Widespread Panic and Umphrey’s McGee Play Family Circle Stadium
“Some of you are waaaay high up there!” exclaimed John Bell as Widespread Panic took the stage for their second night at the Family Circle Stadium in Charleston, S.C. After 14 straight shows at Charleston’s coliseum since 1998, Panic’s return to the Lowcountry outdoors arrived on a perfect weekend of balmy nights, on a clay tennis court with steep bleacher seating that felt like entering Mad Max’s Thunderdome (especially when the band took the stage on Friday to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”).
When the first words of a two-night stand are “I seen your sister naked,” we’re all bound to have a good time. The swanky “Ribs and Whiskey” set the scene for an explosive tear into the opening riff of “Surprise Valley,” before Jimmy Herring took advantage of “Blight” for the weekend’s first over-the-top jam. JB hiked up his black jean britches after a mini-“Drums” for a Surprise-reprise, before the Kodachrome wing-shaped floor lights put the full attention on Mr. Bell for the hushed opening lines of “Let’s Get This Show on the Road.” The Lord uses the good ones…
“Postcard,” dropped mid-first set on Friday, may have been the night’s rock-and-roll highlight, with the crowd feeding off frenetic strobe lights.
Set two was old school, pulling out “Conrad,” “Pigeons,” “Porch Song” and “Makes Sense to Me,” as well as a crowd-pleasing “Use Me” and a double-nod to the late J.J. Cale in both “Travelin’ Light” and “Ride Me High.” A well-placed “Rebirtha,” with its baseball imagery, came moments after the Atlanta Braves pulled-off a close playoff game victory (now put away your phones and dance, guys).
The “Climb to Safety” encore lacked the song’s energy from a decade before, but coming off a heated second set, it worked to leave the crowd anticipating night two’s surprises.
Saturday attracted more people inside for Umphrey’s McGee (starting promptly at 6 p.m. on a Friday was a bit of a tough draw), who took advantage of their larger audience with a full-on rock set that slowed down only when JB joined them for the weekend’s second Bill Withers cover, “Ain’t No Sunshine.”
Panic came out firing, with a first set punctuated by a rowdy “Chilly Water” and a rolling “Ain’t No Use” that danced into “Pilgrims.”
Even after a heavy “Mr. Soul” to close set one, the band still had plenty of energy for their final set of the tour run, leading with “Tall Boy” (beer options at the venue were almost exclusively 16 and 24-ounce domestic cans). “Machine” gave way to a laid-back “Barstools” that sandwiched “Satisfied,” marked by a raunchy Dave Schools bass groove.
The night’s energy peaked when Panic brought out Umphrey’s guitarist Jake Cinninger and keyboardist Joel Cummins for a Funkadelic tribute. Cinninger and Herring played dual guitar gods as they shredded the “Maggot Brain” progression to epic peaks — for online streamers, it’s the sound nugget of the weekend not to miss (but you won’t see the video display of a bald eagle flying over the band).
When the song wound down, Schools rapped from “Alice In My Fantasies” — “Hey lady, won’t you be my dog, and I can be your tree and you can pee on me” — before dropping into a super-boogied “Red Hot Mama” (it was almost as much fun watching the stage-left sign language interpreter as it was looking at the light show).
“Airplane” was warmly received, but after Herring plays the straight-forward lick for six minutes, it’s evident that when the time comes for the ‘Take Off Jam,’ he’s roaring to go. Vic Chesnutt’s “Protein Drink>Sewing Machine” and “Henry Parsons Died” kept temperatures on the tennis court floor hot (those close enough to see got a laugh when Schools pretended to eat his pick during the “mushroom tastes so very very nasty” line of ‘Protein Drink”), but the band never again topped their Funkadelic blast-off.
That made “End of The Show” a perfect collective exhale, before “Ain’t Life Grand,” the only song left that they could have possibly played to bid Charleston adieu. And it felt good!