On Friday February 12, I had the opportunity to see Widespread Panic downtown in Richmond at the Altria Theatre, formerly known as the Mosque and Landmark Theatre. Widespread Panic is a southern jam band from Athens, Georgia that features Collegiate graduate Dave Schools (‘83). They typically make the trek up to Richmond on one of their tours each year, as it has continually been one of their favorite places to play, being Schools’ home town.
Schools is among many esteemed Collegiate alumni, such as Russell Wilson, actor Mike Henry, hedge fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller, and actress Scottie Thompson. Schools graduated from Collegiate in 1983 and went on to form Widespread Panic at the University of Georgia in 1986. The band went from playing at fraternity parties to having the largest album-release show in the streets of Athens in 1998, with an estimated 120,000 in attendance. The band now sells out nearly everywhere they play, whether it is in arenas or smaller music venues like the National in Richmond. They hold a record at the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado for fifty consecutive sold out shows.
However, despite Schools’ success as a member of one of the most renowned jam bands, he does not forget about Collegiate. In 2004, he won the Distinguished Alumni Award and spent time on campus with friends and family and eventually spoke at the 2004 graduation. This past fall, he was a headliner for the Collegiate Centennial Concert at the National featuring Bruce Hornsby, the Wrinkle Neck Mules (Andy Stepanian (’93), Brian Gregory (’95) & Mason Brent (’97)), Emma White (’11), and Maggie Glasgow (’10). During his time in Richmond in the fall, he made a trip to Collegiate and spent time with the Collegiate Jazz Band and sat in on one of their practices, leading the band through a quartet and giving them inspiration and advice. In the Middle School, a signed bass guitar used by Schools sits over the fireplace in the front hall.
Widespread Panic, like most jam bands, is known for exceptional live shows and improvisational skills, which leads to most of their songs being over seven minutes long. The ability as a band to improvise and create a jam that is not a part of the original song is what makes them especially talented. Jam bands, Widespread Panic included, are also known for their incredibly loyal and committed fan base, who travel all over the country to follow their favorite band. This movement’s origin is typically associated with that of the Grateful Dead’s fanbase, and the culture of jam bands continues with acts like the Grateful Dead cover band Dark Star Orchestra.
Friday night was certainly no exception at the Altria Theatre, with the theatre filled from top to bottom. The loyal Widespread Panic fan base came out in full force and was given an incredible show. The highlights from the fifty-seven minute first set for me were the classics “Wondering,” “Walkin’ (For Your Love)” and “Ribs & Whiskey.” For the ninety-nine minute second set, “Jack” and “Dyin’ Man” lead off the set nicely. In the middle of the set, bassist Dave Schools, drummer Duane Trucks, and percussionist Sunny Ortiz remained on stage as the others walked off, playing a “Drums & Bass” improvisational melody, which proceeded into a “Drums” after Schools left the stage. The entire band then walked back on and played an improvisational “Jam” into the well-known “Up All Night.” Later in the set, the band covered David Bowie’s “Heroes,” honoring the recently passed Bowie. They ended the second set with a jammy “Love Tractor.” They ended the show with a three-song encore, one of which was a tremendous cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Overall, it was an excellent show, and the music was incredible. However, the music is not the only thing that makes a Widespread Panic show what it is. It is the environment: the community of concertgoers and fans that, regardless of where they came from (which often times is all around the State of Virginia or beyond), their ethnic background, race, or religion, all gather in peace and gratitude to see and take in good music. One can talk to literally any person in the crowd, and they will be greeted with kindness and happiness as the whole crowd is one big community during a show, revolving around their love for music.
To find a stream of the show, click and enjoy here.
Featured photo by Andy Tennille.