By Jason Eddins Photos by Liza Cox
January 2, 2014
Widespread Panic made a triumphant return to Charlotte on New Year’s Eve. For the third time in the last four years, they closed out the year at Time Warner Arena for anyone in the Queen City who was fortunate enough to be inside. It was an incredible two-day run for football teams and bands from Athens, Georgia. The Dawgs of UGA destroyed Louisville in the Belk Bowl by more than three touchdowns on the 30th, and Widespread Panic destroyed Time Warner Arena by at least that many on the 31st. Before the show started, the PA system was steady, and on shuffle was Bill Withers “Lovely Day,” calmly playing in the background and foreshadowing what would soon rule the first set.
Frontman John Bell was sitting down for the first set – and he was probably the only one in the arena doing so. J.B. & team ripped through the first set with some early favorites. With “C. Brown,” off of the second self-titled album, Widespread Panic started the night and the band delivered a solid 40-minute set. Other early Widespread selections included “Space Wrangler” from the band’s debut album Space Wrangler, and the always crowd-friendly “Ain’t Life Grand,” followed The Guess Who’s “No Sugar Tonight.” The set then turned into a Bill Withers showcase as J.B. welcomed out Randall Bramblett & The Megablasters, and fired off two first-time songs “Lean on Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine” right before another band favorite from Mr. Withers – as “Use Me” closed the first set.
Disco opened the second set and J.B., guitarist & rifleman Jimmy Herring, bassist Dave Schools, keyboardist Jojo Herman, percussionist Sunny Ortiz and drummer Duane Trucks were off and not slowing down. The hour-long set was highlighted towards the end when The Megablasters returned for both “Weight of the World” and “Sharon.” The rowdy crowd was indeed back. “Pigeons”, “Parsons” and “Greta” were also highlights of the set after the instrumental “Disco” blared though the house as a Giant Disco Ball spun atop Times Warner Arena. After a nice Greta jam, “You Got Yours” and “Imitation Leather Shoes” followed and were thankfully and strategically placed in the middle of the set, offering those fastest a chance to use the restroom and grab a cold drink.
The band came out for the countdown and then the PA system treated the crowd to an always rowdy Talking Heads “Burning Down the House” as balloons and confetti dropped from the rafters. Then the lights went down and 2015 was officially underway.
Widespread’s final set had the “Happy” New Year theme in full affect as a Happy 2015 to all in attendance by surprising the crowd with a triple “Happy” open. Two more first-timers with “Happy” (Rolling Stones) > “Happy” (Widespread Panic) > “Happy” (Pharrell Williams) were fired in succession. The Rolling Stones’ rendition of this song, from the classic album Exile on Main Street, was one most had likely not heard unless they were paying attention after “Loving Cup” on side two of the double album. Panic would circle back to Exile for “Stop Breaking Down” in what proved to an 85-minute set with over an hour long “Porch Song” Parlay. The seven song “Porch” sandwich showcased the band all in sync and roaring on all cylinders. Duane Trucks, sitting in for Todd Nance as drummer helped guide Jimmy Herring & team though “Porch” > “Black Out Blues,” “Cotton Was King,” “Climb to Safety,” the aforementioned “Stop Breaking Down,” “Drums,” “Chilly Water,” and “Pilgrims > “Porch.”
After a loaded show, Panic came back out for their encore and gave tribute to music legend Joe Cocker who passed away on December 22 at the age of 70. The first Cocker encore selection “High Time We Went” was well received and gave keyboardist JoJo Herman a chance to showcase his magic. Panic closed the encore and show with another first-timer – the fifth of the night – with Cocker’s version of “A Little Help From My Friends,” a Beatles original made famous by the 80s sitcom “The Wonder Years,” It was a proper way to finish an incredible, high-energy show. If you were in Charlotte on New Year’s Eve and didn’t have fun at the Widespread Panic show, it was kind of your fault.