Guest review by Andy Mowery,
photos by Fred Rice of Illusionoflight Blog & Steven T Love
At the Belly Up Widespread Panic show in Aspen, as JB began the last song of the second set, I was focused on his words in a state of awareness clear of the clutter that normally swamps better thoughts. I was captivated by the opening lyrics to Somewhere In Time:
“I hear a voice singing somewhere in time
A song I knew so long ago
It takes me back to places somewhere in time
To everyone I used to know”
While many in the room were scrambling to identify the song, I just listened and tried to absorb the words and sounds in the moment. We all wondered how the last show before the hiatus would end, and what they would select to send us off until we met again somewhere in time. This was, in a word, perfect – on many levels.Past, Present, and Future.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Forgive me, as this may take a little time to explain. You may want to stop and get yourself your favorite hot or cold beverage.
When Deb and I found out the band was going on hiatus in early 2011, we understood the reasons – they’ve been on tour for 7 straight years, and they are real humans with their own lives and families, and just needed a break. As disappointing as it was to think of a summer without Panic at Red Rocks, the hiatus of 2004 was actually great for us. So, we took it positively, and looked forward to having our schedule freed up.
When the shows for Panic en la Playa were announced, we all thought that it was going to be the end. Not The End type of end, but more than just the end of the wonderful 25th anniversary tour. It was also the end of an era before a hiatus that might be 1-2 years. But that doesn’t stop speculation and rumors, and it certainly doesn’t stop those who want to assign reasons and motives to what they observe.
Later, when the Wood Tour, and in particular, the Aspen shows were announced, I have to admit we were a little irked that suddenly we weren’t seeing the last shows. Suddenly, our 10-day Panic vacation was turning into Panic Month. And, given how many people weren’t able to get tickets to Mexico, it felt almost greedy to try to go to all the Colorado shows. Particularly the Aspen shows with a capacity of 450. Given the price tag, and what we had already committed to Mexico, we decided to get tickets for the Fillmore, and bypass Aspen.
Then they went on sale.Sure enough, two friends decided to go for it and get Sunday tickets. And, they bought extras. The thought of spending more on one show than a luxury car payment was almost embarrassing. But, there really wasn’t any other option for us. How could we, years later, say that money stood between us and this experience? It was the LAST show. It didn’t matter if it could be explained or rationalized to others.
We’ve been to some other last shows too. Deb and I were both at the last Grateful Dead show at Soldier Field in Chicago in 1995. Of course, we didn’t know it at the time. Nothing in the world before, during, or after the show gave us a clue it was anything more than the last show of that tour. I had plans to go to Philadelphia that fall, and looked forward to more years of seeing shows beyond the Midwest. I had seen 15 shows, and was just starting to “get it”.And, without warning, it was over. No hiatus, no regrouping, no substitutes for Jerry. Put a fork in it; it was done. Finished. Over.
The shock and sorrow of Jerry passing wasn’t the same for me as others I knew. I had been to a gathering in Chicago a few blocks from my apartment on a hill at Montrose Harbor on Lake Michigan. I have to admit it just seemed for many like a good excuse to go partake, drink beer, listen to music, and share stories in a park on the lakefront. There were people who were crying and hugging, but it didn’t seem real to me. I thought: It wasn’t like any of them actually KNEW Jerry or had met him, yet they were as emotional as if they had lost a parent or a sibling. I was a very naïve and somewhat arrogant, definitely young, insensitive idiot. They were nice to me anyways. I had so much to learn.
Over the next year, I noticed that my Deadhead friends gravitated towards different bands. Most of my closer friends were already seeing many Allman Brothers shows, even when the Dead were playing, so they just filled the void with more of that. There was also Warren Haynes and Allen Woody’s new band, Gov’t Mule. But I was also drawn to Blues Traveler and Phish. But, I listened everyday to Widespread Panic. Every freaking day.
When the Furthur Festival started the next year, I went to Atlanta to see Deb and the very first show of that tour. I hoped that it would just be a continuation of where the Grateful Dead left off, but it was something different. I loved it, personally, but there just didn’t seem to be the same magnetic attraction for others I knew. It just felt like it was over, and everyone was going their separate fragmented ways. Some had intention, but many were lost, simply not knowing what to do.
I personally didn’t find myself lost. By 1997, I was becoming more and more drawn to Widespread Panic, mostly because of the people I kept meeting – both at shows, and online via this email list called Spreadnet. Over the next 5 years, Deb and I ramped up our touring, and saw many shows in many places, coast to coast. And, the seeds of lifelong friendships were planted. We had finally found a place in time and space to call our own.
