I recently experienced a weekend adventure I will never, ever forget.
This Adventure of a Lifetime combined my Delvis persona with my love for Widespread Panic; it was a combo one-two punch with karate kick trip! It began with a flight to Vegas to see Panic for their Halloween run, some impromptu street sets as Delvis (while in costume, everyone I passed by went wild!), and concluded with a packed Delvis show at Rowdy Beaver Den in Eureka Springs. All because you gotta spread your wings if you want to fly.
The night before my departure seemed to be circling the drain toward a river of dreams. I packed my jumpsuit and other sentimental spirit drivers such as my dad’s Virgin Mary pendant, a few spirit stones, and enough vitamin D for everyone. Knowing Las Vegas had recently gone through a horrifying event, it was time to burn some love and inject some Viva Las Vegas back into the soul of Sin City.
Sleep came slowly, and before I knew it I was living on Tulsa time as I made my pilgrimage to my flight from Tulsa to Vegas. My inner radio was tuned to a steady combination of John Bell‘s soulful voice and Elvis’ steady, heart-driven vibrato; a little Leon Russell and JJ Cale were thrown in for good measure to ensure the spirits were properly fed as I prepared to board for Vegas.
After a bloody mary and some Pringles, our flight touched down, and I took a Lyft to the MGM Grand to rendezvous with my soul-shaking entourage of Panic people. At this point, I still had a full beard and no visable sign of being Delvis – except, of course, for an unmistakable swagger, because I knew what was in my luggage. It was going to set the town on fire with burnin’ love and spread smiles everywhere I went. “It” was my new custom powder-blue Delvis jumpsuit, and I could hardly wait to debut it on Sunday.
Friday Night Widespread Panic in Vegas
First up, though, we enjoyed our Panic “meet and greet and get on your feet” Friday night as all the Panic fans in town acclimated to the climate and the temperature – which was steadily risin’ along with the mojo. Friday’s Panic show started off with a bang – the good kind – with a perfectly placed Heroes (David Bowie cover) as the show opener. It was followed by a welcomed Last Straw, which had a nice nod to The Allman Brothers’ Jessica during Jimmy Herring’s jam, then they finished the first set with some old-school faves: Send Your Mind > Pigeons and the endearing Holden Oversoul.
After some set-break socializing, we were welcomed back with an All Time Low set opener (video below), which then proceeded to a monster sandwich with all the fixins: incendiary jam > Surprise Valley > Papa’s Home > Surprise Valley. After a howling Stop Breakin Down, a well-stewed Thought Sausage, and the always good to see St. Ex, we were rocked back in our seats by the sacred gate-opening drumbeats of Duane Trucks and Sunny Ortiz. Dave Schools trickled out to add that wall-shaking bass, and we were percolated back to our feet just in time for Radio Child > Vacation then North to finish off Night One’s second set.
The encore was nothing short of amazing with the “perfect for Vegas” combo of Blackout Blues > Ace of Spades. Then, thoroughly inoculated with pure Panic fever, we were set loose on the town of Las Vegas to press our luck. We were the lucky ones, having been blessed to catch up with those we only see on occasion; beers in the suite were in order, and morning came soon as we shared stories and forgot time.
Saturday shows of a three-night Panic run are always a treat. You know the boys are going to do something amazing – and knowing that all day, AND eagerly anticipating the Sunday show the next day, gets the 13-year-old in me super-excited. Panic fans know exactly what I’m talking about: It’s like a combination of Christmas morning, your birthday, and a dream.
Saturday would be the day that Delvis entered the building.
After a day at the Lazy River floating around in circles, I retreated to my room to don my black bellbottoms, pearl snap Western shirt, wig, glasses, Italian leather shoes, and rings. My beard was transformed into sideburns, and scarves adorned my neck. It was time to ride! Saturday night in Vegas with Widespread Panic, dressed as Delvis, accompanied by some of the greatest people on Earth? Life was indeed Grand.
As soon as I stepped off the elevator, I realized that I needed some assistance. As in, a “handler.”
“Elvis! Come here I want a picture!” Folks were swarming and asking for pics all around me. I made my way to the casino floor, stopping dozens of times for photos with casino guests. People of ALL races, backgrounds, and countries were ALL ONE because of the King. It was a truly amazing experience and just illustrated once again to me that we as humans are not that different. I felt as though I were living John Lennon’s song Imagine in real time; it was beautiful.
