This is an account of a hater who spent a Sunday at a Panic show…
When people say “I hate country music” or “I can’t stand metal” or “I like everything except for rap”, it makes me laugh. Genres are not black-and-white — there are so many shades of grey within any genre that it’s ridiculous to make a blanket statement about music that falls into any of these categories. The difference between rock and pop and country and rnb is so slight that many artists touch on all of them within a single song. That being said, I am not an innocent man. Anyone who knows me has heard certain words come out of my mouth. “I hate jambands”. Depending on my mood, there might even be a certain expletive in between ‘hate’ and ‘jambands’. Whether it be in the form of Phish, Panic, String Cheese or some Grateful Dead spin-off, I just have no patience for the noodling, tie-dyed, drug-addled, masturbatory masses. No matter how amazing some of these musicians might be, no amount of hash and hula hooping is going to keep me interested in a jam that goes nowhere (and back again) over the course of an entire set.
But I live in Colorado now — a place where jambands not only roam free, but rule the landscape like the lions of the Serengeti. So it was, with a ‘can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ mentality, I decided to face my fear of dreadlocks and dancing bears by immersing myself into a culture that I had blindly hated for most of my life. And what better way to do that than by seeing the alpha male of jambands, at the natural church of jam, for a ‘holy’ Sunday show? Even if the music sucked, I would be at my favorite venue in the world, on a perfect summer day, with a nice buzz.
My wife and I packed up some food, beer, and a few pre-mixed cocktails before heading up to the Rocks around 1:00pm. The plan was to tailgate, watch the Spreadheads in their natural habitat, and possibly go to the show if we found inexpensive tickets. As it turned out, there were many more people in search of tickets than there were selling them. “Panic Steve” was a wanted man around the Trading Post after posting that he had 6 tickets at face value available. I’m not sure if anyone ever found Steve to take advantage of his generous offer, but those who turned to StubHub or craigslist would be expected to pay $100+ per ticket. Luckily we weren’t in any hurry, so we hiked down to willcall where we were able to score a couple late-released tickets for face value. I was so relived that I didn’t have to draw anyone a picture for a ticket — or trade the last of my mushrooms — or give anyone a ride to Phoenix. I know cash is evil, but it all worked out well for us.
And that’s where my hippie jokes end, because once we got into the amphitheatre, my whole attitude changed. The place was not only packed (and possibly oversold), but it was alive like I have never seen it before. It was 4:30pm on a Sunday afternoon and the Red Rocks were, well…jammin’. The energy was infectious!
A quick glance at the band assured me that we didn’t need to be up close to enjoy what was happening here, so we made our way to the very top and got a place along the railing. It was from this viewpoint that we were able to not only look out across the Front Range to the city of Denver, but we were also able to watch the 9,000+ people in the crowd — and that is what a Panic show is all about! Families with children. Guys with lamp shades on their heads. Young, scantily clad girls. Old men in suits. Balloons and marijuana smoke filling the air. And the constant pulse of electricity — powered by the band on the stage, but making it’s way through each individual — until it finally reached us. And then something funny happened, I was dancing. Not flailing my arms around or anything, but I was able to feel the groove. And it felt good!
A perfect 75 degrees out. My beautiful wife next to me. A cold beer in my hand. Live music…
I don’t know what songs they were playing, and I really don’t care. The only song I recognized was a cover of Talking Heads “Life During Wartime” as it closed out the first set. What I never realized before, because it is different than most of the shows I go to, is that the music is only the vehicle, or the excuse, to get people together to share an experience. It’s all about community. So I was right in thinking it would be a ‘hippie’ event, but I was also wrong. The majority of the people we met where in complete control. They weren’t bugged out of their heads on Molly or ‘Shrooms. They weren’t all decked out in tie-dye and patchouli oil. Sure, there were some (and who am I to judge their style?), but there were also a ton of families and kids and grandparents — just normal people taking advantage of living in a gorgeous state with an unbelievable concert venue.
I’d be lying if I said Widespread Panic are my new favorite band, or that I’ll ever listen to them on a regular basis, but I would also be lying if I said I didn’t have a great time and meet some great people yesterday. As we left Red Rocks last night, I felt I had taken a journey outside my comfort zone and had been rewarded handsomely for doing so. I’m not sure I would’ve had enjoyed a night show (or its crowd) as much, and I still don’t understand why anyone would go see a band like this at some indoor corporate arena, but if Panic do a Sunday show at Red Rocks next summer, you can count me in! And this time I’ll leave my ignorant prejudices at home.