“I see a face I remember somewhere in time
Someone I love who’s gone away
Gone away somewhere in time
Gone away somewhere in time
Another night, on a highway somewhere in time
Darkness plays those tricks on me
Far down the road in the shadows somewhere in time
Am I the man I’m supposed to be? “
It was March of 2002 when I first heard the rumor via Spreadnetthat Mikey was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We began calling friends, not allowing ourselves to have an emotional reaction. We were in denial. But not for long – too many friends who were in the know confirmed it to be true. And the sadness I dodged with Jerry suddenly hit me square between the eyes.
I didn’t know squat about pancreatic cancer, but I learned quickly. It was deadly and swift, with some not living more than months after diagnosis. Still, we felt that while the odds may have appeared to be steep, with thousands of fans praying for him, combined with a positive attitude, this could be the story of that one person who does beat the odds. The fact that they didn’t cancel their spring or summer tours only gave us more confidence that they felt the same way.
Many in the community took it hard. I recall a conversation with a very close friend of ours, and she was torn about going to the shows in Raleigh after hearing the news. She was worried that it wouldn’t be the same, and that she wouldn’t walk away with the same mind-blowing experience creating those memories of a lifetime because so many were depressed looking into the dark unknown future. Few said it out loud, but everyone was worried that the next show was going to be the last show that they would see Mikey alive.
I told her that it wasn’t about what you got from the show, but what you brought to the show. These gatherings and experiences are more than just being entertained by the band. They create the energy, environment, and open doors to meeting good people that have the ability to lift your spirits from the deepest depths, to show you opportunities in life that were previously invisible, and to support and comfort those in need of physical, emotional, and spiritual guidance. Family, by any other name.
She was a bright shining star of a soul who always brought smiles to the faces of others. I think she knew it, but she was always humble and modest – avoiding credit for the positive energy she brought to others. I always wanted to be like her in that way, and felt I had much to learn from her. More than anything, I didn’t want her or anyone in our community to give up and let what we had built together fragment and disintegrate like we had witnessed after the Grateful Dead.
I encouraged her to go to the show in the spirit of support of those who were distraught because they sensed it may be the end of these amazing joyful experiences. I told herthat the end may be around the corner, but it also might be a long way off. Lots of people live for years with cancer, and many beat it – even against impossible odds. Therefore, we should enjoy the moment as best we can, and live in the now. Celebrate to the fullest, while you still can. Tomorrow comes soon enough. She went to the show, and many many more over the next 10 years. Including the last show, in Aspen.
Two months later it was my turn. By now, those that had seen Mikey play all reported how skinny and frail he looked. Still, Deb and I tried to remain positive. When we saw him the first night, and they opened with Weight of the World, it was pretty obvious that he was not doing well. His arms were pale, and like sticks. His clothes hung on him like they were borrowed. Still, despite all he must have been going through physically, mentally, and spiritually, he played 3 shows that did what they always did – sent our spirits soaring above the beautiful red rocks. I learned that year that the rock on the right side of the stage is called Titanic, and the one on the left is called Creation Rock. I found it leant to imagery of the cycles of life and death – and we danced in the space between.A subtle living metaphor for our collective situation.
To this day, when I think of bravery and courage, to see this young man of 40 play his heart out less than 6 weeks before his death moves me to tears. After Red Rocks, he played just one more show in Ames, IA. The rest of the tour, the shows went on without the wizard in the corner.
On August 10, 2002,just a week before the Fiddler’s Green shows in Denver to end the Summer Tour, I came in from working in the garden to read a post on Spreadnet saying Mikey had died. I went to the Widespread Panic website, and they had a memorial page up giving us the simple facts found in most obituaries. I walked out to the garden to tell Deb, devastated. It was over. It felt like the end.
We knew it was coming, but this was too quick. It blindsided us, and everyone we knew. How surprised we were to find out that the shows at Fiddler’s were NOT canceled. It didn’t make sense at first, but a few days of discussions on Spreadnet helped us form a collective mindset about how it would be like a wake, but more of a celebration of Mikey’s life and music. I really wasn’t in the mood to celebrate anything. Then, I remembered my own advice a few months before about bringing something positive to the show.
During the day, before the first Fiddler’s show on August 17 the question kept coming up about whether we would ever hear the unique signature sounds that made many of us feel our souls would lift out of our bodies, flying higher and higher. Some felt that Mikey was irreplaceable, and others said that no matter who was playing, the spirit of the music would live on – because our love of the words, rhythms, beats, and notes would overcome. I liked that perspective better.