I quickly had to recruit some friends to assist, just so I could walk to the Panic concert without being commandeered for a fan photo every 5 feet. Several more photo requests were granted and I belted out songs at every crosswalk for the onlookers and fans. Along the way, as we entered one set of doors, one of my “handlers” yelled: “King coming through!” The sea of people parted like a boat wake of natural energy. I had something on my lip, and something in my hip.
Saturday ‘Ladies Night’ Widespread Panic Concert in Vegas
We arrived and got settled in for the Saturday night special – and boy, howdy, was it ever special! The show (now known as “Ladies Night”) was the most powerful and favorite-filled show I’ve ever witnessed. I noticed that Jay-Z was performing down the street and wondered if maybe Beyonce’s All the Single Ladies played any role in the set list design. Even if it was pure coincidence, it was a beautiful thing.
The air was palpable with the audience’s high spirits, and Panic opened Night Two with Greta – letting us know how it was gonna go down! The set list featured Lil Lilly, Arleen (!! my favorite song), Ophelia, and Sharon, as well as a couple of tracks not named for women like You Should Be Glad and the set closer Ain’t Life Grand, which was rockin’ harder than normal, as JB did not play tiny guitar (his mandolin).
The second set blazed, kicking off with Flat Foot Flewsy. That should tell you everything you need to know about how sticky-sweet this show was, continuing the emphasis on songs named for and about women. Flewsy was followed by Diner (with the light of Miss Lee), Rebirtha, Christmas Katie, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl (Sonny Boy Williamson cover), Aunt Avis, You Can’t Always Get What You Want (Stones), Tom Petty’s Honey Bee, Coconuts (“smell like ladies lyin’ in the sun) then George Clinton & Funkadelic’s Red Hot Mama finished us off. The encore was End of the Show (“leaned over and gave her a kiss”) … and, of course, they did it: Bowlegged Woman with Treat Her Like a Lady lyrics.
Oh good lawd, have mercy! That was one helluva humdinger. Then it was time to get back to Viva-ing Las Vegas.
I exited the building and was once again greeted by people who evidently LOVE ELVIS. With handlers in tow, pictures were taken, songs were sung, and laughs were shared. I met people I’d never otherwise meet, folks from all over the world – and the common denominator was their love for Elvis. It was a sizzlin’ Saturday, and late-night shenanigans drifted us into an early Sunday morning breakfast at the Hard Rock then on to a Sunday morning slumber to gather our reserves for Night Three: The pinnacle of EVERY Panic weekend, the Sunday Show. Don’t ever miss it.
After some rest, Sunday Funday got under way! We enjoyed some Pina Coladas by the pool, and then time came to adorn my physical being with the powder-blue jumpsuit that had been waiting in the closet for the past two days. Dressed for success, I wandered downstairs to the gaming floor to test the waters.
What I had experienced the day before was nothing compared to passerby reactions when I had on the full Delvis get-up. Everyone – I mean every single person I came into contact with – wanted a piece of Delvis. Over and over, they told me that I reminded them of something or someone they loved, a fond memory of days gone by. So many smiles, so many personal heart-felt exchanges, which I always ended with “There’s a lil Elvis in each of us, Viva!”
Then I was ready to burn some love and see what Panic had in store for us for the inevitably epic Sunday Show!
Sunday Show Widespread Panic Halloween Run in Vegas
The Sunday of a Halloween run is, more than any other Panic concert, the night when there is no holding back. Every possibility – for the band costumes, set list tracks, cover songs, you name it – is on the table. The band dresses up along with everyone else, and the stage is a movie set. But Widespread Panic’s best costume is the special songs they cover during the Halloween run Sunday shows, as most have never been played by them before. I was full-on Elvis, JB came out dressed as The Dude, and I knew we were really in for something special.
The concert began with a video intro produced by Paul Hoffman, lighting director for WSP. Hoffman always knocks it out of the park; he is a damn Jedi. But the Fear and Loathing intro was otherworldly. Words don’t do it justice. Check it out below!
