Wilmington Widespread: A Celebration of The Ones Who Shaped Us May 10, 2022 12:56
Words by Erika Rasmussen: Rasmusic
Photos by Neil Peek
Like all true Southern gentlemen, Widespread Panic takes the time to pay homage to the great influences in their lives. During May 6-8 (Mother’s Day weekend) in Wilmington, NC, Panic created a foot-tapping, heart-warming, gut-wrenching tribute to some of their greatest influences: the literal mothers in our lives, the rough-and-ready character of the “Panic Mama”, and the musical influences in their careers. Most especially highlighted was their friend, mentor, and songwriting influence: the late, great Danny Hutchens. Sunday brought the emotional one-year anniversary of Danny’s passing. I was friends with Danny, and not only did I get to interview him, but we also collaborated on an article about his own late mother and the inspiration she provided for his song “American Country Ghosts” during her struggles with dementia. I consider Danny’s words that he so poignantly shared in that article as much a work of art as the song he composed. I share the same reverence for the musical influences that Widespread Panic works to continually expose us to and remind us of. I truly enjoy weekends like this past one, when I get a refresher of the playlists and pop culture that created their sound.
Panic launched an all-original set one on Friday with “Jack”, which hasn’t opened a show since 9/18/91! Song two, “Goodpeople”, kicked off the “mom” theme of the weekend with “The ones your mama warned you about”. Stay tuned for more of those references. The band then ebbed and flowed through “Pilgrims >”, “You Got Yours”, and “Pickin’ Up the Pieces >” like the Cape Fear River running behind their backs. In honor of Willie Mays’ birthday that day, the band obviously had to cover “One-Arm Steve” (“Well, say hey, Willie Mays, what's in your suitcase full of wonders?”) The return of the mom is seen in “Steven’s Cat >” during “Mama tried to protect my soul yes, she did bit by bit save me from sorrow”. “Bear’s Gone Fishin’ >” then rolled out with its supposedly scandalous song origin in New Orleans, reminding us of the band’s raucous roots, despite their sweet love of their mothers. Speaking of, “Love Tractor” prompts us that “Mom said that I'm alright…” and ended set one. Thanks, Mom.
Set two led with two Bloodkin songs: “Henry Parsons Died >”, into “Sleepy Monkey>”. Remember this lyric - “It' could be a déjà vu, Cognition coming true” for a couple songs, mmm-kay? “Diner >” cites the quintessential idea of a Panic Mama – “She's beautiful - natural.” We peacefully settle into “Cease Fire >” and then are taken into “Jamais Vu >”, which is the opposite of déjà vu. See what they did there? “Bass And Drums >” satisfied a primal urge to just converse with the rhythm, as always. “Tie Your Shoes >” carries the ageless lesson to “Love your girl, you’ve got to love your girl”. Take note, y’all. Perhaps one of the sweetest images of mothers is represented in “Papa’s Home >” with the line “Mom's holding sister in the chair, sharing stories and forgetting time.” The band’s friend and sometime lyricist, Jerry Joseph, is highlighted in “Climb to Safety” to end set two.
The encore kicks off with the seemingly shelved “Flicker >”, which hasn’t been played since 8/31/18. The hauntingly beautiful “This Part of Town >” took us into “Travelin’ Light” by the formidable J.J. Cale, whose influence on the rock world cannot be overestimated.
Watch footage of "Diner" via whereshaynes on YouTube:
Saturday’s set one led with the always poetic “Surprise Valley >” and the geographically appropriate “Mother talkin' the waters; Spirit moves in all things...” Easily one of my favorite musical influences, and perhaps yours, too, is David Byrne. When the band went into Byrne’s “City of Dreams >” before diving back into “Surprise Valley >”, I was as pleased as ever. “Rock” and “Heroes” then took us into “Airplane >” and the trademark oath of love, “Got me a pilot, she's going my way; If she's got wings, if she's got wings.” As they so often do, Panic went from “Airplane >” into “Take-Off Jam >” (teehee). Coming back ‘round to their great influences, we heard “Rebirtha >”, which once debuted as an instrumental in ’93 with "Apologies to George Porter" (of the Rebirth Brass Band). It is our great fortune that Widespread, and JoJo Hermann especially, have such a love of New Orleans music that shows in their work and that we get to boogie to. There was an interesting “Not Fade Away” tease after “Rebirtha” for the 76th birthday of Grateful Dead member, Bill Kreutzmann. Our musical influences then swing over the Atlantic to everyone’s favorite Irish rabble-rouser, Van Morrison, and “Send Your Mind”. Some technical or vocal issues popped up during “Blackout Blues” but the band ended set one strong, nevertheless.
We crashed into set two of the night like a wave, starting with the Vic Chesnutt pair of “Protein Drink >” and “Sewing Machine”. Even Vic is makin’ Mama references – “Mama makes a dress on the sewing machine…” As is required by a coastal setting like Live Oak Bank Pavilion, they covered “Vacation >” and then “Disco >” and then a freakin’ cross-country roadtrip of a “Drivin’ Song >”. The tune bookended “Ain’t No Use >” (last played 8/31/19 and originated by New Orleans’ The Meters), “Saint Ex >”, J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High >” (with “Sewing Machine” reprise), “Zambi Jam >”, back into “Ride Me High >”, and then back to “Drivin’ Song >”. Whew. It makes me tired just typing that set out because it spun us around and shook us up, for sure. “Space Wrangler” ended set two as sweetly as ever. Skål, as my Norwegian family would say (that’s “skol”, to y’all).