I was the type of Widespread Panic fan who liked to analyze the lyrics, and figure out the meanings of songs. Combine this with trying to interpret the meaning of sequences of songs, or why some song was played, or whether it was a subtle message to the pilgrims in the audience, who came seeking the guiding light to lead them out of darkness. I had come to believe that there are no coincidences.
I had been to 62 shows through Red Rocks of that year, and I was always taken aback after each show as person after person would report that they had just seen the best show of their life, and/or how the songs played meant so much to them that it felt like it would change their life. How a band could play such a wide catalog of songs semi-randomly and have it be the right song to answer one fan’s long held question, while at the same time, the same song might have deep but different meaning to someone 100 feet away was both mysterious and inspiring at the same time. Sometimes it’s just one song you absolutely needed to hear, right then, as you faced a crossroads and needed a sign. Other times it’s a theme in the songs that makes you see the world differently. And, sometimes, it’s just having the veil lifted, and receiving enlightenment.
“I see a light, shining somewhere in time
A lonely light to lead me on
To lead me on somewhere in time
To lead me on somewhere in time “
I had one of those moments in the first set. Wondering was one of my favorite songs, mostly because it was bouncy, happy, and it evoked images of emerging from sadness into a state of carefree bliss. The moon was a couple days past 1st quarter, which meant it was about 2/3 full visible in the daylight before sunset. It was hanging to the left of the stage, with the big round cheeks of the man in the moon looking down kindly at JB.
I suddenly realized that this song was actually about Mikey, in Mikey’s voice. He was afraid of crowds and people. I confirmed this with a friend who was my authority on all things Panic, and he confirmed that not only was Mikey susceptible to panic attacks, but that he had stage fright, and that his nickname was Panic because of this. Those who started seeing them early on would “go see Panic”. When they formed a band and started touring, the name Widespread Panic was an extension of this, as touring far and wide would make them “widespread”. This was my 63rd Widespread Panic show, and I was just figuring out a song I had heard a thousand times before, and what the band was named after. I felt stupid and enlightened all at once.
And, I stopped saying Widespread Panic, in favor of Panic.
I also realized that had Mikey not overcome something that could have held him back then none of us would have been inspired and motivated by the music to go and make our own marks and do the amazing things we have done. We bonded over the feeling that it meant something personal to us, and subsequently it provided us with the soundtrack to the movies of our lives. I was humbled, and suddenly felt awkward for not having ever shown gratitude equal to what had been given to me. I felt indebted to a man who not only faced his fears in life, but gave his last ounce of energy to us as he was looking straight into the face of death.
In fact, nearly every song that night seemed to have subtext or a message from the band to it’s weeping fans. There were things that were obvious like Weight of the World, but also the very subtle, like a rap during Stop-Go where JB sang the lyrics to Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds: “Don’t worry about a thing, every little thing is gonna be alright”. I realized at that moment that this really was a wake, and while JB may have been the man in the room who had lost more than most, he put aside his needs and poured his heart out to comfort and lead the flock. I’d never before witnessed more courage, class, and kindness. It was heroic in the truest sense of the word. And, I believed him. Somehow, someway, everything was going to be alright. There was a light in the darkness.
Over Spreadnet, many of us coordinated to bring candles and paper plates (to catch the melted wax and not upset the venue) to open the second set. Many of us kept our candles lit, as the tears really began flowing. I had been to many concerts, but I had never seen so many share emotions openly like this, and I remember hugging absolute strangers. It didn’t even dawn on me that we were acting out the metaphor of light in the darkness, quite literally. Only years of reflection after the fact bear those gifts to the soul. The show closed with Porch Song, and I remember JB looking up at that big round moon when singing about the man in the moon being a musician.Perfect and heartbreaking all at once. I time-travel to that moment whenever I see that phase of the moon hanging low in the western late-evening sky.
The next day, I had no idea what to expect. It was the last show, maybe forever. At least that is how some were treating it. I was talking with my friend Sheffield about the signature sound of the song Driving Song, and whether we’d ever hear it again right. Sheffield and I had a mutual affinity for that song, and for me it was tied to the day I moved to Colorado.
Deb and I had seats in the grass for that show, and didn’t mind dancing up on the hill for the first set. But, since it was maybe the last show we would see for a long time, our friend, the same one who bought our Aspen Belly Up tickets, talked us into going down into the front reserved section using someone else’s stub. I was hesitant, as I didn’t want to take anyone’s seat and piss them off.
