For the first time since 2013, Georgia-born jam band Widespread Panic brought its infamous three-night Halloween run to the UNO Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. Branded as “NOLAween,” the three shows featured appearances from multiple New Orleans music legends, impressive bustouts, shocking debuts and thrilling covers.
After a special guest and gag-filled show on Halloween night, the band went back to basics on Friday, Nov. 1 for a heat-packed show featuring classic Panic originals and a great selection of tried and true covers. Starting off with a rousing rendition of “Bowlegged Woman,” the arena was immediately engulfed in warm light and down and dirty swamp rock. The band wasted no time getting into staple, “Chilly Water,” with the crowd throwing water bottles into the air as the chorus roared throughout the arena. Going straight into “Little Lilly,” the band was clearly at the top of its game with all the members playing in perfect synchronicity.
The band continued with classic Panic cuts with a run of “Visiting Day,” “Walkin’ (For Your Love)” and “You Got Yours,” before playing an extended introduction to “Christmas Katie.” The biggest bustout of the night came next with “Entering a Black Hole Backwards,” which was last played on March 28, 2014, marking a 310-show gap. The band brought back “Chilly Water” and “Bowlegged Woman” to close out the raucous first set, exciting the crowd and leaving them in intense anticipation for set two.
Opening up the second set was high-energy fan favorite “Disco,” which featured a disco ball projected on the big screen and lights reminiscent of a ‘70s disco club. Smoothly transitioning into “Diner,” lead singer John Bell performed a “Highway to Heaven” rap that felt like spoken word meets church sermon. The psychedelic and spacey sounds continued with “Blackout Blues,” “The Last Straw” and “Flat Foot Flewzy” before going into one of the band’s most beautiful songs, “Mercy.” During this cut, bright red lights entranced the crowd while black and white images of New Orleans flashed across the screen for perhaps the night's most sentimental moment.
The “Drums” segment was up next with percussionist Sonny Ortiz and drummer Duane Trucks playing a sort of percussion call-and-response to an ecstatic crowd. Afterward, the band went into an especially reggae-tinged version of “Chainsaw City,” and then brought back the straight-up rock and roll with a cover of War’s “Four Cornered Room” and ‘90s favorite “Jack.” Finishing the first set with a red-hot cover of George Clinton and Funkadelic’s “Red Hot Mama,” the crowd erupted into applause and waited eagerly for the encore.
Starting off with a cover of The Dillards’ “There Is A Time,” the encore began on a moving and subdued note, perfect after the fire the band brought all night long. Closing the show with Tom Petty’s classic “You Wreck Me,” the arena was filled with loud screams and moving bodies of those who weren't yet ready to go home.
After seeing the band’s last-minute set at last year’s New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, I wasn’t immediately sold, but upon exiting the UNO Lakefront Arena on Friday night, I began to understand why so many people travel across the country to see this band perform. Widespread Panic put on an entertaining, rapturous and euphoric show for the crowd on Nov. 1, one I wish I could relive again. My only regret was that I did not make it to all three performances, but hey, there’s always next Halloween.