Peace in the Valley: Widespread Panic at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas - March 11-14 (2022) March 17, 2022 09:15
Words by Erika Rasmussen: Rasmusic
Photos by Jeff Fernandez
The name Las Vegas was given to the city in 1829 by Rafael Rivera and literally means “The Meadows”. The artesian wells and grasses found in the area gave much needed relief to weary travelers. Almost 200 years later, the same still holds true for Widespread Panic tour veterans. We gathered for a much- needed weekend full of sentiments of world peace and several new and notable songs. Keep reading and be sure to click on Jeff Fernandez’s photos and the songs’ titles to hear that specific song from this weekend. Song files are found on Relisten and are powered by PanicStream. Thanks, Curtis!
The buy-in for capturing all of Friday’s show was actually getting there on time. The band did not kick off at their usual twenty minutes after the hour but went promptly into “Let’s Get Down to Business”, “Good People”, and then “Worry”. “This Part of Town” then offered the first taste of their seemingly intentional message of love and hope with "Where there is love, there is hope". After “Little Kin” came an “Airplane” that I heard many people call “the prettiest one I’ve heard”. Like a gambler running hot, they cruised into “Take-Off Jam”, “Impossible”, and “Machine”. The first set ended with “Barstools and Dreamers” and its idea that "All the world's dreams have died."
In what could easily be another Vegas theme song (were it not about Savannah), Panic kicked off the second set with “Up All Night” and “Blackout Blues”. The following “Party at Your Mama’s House” debuted 5/7/97, the same day as the “Take-Off Jam” featured in the first set. JoJo’s classic “Tall Boy” sums up southern stereotypes such as our obsession with religion: "We're gonna summon the Holy Ghost from the battlefield". This is basically the song equivalent of Danny McBride’s "Righteous Gemstones" series, which is his ode to Southern spirituality and the current favorite tv show for many of us.
We were then absolutely blown back by only the 4th ever performance of the instrumental “Halloween Face,” which is a new favorite of mine. After “Second Skin”, Leon Russell’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” appeared for the 2nd time ever. Panic then doubled down on another familiar Russell song in “A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall”. The song was written by Bob Dylan, of course, and he was quoted as saying that he wrote "A Hard Rain" in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis (though he actually began writing the song a few months before the crisis).
In a time of tension that’s very relatable now, Dylan said "Every line in it is actually the start of a whole new song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn't have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one." The more things change, the more they stay the same. We went back into “Stranger in a Strange Land” and were reminded “Well, I don't exactly know, what’s going on in the world today. Don't know what there is to say, About the way the people are treating each other, not like brothers.”
The rare nugget “Four Cornered Room” is not only elusive to many fans, but War is quoted as saying that “through that song, what we’re really trying to say, you can be successful, as long as you do unto each other as you’re supposed to do, be a good neighbor. Get out and do the best you can. Work with each other. Work as a team. That’s what we need in America. We don’t need all these different factions: I’m a Democrat, I’m a Republican, I’m Independent...” There’s some food for thought for you. After that heater, we ended the second set and cooled off with “Chilly Water”, though the water bottles were too expensive for much liquid to be tossed around.
The fellas went for broke in the encore of “Blue Indian” and “Lawyers, Guns, & Money”. We all absolutely roared as they sang Warren Zevon’s line of “How was I to know, she was with the Russians too?” Take that, Putin. (Just kidding. Don’t come for me, please.
The boys more than “covered the spread” (see what I did there?) with Saturday’s first set which was led by “Greta”, “Bowlegged Woman”, and “Bear's Gone Fishin'”. In “Better Off”, we’re inspired with the timely idea of “Gonna get together gonna write us a book; Call it, 'Stop Running the World'.” They hedged their bets with “Shut Up and Drive” and “Radio Child” before going into a touring theme with “Travelin' Light” and “Travelin' Man” (last played over 2 years ago on 10/25/19). The first set closed with “The Waker”, a bet that was formerly “off the line” out of respect for Michael Houser and his namesake son.
It may be an underdog, but Saturday’s second set kicked off with “Thought Sausage”, a favorite of mine. This was followed by Bloodkin’s “Henry Parsons Died” and then a rare “Dark Day Program”. This song hasn’t been played since 2/28/20 and has been played less than 20 times in 14 years. After “Proving Ground” we were given another rarity in Tom Petty’s “Honey Bee”, which has only been played 15 times in 5 years. A “Surprise Valley” > “Drums” > “Surprise Valley” sandwich brought us into Vic Chesnutt’s “Protein Drink" > "Sewing Machine”. We ended the set with “Papa's Home” and “Mr. Soul”. Whew.