The encore began with “Sometimes >”, by Ed Crawford of fIREHOSE. This band is of the Camper van Beethoven scene and that in itself just warms my heart, much less the line: “But now April's turning to May.” The closer of “Action Man” brought up an interesting mom reference – “Willie said ‘he was the mostest horse’; Mahubah, Fair Play, desert mama's boy.” I just learned in researching this article that Fair Play was Man o’ War’s mother (dam) and Mahubah was his father (sire). The more you know…
Sunday can be summed up in one word: cold. But we loyal Spreadheads filed into the venue wearing everything from Patagonia to hotel robes to warm up. JB’s greeting of “We can play, we can dance, we can snuggle up" added a lightheartedness to the weather as the sun started to set and the band began to play. “Little Kin” brought the ever-loveable “He's got his mamma's eyes, He's got his daddy's younger hands” in honor of Mother’s Day that day. “Ain’t Life Grand” went into “Greta >” and the always-amazing chorus “Mother Nature's come to arms, She's in a fighting mood. Greta's got a gun, This ain't no flowerchild.” This aptly depicts not only the band’s friend, Greta, but also once again brings up that Panic Mama ideal – a tough hippie that you don’t mess with, despite her sweet exterior. “Radio Child” bounced along into “Aunt Avis >” by the beloved wordsmith, Vic Chesnutt, who is again recalling his mom – “Help me mama, for I have grinned; Save me daddy from where I'm goin'.” Perhaps to remind us not to gripe about the cold so much, we were then served “You Should Be Glad”. “Hatfield >” was a timely choice with the story of how "’Charles always kept in touch’, swears his mother; ‘Always had the touch’". We were then treated to the wise words of New Orleans’ Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down >” (last played 12/31/11). In what JB has jokingly referred to as "A tender little love song” the band busted out Bobby Rush’s “Bowlegged Woman” in the kind of love anthem that Panic couples could most easily identify with. We all love our mamas, but Bridgerton characters we ain’t.
Watch footage of "Greta" via Loma Deren on YouTube:
Set two of Sunday kept everyone warmed up with an "I Trusted You" tease, which has only been played twice before. Riffing on this “song” of Andy Kaufman’s is one of the reasons why this band is so loveable. They aren’t afraid to make a joke or even be the punchline of their own joke. See the Halloween ’19 performance of this song by Schools and the Kaufman video, if you’re unfamiliar with the skit. The set then officially started with David Bromberg’s “Sharon >”. “Bust It Big” brought back the Panic Mama / Panic Daddy down & dirty love vibe with “She's my little salt lickin', agave guzzlin', worm eatin', lime suckin' girl, I love her so.” Next, we cannonballed into “PAYMH/That Thang >” and Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breakin’ Down”. It should go without saying that Robert Johnson is an influence on anyone and everyone who ever played the blues or rock. He, too, was a sucker for a pretty lil’ mama: “Every time I'm walkin', Down the streets. Some pretty mama start breakin', Down with me.” “Sundown Betty” then took us into another couple of New Orleans references in “Gradle >” (“A blind New Orleans painter man, Doesn't get many straight lines”) and “Fishwater >” (“Drink more fishwater there, Than any whale's mama ever seen. " JB has said this is a tune about “just excess and the nature of New Orleans".) For only the second time ever, the band went into “Dear Prudence” by Paul McCartney and John Lennon and ended the set with “Porch Song”.
To aptly wrap-up the Mother’s Day weekend dedicated to their lost friend, Danny Hutchens, the encore started with Bloodkin’s “Trashy” and a line that summed up Danny, the band, and many of us so well – “Wild eyed love and getting high and trucks and cars and my guitars; That’s my recipe for life so far.” In what could not be a more perfect closer, the band played George Clinton’s “Red Hot Mama”. Did you know that George Clinton is from good old Kannapolis, NC? Thanks for bringing it all back to the Old North State, fellas.
At the end of the weekend, I was left with a feeling of overwhelming gratitude. I’m grateful that I still am lucky enough to have my mom around, that I’m the mom of two amazing little girls, that I have an extended Panic family who always surprise and delight me on tour, that I have had the chance to see this band for the past 27 years who has introduced me to music and experiences I never would’ve had otherwise, and mostly I’m grateful to have met amazing people like Danny Hutchens. I’m so very grateful to have heard his music, read his words, laughed at his jokes, played with his beloved pets, and just generally know the man. Thank you, Danny, for the mother of all songbooks and the colorful stories that you’ve left behind. You are greatly missed but your legacy lives on in your own children and your musical contribution to the world.
Thanks to Steven Ziegler, Bennett Schwartz, Curtis George, PanicStream, and Brown Cat for their tapings, resources, and support.