7/21/06 Widespread Panic sells big-time in Colorado


By Mark Brown, Rocky Mountain News
July 21, 2006

Who's at the top of concert-ticket sales for Colorado?
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young didn't quite sell out their three Red Rocks dates this week. Dave Matthews Band hasn't quite sold out its two dates at the Pepsi Center. It took the Rolling Stones weeks to sell out their one show there last year.

No, the biggest-selling band in the state at the moment is five guys from Athens, Ga., who have been jamming in Colorado for more than a decade: Widespread Panic.

When they play Red Rocks, "they usually sell out in about 12 minutes," promoter Bill Bass says.

"The Colorado area is like our second base outside of Georgia. We've always had a good following in Colorado. Not all the states are like that. It's a tough thing to do, especially for a band like us. You can pretty much bet we'll come through Colorado at least once a year," says Panic's percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz.

Since last year Widespread Panic has sold out six nights at Red Rocks, four shows at the Fillmore Auditorium, the Janus Jazz festival last year and an estimated 20,000 tickets (so far) for this weekend's Winter Park dates. That's approaching 100,000 tickets sold in a year's time.

"If you add that up, that's stadium business," Bass says.

"We noticed since the beginning they had a lot of people coming from other markets," Bass says. "We pulled Ticketmaster reports and have shows where there were tickets sold from every state in the union."

The band worries at times that its Colorado popularity could work against it.

"We look at ourselves and say 'Are we shooting ourselves in the foot by coming back to the Denver and Boulder area?' " Ortiz says.

"Red Rocks is such a prestigious place. When we first started playing there with (the) HORDE (tour) and Blues Traveler we were the opening act, never dreaming we could do three or four nights on our own," Ortiz says.

In this age of dumping long-term supporters to take the big bucks, Widespread Panic has stayed loyal to Bass, who first started working with the band when it was opening for Little Women in small clubs back in the mid-'80s.

"For a promoter it's tough. You've got all these big corporations that try to swallow the little guy," Ortiz says. "We've seen a lot of promoters come and go. We feel fortunate to know Bill as a friend, as someone who understands us, a lot more than just by being a promoter. Bill Bass kind of exemplifies this type of fan of ours that has always come to us and said 'Man, I can get you a gig here.' He's more of a fan than a promoter."

Plus, Ortiz adds, "he's a music guy."

"I appreciate what they're doing," Bass says. "I really like the rhythm section - the rhythm section is awesome. The songs are good.

"I love those guys. I hear the name and I smile. It has been a really good relationship. I hope I've returned the same to them."

Widespread Panic is touring behind Earth to America, the group's first album in three years. The disc represents a new sound and commitment to the music after the band took more than a year off for the first time in Widespread Panic's career.

The break was something the band just felt it needed to do, especially after the 2002 death of Panic co-founder Mike Houser. The band needed to regroup and make sure it had its priorities straight.

"Management just didn't figure out why we would want to take a year off. Originally we'd asked for two years. Management was going 'We just don't think that's a very good idea.' So we settled on one year. We would have taken two had the cards been in our favor," Ortiz says.

"We really didn't see each other for about 13 months. We finally had to break down and do some rehearsing," Ortiz says.

They'd come up with a bunch of songs on their own and with other songwriters. Jerry Joseph - formerly of Little Women, the band Widespread opened for so long ago - contributed the lead-off track, Second Skin, an 11-minute experimental groove that is unlike anything the band has done before.

That song and others use orchestration and horns, a first on a Widespread record. The band resisted at first, but gave in.

"We ended up using real violins and real horns for a couple of the songs," Ortiz says. "We knew we could never re-create it (onstage). That was the hardest pill for us to swallow - putting something on the album we couldn't re-create."