The Saturday encore consisted of “Visiting Day” into Jerry Garcia’s “Cream Puff War” (he loved to point out that he actually wrote this one himself). Stop and take a minute to consider this lyric in the current political situation: "Well, can't you see your killing each other’s soul? Your both out in the streets and you ain’t got no place to go. Your constant battles are getting to be a bore. So go somewhere else and continue your cream puff war."
On Sunday night, Panic parlayed their bets into one face-melting, house-burning throwdown. The first set began with “One Arm Steve”, “Walk On”, “Rebirtha”, and “Postcard” (first played 10/6/1986 – the same day as “Machine” heard on Friday night). Alan Price of The Animals wrote the next song, “Sell Sell”, and it is one of my favorites not only for its message but because it will always remind me of beloved tour veteran Erika “Sell Sell” Selman Patrick. If I had to put the over/under for the next song’s number of times played, it would statistically be high, but for only the 9th time ever, we were offered a version of Bloodkin’s “Trashy”. Cheers to our late, beloved Danny Hutchens.
Following “You Got Yours”, Panic went into the first ever solo “Dark Bar”. This is usually played every 2-3 times they play “Goodpeople”, in the middle of the song. However, it was not played at all from 2/1/12 til 6/29/19. Hmm. I would love to hear why. This particular version of the song sang “Had a dream in Vegas, got up and boogied outta bed. Dancin’ with the aliens, just like we were little kids.” I feel ya, JoJo. There were some aliens in our section dancing with us, too. A pretty out-of-this-world “Love Tractor” brought the set to a close.
Sunday’s second set anted up with openers of “Old Neighborhood” and “Jack” (first played 8/4/1988, the same as Friday’s “Impossible”). During “Diner”, we were tickled to get a "Her Dance Needs No Body" JB rap. This was surely a nod to the Dolly Parton stickers I brought to town with that line. Heh. After “Pilgrims” and “You Should Be Glad”, the crowd howled along with JB to Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”. Next up were some Panic staples: “Contentment Blues”, Jorma Kaukonen’s “Genesis”, and a “Fishwater” > “Drums and Bass” > “Fishwater” sammy.
Though it sometimes seems we take the encore set for granted, Sunday night reminded of us how to close a show like damn rockstars. The timely “Hope in a Hopeless World” from Roebuck 'Pops' Staples (father of Mavis Staples) echoed today’s sentiment of "Searchin' for love in these hateful times". But the closer absolutely blew our minds. For the first time ever, Panic broke out The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” and the crowd went nuts. John Lennon and George Harrison wrote this in an attempt to lure Prudence Farrow (sister of Mia Farrow) out of her obsessive, days’ long seclusion in her tent during their shared studies with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Interestingly enough, the song follows and crossfades in from “Back in the USSR” on the “White Album”. In light of other lyrical references this weekend, I doubt that was a mistake.
So, how do you sum up such an amazing weekend? I asked some tour “high rollers” and “card sharps” about their thoughts on the Vegas run. Jacob Christiansen said “After hearing the second set on Sunday, they sound like they’re at the top of their game. They sound as good as I have ever heard them.” (Spoiler alert: he’s heard them A LOT.) Chloe Hickman was the first to point out the peace, love, and rainbow- colored-lighting theme of the weekend to me, FYI. Michael Estep spoke for many of us when he said,“The whole feeling/underlying message of songs like ‘YSBG’, ‘Contentment Blues’, ‘Genesis’, etc. is the reminder of why I bother waking up. The boys remind me of that every time I see them, but last night they were really driving it home for all of us. They really give me the ‘Hope in a Hopeless World’ I needed to continue striving forward.” And one of the newer tour figures, Maddi Hodgson, stated so very eloquently “Jimmy be doing a lot.”
Whether you spent the weekend in complete debauchery (some of you may have even gone to The Champagne Room with a 90’s TV icon, though I’m not naming any names), obsessive gambling (note: bet on your birthdate on roulette), or dining on Vegas’ best food (Salt Bae is now my homie, y’all), this weekend provided musical inspiration to make this run a win, across the board. We’ll keep betting the limit and going for bust, on tour and in the world at large, as long as the band keeps doing the same. See y’all on the next run.
All opinions are the author’s as well as any errors. Huge thanks to Ellie at Brown Cat, All Eyes Media, Jeff Fernandez, and Curtis George of PanicStream. See more of Jeff’s amazing photos below (without song hyperlinks).