Sure enough, as the band came on stage, the guy who owned my poached seat came back down the aisle. I said I’m sorry, and I’ll leave, but he invited me to stay, and share his space. His kindness floored me, but we were both skinny young men and we made it work, even though I stepped on his barefoot toes with my barefoot toes many times over the next 90 minutes. But, he gave me nothing but smiles and kind eyes. I didn’t recognize who he was, until he got up on stage later that night at the Gothic to play Sharon in the after show jam. His name was Tori Pater.
As the band came on stage, we all noticed that Sam Holt, Mikey’s guitar tech, was on stage not to tune the guitar, but to PLAY the guitar. We all started chanting his name, as we collectively witnessed someone having one of our collective fantasies come true – to play with Panic on stage. The first notes of Driving rang clear as a bell, and I gazed over at my friend Sheffield who looked me in the eye and nodded with approval. Yes, the music would go on. We would hear those signature sounds. This was not the end. It was the beginning.
A little voice inside said to me, “Don’t give up. Ever.”
Yes, there were challenges over the next 10 years, to say the least. But, I saw the future through a different lens after Fiddler’s. I was energized by the fact that I realized I barely knew the music at all, and that there were so many layers of meaning yet to be discovered, and so many new experiences to share in new places all over the country. I took that spark, and the flame grew within me. In spite of negativity I heard and saw from some, I kept going to the shows year after year, dancing and jumping as high as I could until I could not walk, singing until I had no voice, and bringing as much energy to as many shows as I could. And, I’m not alone.
There were other end times along the way: New Year’s Eve 2003, heading into the hiatus of 2004; the last shows with George in the summer of 2006; and even Sam returning to the stage with Panic in Chicago to finish out that summer tour. Every end was just another beginning. The music we love never stopped, and even when Panic wasn’t playing, there were those like Sam, Tori, and many others around the country who now spread the love of this music by covering it in their own performances.
In fact, when the DyrtyByrds played for Mikey’s 50th Birthday at Cervantes Other Side in Denver this past January, I found myself feeling this more strongly than ever. What I believed deep in my heart at Fiddler’s had come to be. I was confident that for the rest of my life, the music of Panic would be interwoven. There was Sam and Tori (and Spanky, Eric Martinez, and Lionel Lucchesi with a little help from Chris Field) playing not only awesome Panic, but much of Mikey’s solo material from the album Sandbox. It felt like something had come full circle, and I was overcome with emotion most of the night.
“Wake from a dream, a dream from somewhere in time
I rub my eyes so I can see
You’re standing there before me somewhere in time
Standing there waiting for me “
So, going into Aspen Belly Up shows, my head was filled with all of these memories, feelings, emotions, hopes, and even expectations. I didn’t waste a minute thinking that it was the end of anything but an era. It was the final chapter in a 10-year story of loss, faith, struggles, and redemption. And, I expected that the shows for the last weekend would be full of meaning, from song selection to lyrics, full of subtext and deep messages from the band to us.
Since we were only going to the Sunday show, we planned our weekend as a 3-city tour, with the first two shows gracing our ears via www.couch-tour.com. This is a relatively new phenomenon that uses technology to broadcast a live show. But, in order to enhance the experience by connecting people in their homes via their smartphones, tablets, and laptops, they can also share their thoughts and knowledge about the band and music using message boards and Facebook in real time – often with a sense of humor that creates the need for an LOL button on the keyboard.
But, more than that, even those at the show now have this technology in hand, creating a network of people that share the experience of a show, both in and out of the venue the band is currently playing. I love that connectivity, and I think it reflects the reality of the illusion of separation. The technology makes it easier to accept that we are really all connected and one. An ironic metaphor comes to life.
Right out of the gate, we could hear crackle in JB’s voice. We knew Schools had caught the flu the weekend before, and it seemed obvious that JB was under the weather too. When Going Out West finally came along, it dawned on me that the whole first set sounded like JB was using his Tom Waits growl.
A picture from my friend Steve via text showed a shot glass on the table next to him. I posted it to my Facebook friends. Some speculated it was whiskey, which would smooth his voice. I didn’t know how that worked, exactly, but I did agree that there appeared to be yellow liquid in the shot glass.
Whatever it was, it worked. JB came out for the second set and it sounded like the mature JB voice that gets better every passing year. But, one song after the next, I noticed so many other things coming together. JoJo was playing like he wanted the MVP trophy, and Jimmy continued to make songs that couldn’t be acoustic sound like they shouldn’t be played any other way. Schools, Todd, and Sunny were all distinct. The music, every song, just sparkled and popped.
