Widespread Panic: St. Augustine Ampitheater, St. Augustine, FL 10/1/10

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Widespread Panic returned to Northeast Florida area for a show at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre on October 1st. Panic last played here in 2008, skipping 2009. Many thought the band would never return due to an incident at the ’08 show;  a drunken fan in the pit tossed a beer bottle on stage and hit drummer, Todd Nance, a fight in the pit then erupted and the music stopped until order was returned.

When the weather is nice, the St. Augustine Amphitheatre is a beautiful place to see a show.  And this year we got lucky, as tropical storm Nicole passed by just a few days prior and blew out a lot of the heat and humidity.  The amphitheater seats just over 4,000 and on this night there looked to be nearly 3,000 in attendance. If you do come to a show here don’t plan on much of a “Shakedown Street” – the local police were roaming around trying to shut down anyone trying to make a buck. They do seem to tolerate the occasional adult beverage in the lot, as long as you don’t openly display it or keep it in a plastic cup. In addition, there is a beautiful state park, Anastasia State Park, within easy walking distance of the amphitheater  for camping if you do come in from out of town.

They opened the night with the JoJo Herman’s rousing rocker “1×1” and followed that up with famous blues player, Willie Dixon’s, “Weak Brain, Narrow Mind.”  JB’s (John Bell’s) voice suits this song very well although the band plays the song more as an up tempo rocker then Willie’s slow blues number.

Next up was one of the Panic classics – “Hatfield” – which served as the “jam” song of the first set. Jimmy Herring plays as he always does, as one SpreadHead expressed to me,  who had recently updated his Facebook status, “Off to see the wizard”.   Dave Schools on bass was not to be outdone though, with some real nice bass runs following on the heels of one of Jimmy’s leads. And of course JB has to lay down his Hatfield rap.

Other highlights from the first set, a tune that’s been in the rotation for years and appears on the latest studio album, Dirty Side Down, “Clinic Cynic”. Nance sings the lead and does quite well while JB harmonizes beautifully with him.  Next came the staple, “Love Tractor”, followed by the set closer, the cover of the Talking Heads 1979 classic “Life During Wartime.”

The second set opened with “Can’t Get High”, another one of the Panic staples that gets played at least once on every Panic tour. On this tune Herring is able to demonstrate his versatility, not only can he “shred” the guitar, but he can play with feeling.  The covers in the second set were “Cream Puff War”, a Jerry Garcia tune from 1967, the Guess Who’s “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature” (one that Panic has done well  for  25 years), and for the second and final song of the encore, the Bill Withers song, “Use Me.”

A couple of new songs appeared from Dirty Side Down, “Shut Up and Drive” the title track, which was the first song of the encore. Both of these tunes showcase that gritty Southern rock that Panic has mastered and both serve as vehicles to jam on.

The classics in the second set were a marvelous “Walkin’ (For Your Love)” into “Surprise Valley” and back into “Walkin.”

With rumors of a 2011 hiatus floating, Widespread Panic, now in its fifth year with Jimmy Herring on lead guitar, still is one of the hardest touring bands out there. Herring’s influence on the band and the band’s influences on him have enabled Widespread Panic to come alive again with a new found energy that hadn’t been seen since the passing of Michael Houser in 2002.

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