Front Row Focus | Concert Review: Widespread Panic (October 31, 2015)

Concert Review: Widespread Panic (October 31, 2015)

November 24, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

CONCERT:  Widespread Panic

VENUE:  US Cellular Center - Asheville, NC

DATE:  October 31, 2015

Review By:  Hannah Bober

Photos By:  David J. Simchock

Widespread Panic 2015-10-31 (Asheville, NC)Widespread Panic 2015-10-31 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock Halloween in Asheville.  Everywhere you turn there are Mad Hatter top hats, feathered head-dresses, and an assortment of fuzzy neon stockings.  It might seem like the typical attire of festive pedestrians in search of a party, but on this night, the feathered and fuzzy masses had a destination:  Widespread Panic had hit town, and an impressive turnout of folks was ready to get down for the weekend extravaganza. 

It's no surprise that the crowd of people in line for the show wrapped clear around the U.S. Cellular Center, as the band has been selling out shows for close to 30 years.  Concertgoers ranged from locals in costume looking for some Halloween kicks, to passionate fans who have traveled all over the country following the famous psychedelic jam rock band.  Regardless of their personal attendance tally at the touring band's gigs, the glow stick-baring attendees flooding the streets of downtown Asheville seemed confident that it was going to be a hell of a production.

Southern-founded in Athens, Georgia, the group has local roots through their work with Asheville's own Echo Mountain Studios.  Members include John "JB" Bell (guitar, vocals), Jimmy Herring (guitar), Domingo Ortiz (percussion, vocals), John "JoJo" Hermann (keyboard, vocals), Dave Schools (bass, vocals), currently sitting in on drums, Duane Trucks, rounded off with Nicky Sanders of the Steep Canyon Rangers joining in on fiddle on occasion.  Bell states that they strive to make "every song...a different experience."  They have created plenty of opportunity to do so, with 12 studio albums, 43 live albums, and appearances as recurring headliners at multiple music festivals around the world, including Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza.  Almost three decades of bluesy rock and heart-thumping beats have kept their devoted fans bouncing from show to show.

Widespread Panic 2015-10-31 (Asheville, NC)Widespread Panic 2015-10-31 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock

The band joined in the Halloween festivities with a stage set and costumes reminiscent of Andy Griffith's Mayberry, featuring JB posing as a spitting image of Floyd Lawson himself. Setting it all off with "Ain't Life Grand", an intense electric guitar buzzed through the venue creating vibrations as though the entire concert was underwater.  Bright stage lights flashed brighter and the crowd cheered louder as the music switched from purely psychedelic to more up-beat with "Bust It Big".  Never chained to one genre, the band's southern heritage shined through as they moved into the bluegrass-inspired "I'm Not Alone", and absolutely nailed it with Nicky Sanders’ fiddle in "Space Wrangler".

Widespread Panic 2015-10-31 (Asheville, NC)Widespread Panic 2015-10-31 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock Some familiar covers were unveiled in the second set, including Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar" and "Wish You Were Here".  Written by Bob Marley and popularized by Eric Clapton, the crowd favorite "I Shot the Sheriff" received a tremendous response as well.  The musical score of the originals, given new vivacity in the band's lively interpretation, created an exhilarating experience for fans.  Even their final encore included jailbird anthem "I Fought the Law", recorded by The Bobby Fuller Four and later by The Clash, further demonstrating the rock n' roll essence of this southern jam band.

As they continued to captivate the enthusiastic audience with guitar riffs and pulsing percussion, I looked around once again to marvel at the crowd decked out in their Halloween attire.  I realized that I had seen "Walter" from The Big Lebowski at least four times since arriving.  Another acquaintance I had the pleasure of making was a smiling young woman dressed as a Day of the Dead skeleton, who periodically danced over to me, grasped my hand and inquired as to whether I was having a good time.  In addition to recognizing the popularity of the band itself, it was easy to see the appeal in the sold-out Halloween show with its energetic vibe and colorful characters.  No one can say that Widespread Panic fans don't know how to have a good time, a toast to which I'm sure the unicorn prancing in front of me would happily raise his glass.

Widespread Panic 2015-10-31 (Asheville, NC)Widespread Panic 2015-10-31 (Asheville, NC)© Copyright David J. Simchock



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