“Where the Buffalo Roam” was Billy Murray’s Hunter S. Thompson movie that preceded Johnny Depp’s “Fear and Loathing” … so what do the boys open with? HOME ON THE RANGE!! Then it got straight Pulp Fiction in there with their debut of Link Wray’s surf-rock standard “Rumble,” which pretty much introduced distortion and power chords to Rock and Roll.
We were cruising through the first set with Henry Parsons and the perfect Halloween cover Vampire Blues (Neil Young) when the unexpected happened: Widespread Panic busted out Don’t Tell The Band. This was an epic moment in Panicland because this song was written by late guitarist and hero to many Panic fans Mikey Houser; Panic has not played the song once since Houser’s death in 2002. “Don’t tell the band, the devil’s on his way. Just let the music play.” In that moment, we all felt its bigger meaning: “We’re all on a big Titanic called Earth that’s inevitably going down, but we play and laugh and smile for today.” Like ancient words of wisdom, Let It Be. Conrad closed the first set, and we could all barely feel our feet.
After some set-break Delvis on the veranda, I separated from the herd and went to the balcony so I could properly observe the concert from the stratus. Delvis was in the building and the cumulative energy was peaking and ready for what the boys had in store.
You know damn well that Chilly Water as a set opener means serious bidness … so we got wet. Ten-dollar bottles of water thrown all over each other. Give me a drink from your chilly well! Taildragger followed, then this sweet action: Low Spark, Proving > Home on the Range (Jimmy guitar, no vocals) > Magic Carpet Ride (see video below).
Yes, JB dressed as The Dude, and Panic played Magic Carpet Ride for the first time ever. Ya know, that rug really tied the room together, let me tell ya. The inevitable Cease Fire came late second set, a beautiful homage to the Vegas shooting victims. Then Talking Heads’ City of Dreams followed by Neil Young’s Mr. Soul closed the set. The encore was The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun > Home on the Range (JoJo Hermann keys) > All Right Now (Free). JB sang All Right Now without a guitar; first time I’d ever seen that.
After all that we were on a gravy train with biscuit wheels. Delvis took to the strip to sing, dance, and take pictures with the people of Vegas all night. A lot of people smiled, and God and the Devil held Las Vegas in perfect balance. On my way back to the MGM Grand, I found myself without a handler. At one point, I was beckoned by some intimidating-looking gangsters who were probably facilitating their happy-ending delivery service.
“Hey Elvis! Go get us 3 women,” one of them called out as I walked past.
They laughed, and I realized with relief that I probably wasn’t going to die. I turned and called to 3 ladies who seemed fit to handle themselves, and then told the guys that “these are ladies and to treat them as such,” and I walked away with double peace signs in the air. We were in the casino at this point, so I felt that no one’s safety was truly jeopardized. As I turned to leave, the meanest-looking one stopped me and shook my hand before we parted ways. I left him with these words: “Be good, or be good at it. We’re all not that different and are just walking each other home.”
“You’re cool man,” he replied.
I’ll take it.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
The next morning I dipped out and left a goodbye love note to my friends as I headed to the airport to catch my “Lisa Marie” (now operated by United). Back to Tulsa, to my car, to my loving, awesome, beautiful girlfriend, and to my animals. Back to another world inside a world, the beloved Eureka Springs.
I had previously scheduled a Saturday Veterans Day Delvis performance at the Rowdy Beaver Den. Delvis had been primed in Vegas and now had a show of his own to do.
I once again donned my powder-blue jumpsuit, stepped to the stage, and gave the audience a heart-felt, soul-healing, engaging performance (audience video below). We raised $200 for the Eureka Springs Community Center, and we all had a blast. To see the audience reaction is the action. Singing love songs by the King for the people; this is how I pass through the day.
Delvis will be doing various Holiday performances at Assisted Living Facilities, along with other special appearances. You can keep up with those events here, watch videos, message Delvis, etc. Stay tuned and Viva!
Editor’s Note: Arkansounds blogger Dusty “Delvis” Duling of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, is a lifelong live music road warrior and a noted performer as “Delvis,” an Elvis Presley tribute artist that fans from all walks of life thoroughly love! But his music expertise is broad and deep: He has long been a huge supporter of music in Arkansas, and he travels the country several times a year to follow his favorite national band, Widespread Panic, which he has seen perform hundreds of times. Dusty will be blogging regularly about local music in Arkansas, his adventures performing as Delvis, and his Widespread Panic road trips.