Whether or not Jackie Gleason would approve of flowerchild revivalists and legitimate long hairs toking up in his parking lot will remain a mystery. Unless, of course, his comedic corpse rises from the dead and threatens to punch said hippies to the moon. Pow! Although, it's unlikely to happen at a Widespread Panic show.
These peaceful pals don't ruffle many feathers. Widespread fans are oblivious to the glitz and glamour that South Beach offers; they're too busy smoking dank with new friends and fellow free lovers trying to give peace a chance. For these people, no shirt and no shoes is a way of life, not a threat to refuse service.
The Widespread experience starts in the parking lot. Volkswagen Microbuses and pre-1980 motor homes that run on bio-diesel brought the die-hards here. They're the type of loyal folks who'll take off for three months and follow the band from across state lines, wear hemp clothing, and sell trinkets to pay for gas along the way.
Though the doors opened promptly at 7:30, the bulk of the crowd didn't make their way inside until 8:30. That was about the time Widespread took center stage, give or take 15 minutes. The Athens, Georgia group is comprised of six ridiculously talented musicians, sonic hypnotists that effortlessly navigate an impressive repertoire of sweaty, southern jam rock.
The first session detour happened in the middle of Visiting Day, the band's second song of the night. A kaleidoscope of hippie-happy colored lights served as the acid-friendly backdrop. It dramatically enhanced the stage show, transporting the chemically altered audience to a world of distorted guitars and psychedelic dreams.
Favorites like Flicker and Walk on the Flood kept audience members on their feet, clumsily swaying and spinning to their interoperation of the beat. Several songs and high-fives into the set, the band announced a break. "We'll be back," promised John Bell, Widespread's leading man and co-founder. The intermission came as a surprise to some, but not seasoned the fans.
There was as much excitement for the start of the second half, as there was at the beginning of the show. Equal to that was the collective cloud of smoke billowing over the crowd and high into the lights.
Opening part deux with Happy, the band was joined by 70 percent of the crowd on air guitar, 29 percent air drummers, and one percent other.
The band's jam sessions aren't short interludes but full-blown displays of spontaneously synchronized musical genius. They're loud, unavoidably captivating musical sermons where the preacher doesn't need to ask, "Can you feel me?" Every one in the proverbial pews was on their feet and testifying to the preacher man.
In addition to heavy guitars and seven-minute jam sessions, Widespread delivers a certain lyrical imagery that paints the picture of working-class southern life. The reality of so many people we met from small, southern towns in north central Florida, to Alabamians that follow Widespread's tour just to hangout in parking lots and drink beer. "Sometimes we go in," confirmed one dude.
The irony at a Widespread show is found in the crowd's inability to name that tune. We asked several air drummers if they knew the name of the previous song played, and more often than not the response was, "No man, I really have no idea." But that didn't matter. A Widespread show is like a really great one night stand, the type of evening that'll get you into a little trouble, but leave an unforgettable image in the memory bank.
Personal Bias: Hippies make any show feel more authentic
The Crowd: We only saw one person that looked underage. Everyone in there has seen a lot of shit -- either for real or on acid.
Overheard in the Crowd: At the Parking Lot: Guy 1: "Dude, are you alright?" Guy 2: "Yeah, man, I'm just trying to get it together."
And before the Encore: "C'mon, you lazy hippies, make some fucking noise."
Partial Set List:
-"You Got Yours"
-"Walk on the Flood"