I felt great about saving the money and getting to hear the show for free at home. That is, until things like Geraldine and Quarter Tank of Gasoline are played. You chase these songs for years, and always lament not going to a show you could have.
We decided to get together with our friends who got us the tickets the next night at their house in Vail. Another friend, the one who I had talked about going to the Raleigh shows in 2002, was in from California. She was just arriving at the airport, and got a ride up to hear the show with us too. Our friend in Vail is a massage therapist, and has an electric massage chair, which upped the anti for ultimate couch tour experiences. I hogged it the whole first set.
The show opened with Wondering, and I was immediately thrown back to Fiddler’s, and flashbacks of thousands of memories since then. JB’s voice sounded so much better, and it felt like this show was going to be the heat. But, again, there was no regret. We were slowly transitioning from being connected by technology, to being connected by technology with our friends in the same room. It was just the next step in our progression towards being at the last show.
The Saturday Aspen show did end up being a smoker. My favorites end up being a long list: Ophilia, Happy, Trouble, That Don’t Make it Junk, Diner, Pilgrims, Blight, Genesis, Four Cornered Room, Chilly, Use Me, and an amazing 2-song encore of Expiration Day and End of the Show. We thought it was odd that they only did 2 songs, while all other Wood Tour shows had 3 encores. Little did we know that JB’s voice was shredded, and they shortened the encore to protect his vocal cords. I’d only find this out after the last show.
The drive to Aspen from Vail is only about an hour and a half, but we stopped at Moe’s Barbeque in Eagle to pick up some pre-show and post-show ribs and wings. We landed in town around 3pm, which was plenty of time to get ready for the show for normal people. For procrastinators like us, show time sneaks up on you to create heart palpitations and mini-crises. We had plans to go to the Red Onion for dinner at 5:30, but my mind was already in game-on mode.
It’s mostly people who are short that tend to be OCD neurotic about the spot inside the venue they want to secure to see the show. At 5’-4”, even with a 3-foot vertical leap, I am probably an all-star among the neurotics. I love my people, but flat floors open up the chance of standing behind a giant, or next to the one person in the venue who will talk through the show. That causes me to have a strategy. With diagrams, and plans A, B, and C. All coordinated by a group text message with our crew.
My friend Steve was first in line at 4:30, and by 5:00 he reported 12 people in line by text. I took one picture in front of the restaurant a ½ block away, and then told Deb I was just going over to the line to see how it was. I knew I wasn’t coming back. This was a special show, and I didn’t want to have anything less than the best time, and that required the basic elements of a great show to be achieved: A good sightline, dancing room, and great sound.
I was split on the nook on the far left of the floor, and the seating behind the reserved section. After 3 hours in line wearing sandals with wool socks with sub-freezing temperatures numbing my toes, I got in and cast my lot off the floor, with two prime seats on Jimmy side. I grabbed one of the booth tables behind us, and within minutes our crew had secured their favorite spots.
The show started early, but we were ready. My heart was pounding out of my chest, and not because we had upped the ante in our song list gambling to $25, as a nod to the end of the 25th anniversary tour. It was simply and purely exhilarating to be there in that moment.
At the Fillmore, I had Send Your Mind on my list, but it never came up. I thought it would translate well acoustically, and was miffed why it wasn’t in the lineup. I guess the answer to both was to make it a special part of the tour. But, it was also a clear nod to the thousands who were listening remotely via Sirius on their couches. If you can’t be there, then send your mind. I also find the song to have spiritual overtones, longing for home, and being near in your mind and soul when the one you love is far away.
Tall Boy was the first clue that my anticipation of a show-long spiritual message was materializing. The acoustic version sounds so different, it takes a few bars to get used to. There was some singing along, but it seemed appropriate.
The upbeat tempo continued with Ballad of John and Yoko. I smiled at the irony of the line “Christ, you know it ain’t easy. You know how hard it can be.” I sensed a telepathic message from JB saying “if you only knew”.
True To My Nature, a song co-written by Daniel Hutchens from Bloodkin, kept the pace and my heart rate at bouncing and pounding, in that order. It occurred to me that while some might have been expecting some old-school show, the combination of broadcasting on Sirius with the subtext messaging might lead to choices like this. I loved it.
But, more than anything I noticed that so many people in my view were dancing silently, and some were doing like me and mouthing the words without uttering a sound. The power I discovered at the Fillmore shows in this silent respect was amplified by the tight, small crowd. I swear I could feel the collective energy from head to toe as though I had stuck my finger in the electrical socket.
