10/06/06 Nashville Preview


Longtime Southern rock ensemble returns to fulltime touring
By Ron Wynn, (rwynn@nashvillecitypaper.com)
October 06, 2006

Widespread Panic’s origins date back to the early ‘80s, when John Bell and Michael Houser began playing together with Dave Schools while still students at the University of Georgia. Known for a bold and sprawling blend of rock, blues, pop and reggae, Widespread Panic has played more than 250 dates a year for much of the past two decades, but after more than 18 years on the road almost non-stop, they took a hiatus in 2004 before returning last year to active performances and concerts.

Now in the midst of their latest tour, which makes a Nashville stop tonight at the Municipal Auditorium, Widespread Panic has also had to make some adjustments due to a recent personnel change. But Bell says fans need not worry that their trademark sound has been greatly altered or affected by the recent defection of George McConnell and the addition of Jimmy Herring, a longtime friend and supporter who has also co-produced a number of their albums.

“One thing that our time off really did was reinforce for everyone in the group how important it was to keep on going,” Bell said. “We’ve always done different things apart from Widespread, but I think since we’ve been back there’s a renewed commitment and energy to the music. Also, Jimmy has proven a great addition, even though of course he’s a different player than George. So it’s been a positive thing from a standpoint of getting a fresh sound, a new look and attitude about things in the performances.”

Their most recent release Earth to America was recorded at the Compass Point studios in Nassau and produced by Terry Manning. In addition, Widespread’s May 9 show at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre was simulcast in live high definition to select movie theaters nationwide, and will be released on DVD Nov. 14 as Earth To Atlanta.

With a catalog over more than 300 original songs and collaborations with groups ranging from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to Domingo S. Ortiz, Panic’s music is well known, if sometimes mischaracterized.

“We’ve always looked at ourselves first and foremost as a rock ‘n’ roll band,” Bell said. “But we’ve also always been interested in a wide range of styles, and incorporating all those influences into a sound that was clearly Widespread Panic. You can hear a lot of the blues on some songs, but then there are others where we get into anything from country to reggae, maybe even some jazz. It’s been fantastic that some songs have really become almost standards with our fans [“Chilly Water,” “Airplane” or “Sleepy Monkey” are prime examples], but it’s more important for us to keep growing and evolving as a band, something I think we’ve discovered since being back is still the case.”