11/1/97 Interview w/ Sunny

Panic attacks with widespread funk
By Jewel Gopwani

In a recent phone interview, Widespread Panic percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz talked about the spontaneity of the group's concerts. "Our show is not only a show; it is a happening. We don't know what to expect ourselves until that first note is played."

You'll probably need a release before another tough week. Why not purge your frustrations with the sound of live, pure Panic funk rock?

On Sunday, get ready to be light on your feet and dance the night away to Widespread Panic's twangy, funk-driven sound. "We usually don't put on a support act, because our show goes about three hours," said Ortiz.

Widespread Panic not only knows how to rock Ann Arbor, but it also understands that students are often strapped for cash. The group will make the show well worth seeing. For $20 a pop, Ortiz said, "bands have to give their fans their money's worth." While $20 may seem a little steep, Panic knows how to please.

Maybe you have not heard of Widespread Panic. When it comes to MTV and radio airplay, like many excellent bands, Widespread Panic got the raw end of the deal. But with its fifth album, "Bombs and Butterflies," middle-of-the-road stations like The River and WIQB have given "Bombs and Butterflies"' first single "Aunt Avis" a decent shot on the air.

MTV takes on an unfair attitude toward the band. According to Sunny, "None of our videos get airplay." Not even the post-Oscar Billy Bob Thornton-directed video for "Aunt Avis," which stars Jurassic Park's leading lady, Laura Dern, gets shown. If the song itself, which includes Vic Chesnutt's eerie, haunting vocals, could not coax MTV programming directors, then the video's big names should have.

But Widespread Panic's members do not let lack of radio and television bother them. "That's not important to us. I think that's why we're on the road so much. We realize that we can't go on the support of radio airplay," said Ortiz. Widespread Panic may have never really made it, but it is making quality music.

Even if you have heard Widespread Panic before, check out its show this Sunday at the Michigan Theater for what Ortiz desribes as "an electric feeling." Let your curiosity lead you to give the band a chance.

"That's all we want people to do, just give us a shot," Ortiz said.