This Part of Town was the second reference after Ballad of John and Yoko to giving to the poor. Tall Boy summons holy ghosts from battlefields, John Lennon is talking to Christ about crucifixion in Ballad, and we have more than two reasons to evoke the concept of going to Panic Church on yet another Sunday. And, we aren’t even midway through the first set.
Time Waits reintroduced the theme of Time, and reminded me of the 3-song Time Suite from the weekend before, that included this one. But, once again, the lyrics hint at the end – “Someday, there’ll be nothing more to say”. And, clearly the spiritual element is there with “My body and soul and my car are not for sale”. It was during this song, however, that I noticed the shot glass on the table next to JB again. I would have believed it was whiskey, if I hadn’t caught him massaging his throat with his fingers between songs. I noted on my iPhone that someone on Facebook thought that JB was using honey to soothe his throat. Found out later it was both that, and olive oil.
Saint Ex is a song that became a new favorite for me, when the album came out in 2010. But now that I was tuning into the themes of this night, it was starting to make sense. Yet another reference to time – “The future is slipping past”. And, another spiritual message about regret and recognition that we are all connected, not enemies. If you take the time to look up the legend of Saint Ex, it will likely change how you think about this song.
One of the coveted prizes of going to show after show, in city after city, is getting a new, never-played song. Part of that experience means going through a period where they start playing, and after you realize you don’t have a clue what the song is, you ask everyone around you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been the guy asking or the few times I am the guy with the answer. And, when that fails, now we go to Panicstream.com to see whether the folks posting the set list there have a clue. In this case, it took several minutes to collectively figure it out.
The title was kind of obvious from the refrain. But, initially, the rumor whispered around was that it was Bare Naked Ladies. If you Google “Sell sell lyrics”, the Bare Naked Ladies link comes up #2 on the list. But, the right choice of Alan Price didn’t even ring a bell. I’d have to research this at home later to learn that it was originally a 1973 British movie called O Lucky Man!, and that Alan Price was in the Animals.
But, once again, right there in the lyrics is the theme. It was a movie about a guy moving through different social classes, and he’s a salesman in this part of the movie. But, the lyrics point to something deeper. It’s a plea for meaning in your life, and a song of hope about this being the best one of the year. I listened intently, and this one shot right through (and to) me as a personal message. I got it.
“Give, give, give, give everything you paid for
Run, run, run, run for everything you prayed for
Keep that smile on your face
With a smile you’re welcome any place
Because the next one will be, the next one will be, the next one will be, the best one of the year”
This isn’t to mention the spiritual themes of giving and praying, being happy, and trusting that the best is yet to come. Echoes again of the day at Fiddler’s with JB assuring us everything is going to be alright. And, quite reflective of what I’ve heard over and over from my online friends about how they feel about the upcoming year.
Who Do You Belong To and Carmelita may stray a bit from the theme’s I’ve already brought up, but maybe I still have something to learn about each. I love the former, and am just learning the latter – quickly, after hearing it 3 times in 3 weeks. It’s a song about the downward spiral of heroin addiction that almost sounds like a serenade.
Finally, after that, I get my Degenerate. A shallow listen might take the heroin reference from the song prior, and apply this as a label to the addict. But, the lyrics, as most Vic Chestnut lyrics are, quite cryptic. On the surface, we seem to be singing a song about a ball of twine, but somewhere we take a turn to talk about untying metaphorical knots, and we get imagery of a farm slowly decomposing over winter. I like the fact that after all these years, there is always something new to learn. All I know is that Schools really looks happy singing this song.
The first set closes with a spiritual song from Jerry Joseph, Climb to Safety. I also think this song speaks about heroin addiction so, we have yet another theme repeating in this show. Not to mention the concept of becoming something better, and the kindness of friends and strangers connecting with those who need to be thrown from oncoming disasters.
With that, it appears that the first set had a parade of some of Panic’s strongest influences and inspirations. Clearly, there’s more than random choice in this song selection. At least in my mind, so I was already quite satisfied with what they had delivered.
The setbreaks on this tour have been very short, and the Sirius broadcast was likely to keep this one short and sweet. When they came back on stage, it felt like just a few minutes set break to me. I had a great conversation with one friend, but wished I had more time to visit so many others in the room.
Another song that was on my pick list all weekend in Denver was City of Dreams. I love all Talking Heads and David Byrne music, but this one again fit in with the ethereal motif, and evoked yet more spirituality.
