Widespread Panic, The Woods Amphitheater at Fontanel in Nashville, TN- 5/3
On a wooded mountain side in the White Creek Valley of central Tennessee sits Fontanel. The estate of country legend Barbara Mandrell, Fontanel hosts an earthy amphitheater known simply as The Woods. An intimate venue with rustic charm, The Woods is encircled by dense forests and trickling mountain creeks. A modest cinder block stage overlooks a grassy hollow, bordered by metal roofed beer stands and rough pine luxury boxes.
Early Friday afternoon fans aquaplaned into the soggy parking, quickly setting up the telltale hippie hamlet that accompanies a Panic show. Rolling in from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the boys from Athens brought along a hitchhiker for the weekend’s festivities, rain. A low front would eventually stall over Nashville for the weekend, dropping three inches of rain and unseasonably cold temperatures. The rain did little to spoil the party. Swigging heady beers and talking tour shop, the growing crowd good-naturedly waited for the gates to open. As gates opening around 5:30 pm, the mass of 4000 plus filled the natural auditorium with excitement and anticipation for the closing weekend of spring tour. The fellows hit the stage around 6:50 pm, battling both Mother Nature and an early curfew from the town of White Creek. Wasting no time, the six headed monster raged into a night chocked full of relentless face melting rock.
The first set kicked off with a reliable “Disco.” Working out of “Disco,” Jimmy Herring’s wailing guitar quickly connected with Jojo Hermann’s keys as the band jolted into lively “Greta.” Herring’s screaming strokes complemented Dave Schools’ driving bass as the jam out of “Greta” slipped into the ethereal before resolving into the bluesy confines of Willie Dixon’s “Weak Brain, Narrow Mind.” A thundering “Pigeons” jarred the crowd into frenzy as Bell empathized with the crowd about “working on a cloudy day”. Pigeons sauntered into a debauched “Ribs and Whiskey” as Bell tickled the slide amidst vocal pleas to avoid “daddy’s hunting day”.
The first set hit high gear with the juke joint grit of “Papa Johnny Road.” From there a twenty-minute romp commenced with an unrelenting Visiting Day, as Hermann howled “it’s really coming down,” acknowledging the crowd’s damp condition. “Visiting Day” sped into the racing upbeats of “Love Tractor” as the mass of revelers erupted in an ecstatic state. “Surprise Valley” crept into the fold as Sunny Ortiz’s rhythmic strokes transformed into heavy clavinet and soaring guitar licks, launching the crowd into low earth orbit. The set ended with a chest pounding Rock as Nance’s solid strokes matched Schools’ methodic bass in rhythmic accord.
As darkness descend and the drizzle turned to drops, “Hereos” strolled into a blazing “All Time Low.” The second set gained momentum as a crunchy “Junior” descended into soul tugging “Mercy” complete with an “Other One” tease. As an aside, I do not believe anyone was busted for smiling on this cloudy day. While droplets twinkled in the spectral lights, J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High” encouraged the crowd to “destroy their inhibitions,” which was not a tough sale. The second set continued with a furious “Tie Your Shoes” which slammed the drenched audience as Herring’s noodles echoed through the surrounding forest. Sunny’s percussive beats led in “Papa’s Home” as Schools’ resolute bass permeated the venue. Quickly changing gears “Action Man” bolted from the gates with a tip of the hat to following day’s Kentucky Derby. For most folks, “Action Man” would have been a fitting closer. Instead John Bell strolled to the microphone and with a JBism quipped “Neil Young oozing through your stereo”. The soaked audience was subsequently rewarded with a raging “Last Dance” to close out the night.
Quickly returning to the stage for a two song encore, Schools spurred the boys into the Guess Who’s “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” before ending the show with an always apt End of the Show. Racing for the gate, the crowd sloshed through the muck with notions of what the night two may hold. Slipping and sliding on the way out of the waterlogged lot, cars hit the wet pavement and sped downtown for a well-deserved night cap of Bloodkin at the Exit-In.