By Jim Stanford on July 10, 2013
John Bell blew on his hands as he stepped to the microphone to begin the second set Saturday at Grand Targhee.
“We’ve been freezing our asses off the last few days,” the Widespread Panic singer and guitarist said. Then, he smiled at the wide-eyed fans ready to dance before the stage. “Warm people!” he said in his trademark growl.
Rather, it was the hot music that kept fans moving throughout a marathon three-night run at the Alta, Wyo., resort. No matter how worn out everyone was from the revelry and 8,000-foot elevation, time after time the Southern rockers picked up the crowd with simmering grooves.
Whether it was the funk throwdown of “Arleen” from the last set Saturday, the cover of “No Sugar Tonight” to close Friday or a blistering “I Walk on Guilded Splinters” on July 4, Widespread brought the heat. A few pre-show rain showers — cool weather by Wyoming standards but perhaps freezing to Athens, Ga., musicians — failed to put a chill on the festivities.
Nearly 4,000 fans, many of them from around the country, gathered on the mountainside to hear the band perform for two and a half to three hours each night. Widespread also played three shows at Targhee in 2011 as part of its 25th anniversary tour, and the secluded resort quickly has established itself as a fan favorite. Hats emblazoned with the band’s name and Targhee logo were snapped up in the parking lots.
Sprinkled throughout the sets were cherished anthems synonymous with the mountain lifestyle, including “Porch Song” on night two (the first time the band played it here since the 1996 Sit and Ski Tour) and the seminal “Space Wrangler” on night three, to name a few. A set-closing “Rock” rumbled and rolled like a cobble on the bottom of the Snake River.
The scorching jams weren’t limited to old songs. “You Should Be Glad,” from the 2006 album Earth to America, morphed into something else entirely, in one of the more exciting bits of improvisation. (Full set lists: Thursday, Friday and Saturday; available for download here.)
Fourth of July was particularly festive, with the band exploding out of the gate like a fusillade of Roman candles. See above clip from “Walk On.”
Fans waved American flags, and the piped-in stage music had a slightly twisted patriotic theme: James Brown’s “Living in America” before Widespread took the stage, Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America” at set break, and the Team America jingo “America: F*ck, Yeah!” after the show’s conclusion. For the encore the band performed a cover of Solomon Burke’s “None Of Us Are Free,” pointed and appropriate given the exploits of Edward Snowden. The Team America refrain immediately followed, “What you gonna do when we come for you?”
The Spread Heads came to Targhee, in the words of The Guess Who, “to get it on right tonight.” Authorities made nearly a dozen arrests and issued two dozen citations for drug offenses, according to the News&Guide. Overall, the law enforcement presence did not detract from the weekend, nor did a thunderstorm — which triggered an emergency warning from Teton County on Saturday specifically for the concert — pack much punch. No reason to panic, just Panic.
If there was one moment that encapsulated the spirit of the weekend, it came midway through the second set on July 4. The band opted for an open stage, with no screen or backdrop behind the musicians. A few gentle notes from Bell’s guitar and Jojo Hermann’s organ signaled the start of “Vacation,” a tune penned by the late guitarist Michael Houser and relative rarity in concert. It was the first time Widespread ever played the song in the Tetons. Lighting director Paul Hoffman turned the beams behind the stage and lit up the forest of spruce and subalpine fir with a slow swirl. Fans exulted, and more than a few river runners sang along on this chorus:
But you came along with a raft and a song,
And I’m so glad you could make it.
And with you by my side, I might get back alive
From my next vacation.
Widespread was smart to showcase the venue; Hoffman often lit up the aspen trees lining both sides of the ski slope, and at times the beams of color stretched into the sky like the aurora borealis. For it was the natural beauty of the Tetons that elevated the weekend beyond a series of rock concerts. The open-air sound was as crystal clear as Teton Creek rushing through the canyon below the resort. Fans went mountain biking on new trails up and down Peaked Mountain before the shows, and camped afterward beneath the stars. The Big Dipper shone above and to the north of the stage all weekend.
Before performing on the final night, bassist Dave Schools stood out of sight behind the stage. He took a drag from his cigarette and admired the view of the forest to the west. “It’s beautiful,” he said.
For fans who’ve been so inspired by the band’s music over the years, Targhee was indeed a dream Vacation.
(Click on photos to enlarge and view slide show.)