Tail Dragger, a Howlin’ Wolf cover, is new to the lineup, but it was my third time catching it out of the four total times it’s ever been played. While JB’s voice was sounding better, the growling rasp in his voice fit perfectly here.
The Walkin that followed turned the heat back up. The spiritual meme returns with images of communal beings of light that are shining and disappearing for your love. I personally felt so energized by JoJo’s keyboards on this one that at the end of the song, it felt like all the tingly energy built up drained through my feet into the earth. It was more than any being could or should hold inside – Because there would be much more to come.
Papa’s began at the measured pace that makes most just sway as the verses are sung, but that soon gives way to the harmonic jam that is peppered with the combination of JoJo’s keys interspersed with the pops of snares and bongos from Todd and Sunny. If there was a measure of notes per minute for the Wood Tour, it’s possible that the jams in this song might win. And, the song evokes the feeling of a patriarchal leader who has given his every last ounce of energy getting to finally return home to rest.
Everyone knew Vacation was coming. It’s an emotional song about friendships, miracles, and part of what many of us associate with going to shows – vacation. It’s a song that is so Mikey, it’s hard not to think of him while this song is playing. It’s also one of those songs in the Panic library that has a slow part followed by a fast-paced jam to finish. JoJo was using the Harmonium (a reed organ that combines the use of keys with playing a reed instrument) for this one. It creates a wonderful meandering fabric for the rest of the music to have a picnic upon.
The second peak of spirituality for me was the anticipated Beatles’ Across the Universe. It’s a song I knew, but had never really studied the lyrics. “Jai Guru Deva. Om” is Sanskrit for “I give thanks to my heavenly teacher. Om”. Yes, I know many come to the shows to alter their consciousness, but for those of us who believe that the spiritual nature of Panic shows make it a form of “church” for us, this song is clearly a prayer of gratitude.
“Sounds of laughter, shades of life
Are ringing through my opened ears
Inciting and inviting me.
Limitless undying love, which
Shines around me like a million suns,
It calls me on and on across the universe”
Limitless undying love shining like a million suns. I’d been searching for the words to describe my feeling for Panic music for two decades. Right there under my nose in my Beatles collection.
We were clearly on a path of epic songs delivering spiritual messages and meaning, and North fit that bill as a message about personal growth. Contentment is a song some feel is just weird for talking about eating chicken in a tree, but it’s got a karmic message too – “All those good thing’s I’ve done come back to take care of me”.
Jack too appears to be a song with some of the most memorable sing-a-long lines, not to mention a direct reference to the wizard in the corner, Mikey. But, the last line about Jack the Jester whomping up some biscuits for us all also gives us the image of those among us who provide spiritual food.
I am a song-counter when I am at the show. I’ve learned through the years that once we get 9-songs deep into a set, it can end at any time. Jack was song number nine, and I knew the set might be ending any moment. Postcard has ended the 2nd set more times than I could even use Everyday Companion to compute. It has deep personal meaning for me, as a former resident of Telluride. Once you experience or live in paradise, even for a few days, it’s hard not to have the feeling that you never want to leave.
When they played this in Mexico, it was certainly sung from the hearts of everyone who was there. But, as we were clearly within the last hour of panic for a long time, I’ll speak only for myself – I didn’t ever want this to end, or for us to never never never ever wanna leave. I have a hard time describing how you can simultaneously have a smile from ear to ear, yet have the feeling in your chest and eyes like you want to bawl like a baby. Overwhelming emotion is the best understated, generic cliché I can use. If you listen to the recordings, I am one of the louder woos.
The pregnant pause between Postcard and Porch made me think that we were clearly hearing the end of the set. Emotional from the last song, thinking back to Fiddler’s Green 10 years ago I was just thinking that this was the perfect way to end this set. Whatever respect and restraint was displayed for this acoustic run had to be cast aside for this sing-a-long. Here we were, together not only with 450 lucky fans who will remember the show for the rest of their lives, but we got to sing our most popular hymn – a song that some college boys in Georgia dreamed up on their porch decades before. The Man in the Moon IS a musician, and we do live the moontime.
All I could think about was Mikey, and how his inspiration caused not only me, but everyone in the room to not give up.
There’s a few times in your life when, out of the blue, the perfect song is played for that moment. It cements emotions into our memories, and I don’t think its coincidence or chance.
The lights were dim, and the song opened with simple percussion, and light guitar that made me feel like I was on a beach around a campfire with a billion stars above. JB started singing in one of the deeper voices I had heard him use. The opening line “I hear a voice singing somewhere in time” had me crying inside, as I knew this one was for Mikey. I knew it right away.
