and then there was this Jam. I can’t put into words how exciting this was. It really pulsed through your veins and made you want to yell "YeeeeeeHaaaaaw"at the top of your lungs.
Dr. Arvin Scott and Robert Randolph stayed out for a mean rendition of Dr. John’s "I Walk On Guilded Splinters." John Keene then emerged from between Sonny and Todd with guitar in hand to join everyone for an equally fierce "Me and the Devil Blues." Scott and Randolph then left the stage to a much deserved standing ovation. After this, Panic closed the second set with a rocking "Give." I still haven’t gotten use to this one live yet, but it will grow on me like everything else Widespread does. J.B in his gruffest voice (still wearing his white Miami Vice outfit) told us good night and all left the stage.
Following a solid "Can’t Find My Way Home" encore the band left the stage to a still-hungry, yet fulfilled crowd. As we spilled out, we had the full moon to help guide us to our cars, while we reverberated from a fine, fine evening with an amazing group of musicians.