Lightning passed Sunday night and widespread panic arrived, crackling, sizzling, landing like thunder. The curfew has worn off as the rain before and seven thousand people received another three-hour reprieve of similitude and insanity, savoring every bite of an original stew smoked and simmered for 35 years.
Popularity and longevity cannot be sought after. They can only be won through genuine actions. The proof was there in the sonic flight on Sunday night at the brand new Live Oak Bank pavilion in Wilmington. Fans waited during the storm. The group put on a show. It arrived in a tighter package than usual, but the product remained the same: 164 minutes of music, some soft and smooth, louder and dirtier. Despite the hour later than expected, the place was packed. And the group had no desire to release a substandard product and leave town.
What seemed surreal just a few weeks ago came true over the weekend in the north corner of downtown Wilmington. The streets came alive, 12 hours in a row. People ate, drank and energized the local economy – as has been the case everywhere Panic has traveled for the past two decades. After a year of closures and layoffs, bar managers have surely smiled as they counted the receipts. (Palate on North Fourth Street, a few blocks from the new venue, was closed on Monday because there was no beer left on Sunday night.)
When word spreads, an array of artists will be craving a date at the Live Oak Bank Pavilion in Riverfront Park, the new star and centerpiece of a region hungry for live music. The idyllic riverside location, beautiful expansive stage, excellent sound quality and plentiful parking place the pavilion a cut above the competition, these cookie-cutter amphitheatres dotted around the suburbs of this city. country.
In the days leading up to the weekend, the business seemed ambitious. Was it wise to ask one of the finest and most prolific touring groups in the country to open an amphitheater still surrounded by construction fences and muddy, unfinished scenery?
Moving to a new venue wasn’t something the band had given much thought to before the concerts. Last week, in a phone interview, singer and rhythm guitarist John Bell pointed out that there would be no graffiti to read on the locker room walls; otherwise, he expected the ordinary pre-show experience. (The group only likes to read other groups’ writings, not theirs). But he was eager to return to the stage after his longest layoff in 40 years and excited about the potential of a new market for future shows.
Panic played 61 songs in three nights without any rehearsals, as usual. Some fans came over this weekend to hear keyboardist JoJo Hermann perform “Big Wooly Mammoth” on his birthday. Maybe others sued “Arlene”. The braided “Stop / Go” bass wire is always a pleasant surprise. The familiar covers of Tom Petty, Traffic, and Buffalo Springfield certainly appealed to the casual fan. So many strong moments and to each his own. Anyone who left the premises unsatisfied did not pay attention.
Our small group of fans have come together, traveling by highway and commercial jet to celebrate the life of a friend we lost last year. For some, it had been almost 20 years since we got together. We remembered moments and shared experiences, our memories sharper than faded ticket stubs. The music took care of the rest. “Slippin Into Darkness”, “Happy Child”, “Climb to Safety” held their own meeting. The old-fashioned numbers drawn from the band’s roots and the smooth transitions between songs evoked nods and smiles, filling in the gaps.
Through marriage and divorce, birth and death, we have always relied on the next vacation. The Panic community thrives better than most, enjoying life’s victories and grabbing their necks to snatch a sibling from the blues. Panic provided an outlet for like-minded people to look after each other. The group is doing their part by organizing food drives and donating musical instruments to schools.
People feed the music, in their cities and on these trips. The group is aware of the unique relationship, protects and preserves it at all costs. It’s more valuable than any banknote.
There was a feeling in those seats over the weekend that is hard to find and even harder to explain. A shared joy that cannot be found in just any street. Mainly, it was just mind blowing rock ‘n’ roll.
A similar sensation will seep into the venue more often than not in the years to come, delighting tens of thousands and giving some fans their first glimpse of a musical hero. Locals won’t have to spend so much time traveling to listen to great music. People will come to Wilmington for the first time and leave knowing that the visit will not be their last.
Sight lines on the amphitheater’s lower lawn could be better. On-stage video screens would enhance the experience for those beyond the seats. Other minor tweaks improved the venue as the weekend unfolded. Fans flocked to the toilet from their seats and returned within a reasonable time. Plenty of beer and drink stalls alleviated the long lines. People returned home on Sunday evening praising the place and the city.
It’s strange how time goes by. At the start of Widespread Panic, fans dialed a hotline from a landline and were asked to ‘call before transport’, a nudge to ensure the show was still scheduled before opening the roadmap. and take the highway. This weekend we all played in the digital wonderland, sending tickets to cyberspace, securely transferred to a friend’s smartphone and waiting for updates on the status of the Sunday show. delayed via social media feeds.
Besides the obvious appeal of three guaranteed sold-out concerts, Widespread Panic was the perfect band to open the Live Oak Bank Pavilion. Masters of their craft, they went full blast for nearly nine hours of music, showing the city proper professional performance and setting a high standard for the acts that follow.
Not always perfect, but always inspired, honest and real.
Contact StarNews Arts & Entertainment at 910-343-2343.