“And I’ll take your hand someday somewhere in time
Forever I’ll be here with you
I’ll be with you somewhere in time
I’ll be with you somewhere in time
I’m here with you somewhere in time”
I had come back full circle from a long story, and this was the moment I had been waiting for since Fiddler’s. It was the moment where all the grieving, the heartache, the doubt, the wonder about whether it was all worth it was realized.
JB was singing a beautiful song of prayerful thanks on behalf of the band, and all of us whose lives would never have been the same had not a skinny chemistry student in Athens Georgia not overcome his stage fright. There’s a powerful lesson for all of us – to face our fears, even in the face of death, as it has the power to help and transform others beyond what most of us can imagine.
I think the song may also have been for others we’ve lost along the way. Wayne and Garrie, just in the past year. Yogi and Dino too. Like the Indians in the City of Dreams, they’re not really gone. We’ve all lost friends along the way in this long strange trip. But, we know that it’s not the end, and that eventually we will all be together again, somewhere in time.
I don’t care what the price of the ticket was, this was a moment that was truly priceless, timeless, and beyond words. There is no place in the universe I could imagine being other than right there. I didn’t need an encore.
But, as long as all the chakras and tear ducts were opened, might as well follow with a Blue Indian. I had been given a terrycloth wristband by my friend, Ben, at the Fillmore shows made by another Panic Facebook Group, Widespread Panic Associates that said “Many Spirits Strong” on one side. I had been using it all night to wipe the sweat from my forehead. When that line came up in the song, “we got a party going on, many spirits strong”, I knew that we weren’t just talking about those of us in the room, those listening live via Sirius, and even those not listening who were just sending their mind. We were inviting everyone and anyone, across the universe. All are welcome to this party.
Obviously, I enjoy the deep stuff. It’s what keeps me from being bored out of my mind. But, this is, after all, a church that serves alcohol, and not everyone is in the same place in their own journeys. And, I think the band knows that. It seems for each dose of spirituality, there has to be a grounding counterpart to remind those of us who are still here on Earth that we are humans in the flesh that need to celebrate the now in light-hearted ways.
I and about 2000 other people thought Coconuts was an obvious choice for Mexico. Apparently, too obvious, according to a friend mine who asked them why it wasn’t played down there. So, even though one of the largest discoveries of Wooly Mammoth fossils has occurred in the past few years just over the ridge from Aspen in Snowmass, we crossed this off our pick list because we thought “too obvious” was the new norm. But, if you ever want to see tears turned into smiles quicker than a Panic fan can throw a lighter at JoJo, watching them pull out this song in the middle of an encore was the antidote to a show full of overwhelming spiritual meaning for a guy like me. It’s just a fun song. And, no, I didn’t see anyone throwing matchsticks instead of lighters, in case you were wondering.
The show finished appropriately with Ain’t Life Grand. The title says it all, and after the emotional journey of the evening, let alone the last 10 years, no, the last 25 years, this was clearly the way to end the show, the era, and the crown on the 25 year touring history of this band.
After the show, we took pictures and had many conversations with people we had not seen in years. Deb won the gambling pool with Blue Indian being the song that put her over the top. I felt as though I was beaming with energy as bright as my red shirt. The venue slowly emptied, and I noticed that while the band had left through a side door right after the encore, Dave Schools walked back in later and sat in the reserved section in front of us while we continued our long good-byes.
Our crew began walking towards the door, and I felt compelled to go over to Dave and say something. How could I not, he was right there? But, I am one of those star struck fans who is afraid to talk to the band, particularly at shows. I’ve got my stories, including once before JB sung the national anthem at Wrigley Field, and I happened to catch him walking with some folks while Deb was in the bathroom. I babbled for 20 seconds, and then could only come up with “Can you please please please play Bowlegged tonight?” like Ralphie on A Christmas Story begging Santa for a Red Rider BB Gun before the elves kicked him down the slide. Ho. Ho. Ho.
I walked over, and thought deeply about what I wanted to say. He was in the middle of getting some instructions from security about being taken to the hotel, so I had a few moments to think, even though my brain was frozen. I thought about all the things I had ever wanted to say, all the emotions that this show and the years before had evoked, and how their music had irrevocably changed my life for the better. I wanted to make a point, but didn’t’ want to waste his time, or say something stupid.
Fortunately, I had to wait a minute beyond what my cluttered jumbled thoughts would come up with.I took a deep breath, exhaled, and tried to think of what it all boiled down to. In the end, I just extended my hand to shake his, and said two words: Thank you.
Jai Guru Deva Om