Widespread Panic New Year’s 2001: A Phillips Trifecta
Today we look back to 2001 and Chip Schramm’s review of Widespread Panic’s three night stand in Atlanta
2001 was certainly a year nobody will ever forget. It’s easy to find more bad than good in 2001, with economic hardships, terrorist disasters, and a general malaise that has permeated men and women not just in the U.S., but certainly worldwide. Sometimes music is the best salve to sooth the wounds and refill the soul for a return to happy times. Widespread Panic certainly had ambitious plans in mind when they booked an unprecedented 3-night stand at Philips Arena in Atlanta for their concerts at the end of the year.
In many ways, the band had a banner year, sharing the stage with Carlos Santana, Bruce Hornsby, and Trey Anastasio at various stops on their seasonal tours. They also returned to Jazzfest as a headliner, once again cementing their already stellar reputation in the crescent city. They played what I considered to be their best run ever at Oak Mountain Amphitheater in the sweltering August heat down in Alabama. They released a new album early in the year and unveiled even newer songs during their annual New Orleans pilgrimage in late October. Between all of their group touring, several of the band members even found time to perform with side projects and record other albums outside of the Widespread Panic fold.
The only openly negative event of the year was the cancellation of a fall European tour after the Sept. 11 attacks, due to understandable security concerns abroad. It seemed like the time was ripe for a musical climax on Marietta St., and three nights would give the band all the opportunity in the world to get the job done. Special guest rumors buzzed up and down Peachtree in the days and weeks leading up to the show. Panic Fans For Food had a charity drive with accompanying party slated for Smith’s Olde Bar on the 30th. All the parts were in place for the best 3 nights of music ever.
At this point, it’s difficult for me to give an objective review of the weekend’s music. In retrospect, the first night of the three ended up being the strongest show, drop for drop. The boys came out on Saturday and played one of the tightest, most exciting shows I’ve seen in a while. It was amazing how crisp this show was with all the rest and preparation the band got after the end of fall tour. It seemed like the setlist had been rehearsed well in advance, with smooth transitions and tight arrangements even on the parts with special guests.
They opened with Little Lilly, much the same as their "Don’t Tell The Band" album, and we were off to the races from there. Papa Legba and Thought Sausage developed nicely, as the band built up steam before a swell first set Diner. I considered the Diner to be a positive sign, since it’s such a strong song for the first set of the first night. I figured things would really lift off from there, and I was right, on Saturday for sure.
Aunt Avis was a nicely placed tune given the fury of the first set, and when John Keane came out for This Part of Town, I thought we hit paydirt. Keane’s contributions throughout Saturday night really made my weekend. He’s the band’s mentor for a reason and deserves all the respect in the world. Now that Panic only plays Atlanta once a year, Blue Indian seemed like another perfectly placed song. Warm and fuzzy, JB delivered it with heartfelt emotion that was well received by the crowd. The All Time Low and Cream Puff War closers for the first set were also superb. The band threw down so many power songs on the opening night, it almost made it harder to top themselves in the next 6 sets to follow. [note, see NYE 1998]
The rest of the 29th was highlighted by more pedal steel work from John Keane and a couple of moving tributes to the late Sir George Harrison. The crew simultaneously prepared Keane’s gear with one of Todd’s vocal mics to make me certain that they would play Down with steel guitar. When Cynic was the song of choice instead, I felt totally unworthy. The little country touch that Keane added made the song sound more like the Barbara Cue version (with Johnny Z on pedal steel) than the first few renditions Panic had played in months previous. It was a truly special moment.
The C Brown with more Keane was reminiscent of the great New Year’s show at the Fox in ’97. Right before it went into drums, Jojo threw out a few words from If I Needed Someone as a small tribute to George Harrison. Charlie Pruett from Allgood sat in with Sunny on drums, and then when Dave came out to play bass, they did an extended Here Comes The Sun instrumental jam. Before the run even started, I had my hopes pinned on hearing them play the full-blown song, but when JB walked out onstage again, it was not to be. They might have missed a golden opportunity with that one. It could have been epic, but nevermind.
The 29th would finish up with more Keane, adding pedal steel to Jojo Hermann’s particularly dirty cover of Ride Me High and a Love Tractor to continue the lusty theme through to the end of the second set. The encore was nice, with JB singing the always moving Trouble, and then back to the grit with Dave Schools belting out Flatfoot Floozie to end the evening. Trouble seemed particularly appropriate, given the events on of the latter half of 2001. I’m really glad they found a place for that one in the weekend’s rotation.
The first night had expectations set pretty high for the rest of the weekend. The energy built up on Saturday was carried successfully throughout the weekend, but it’s safe to say that it did not really peak or reach any massive climax in the nights that followed. There was just a lot of high quality playing and consistent jamming throughout. There’s no doubt that some fans had their expectations simply set too high, hoping for wild cover songs (never really a NYE tradition) or maybe more special guests, but I think the band did an admirable job. The fact that they had rehearsed long beforehand was evident, and the fact that they had no noticeably blown cues or missed lyrics all weekend was also key.