Widespread Panic Returns to Memphis to Play Mempho Music Festival

Widespread Panic returned to Memphis and delivered at Mempho Music Festival. The venue was set in the middle of the Botanical Gardens located in the 96-acre Audubon Park, a beautiful place for music with huge trees and plenty of space and massive TV screens everywhere. This was one of my most favorite outdoor venues to see Widespread Panic … ever.


Friday, October 1

Mempho was a three-day festival with 29 acts, with WSP headlining Friday and Saturday and The Avett Brothers on Sunday. The City Champs and Southern Avenue brought us local Memphis rock, soul, and R&B early Friday.

Billy Strings and his band came on early Friday evening and had the crowd on their feet for the 85-minute set, which started out in the rain, but that quickly diminished and with all the humidity was actually welcomed for most in attendance. Billy Strings continues to impress and grow his audience. TRAIN TRAIN cover!!!! So many friends and locals who were seeing him for the first time were blown away. The energy he has, the charisma, the guitar-playing… wow! What a set they had. What a great opener and next, time for WSP.


Having cancelled/rescheduled their past three runs due to Covid protocols ( Austin, Napa, NYC), John Bell, Dave Schools, JoJo Hermann, Sunny Ortiz, Jimmy Herring, and Duane Trucks were back with a vengeance, and, boy, did they deliver! Probably one of my most favorite festival sets ever. (I missed the original Bonaroo, which arguably is the best festy according to many).

Jimmy Herring & JoJo Hermann – Widespread Panic at MEMPHO. 📷: Jeff Fernandez

Opening with old-school classics “Tall Boy > Disco > Henry Parsons.” They were in high gear from the beginning. “Junior” into a sweet “Aunt Avis” and a nicely done “Rebirtha,” and the crowd was already full of energy and happiness. Then came the “Dirty Business,” and Widespread Strings would evolve as Billy Strings joined the band. Jimmy Herring and Billy worked together quite nicely. In case you were wondering, Billy Strings can play the electric guitar incredibly well. JoJo’s bluesy keys and Jimmy and Billy and Dave Schools made this version one for the books . Next song was “All Time Low” with JB surrendering the vocals to Billy, shredding his guitar through the song, transitioning into a beautiful “Airplane” and and a smokin’ hot “Red Hot Mama.” Widespread Strings! 

Dave Schools – Widespread Panic at MEMPHO. 📷: Jeff Fernandez

JB and the crowd thanked Billy for the sit-in. The band then bit into a huge fatty sandwich: “Driving Song > Surprise Valley > Drums > Bowlegged Woman > Surprise Valley > Driving Song,” followed by “You Got Yours” and  “Pigeons.” That’s night one.


Saturday, October 2

The boys are back!!!

Saturday, rain all day was a little disheartening but par for the course as every outdoor Panic show this year has had rain. We get out wet suits, jackets, etc. and go for it, but by 5 p.m. all the rain was gone, and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats were on before WSP. Area was packed to the max. This was my first time hearing Nathanial and his band. Wow, really really good; I highly recommend you check them out whenever possible. I know I will again.

Duane Trucks – Widespread Panic at MEMPHO. 📷: Jeff Fernandez

Widespread Panic opened their Day 2 festy set with the ever-so-popular “Ain’t Life Grand” into a hot “Big Wooly Mammoth,” and the energy was climbing rapidly through the venue. Next “St. Ex” into venerable blues tune “Smokestack Lightning.” JB’s voice so great, howling the lyrics immaculately. This led into “Little Lilly” with Herring in the extended jam and Sunny’s and Duane’s percussion echoing throughout the gardens. 

Duane Trucks, John Bell & Sunny Ortiz – Widespread Panic at MEMPHO. 📷: Jeff Fernandez

A bombing “Arleen” (with a “Hard to Handle” tease) had us all dancing and singing along ecstatically, with big, big smiles everywhere! Sandwich time again: “Proving Ground > Blackout Blues > Proving Ground,” then “Second Skin” and “Pilgrims.” “Holden Oversoul” led to “Drums,” followed by “Chilly Water” (with a “Give up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” tease), “I’m Not Alone,” and closing sandwich “Fishwater > Bust It Big > Fishwater.”

Encore: “Bastards In Bubbles” and “The Take Out > Porch Song.”


Mempho Music Festival was success. Let hope WSP and Billy Strings can play three days next year!!

We love Memphis. The Southern hospitality, incredible BBQ, Beale Street, Sun Studios, Stax Records. A lot of musical history originated in this town, my hometown. 


Thanks as Always to Widespread Panic, The Crew, Paul Hoffman and Pulse Lighting, Home Team, all the volunteers from Mempho Music Fest and all the fans … Time to move on to Austin!



Leave a Reply