MB: Now I would imagine that this is a pretty exciting time for you, am I right? Is this something you look forward to all year long?
Hannah: Yeah, I look forward to it a lot, partly because I usually get to go to Disney World and it’s just fun. All of the people here are always really nice.
MB: Now is it usually around your birthday every year?
Hannah: Every year except last year. It was in February last year.
MB: This is a pretty great way to celebrate your birthday!
Hannah: Yeah it is!
MB: Now Esme, is this your first time here?
Esme: Yes, this is my first time here but two years ago they invited me to come, but I had to go down to West Palm Beach. It’s really exciting for me to be here. All of the people here are really nice. I have met a lot of really fun people. And the hotel is awesome, so it’s really cool!
MB: That’s great! Now what hotel are you staying at?
Hannah: The Grand Cypress.
MB: That’s very nice over there! Now Hannah, I’m guessing that you are a Widespread Panic fan. Have you ever been to a Widespread Panic show?
Hannah: No, I have not.
MB: Well what other kinds of music are you into.
Hannah: Well, I like pop and not so much country.
MB: Who would you say is your favorite?
MB: Do you like Britney Spears?
Hannah and Esme: NO!
MB: Justin Timberlake?
Hannah and Esme: NO!
Esme: She likes Fergie!
Hannah: Yeah, I do like Fergie!
MB: Ahh, Fergilicious!
MB: So do you like the Black Eyed Peas then?
Hannah: Yeah, I love the Black Eyed Peas!
Esme: Beyonce is really good too! I like “Irreplaceable”, umm, sometimes I listen to things like “Ain’t No Other Man” by Christina Aguilera.
MB: She has an amazing voice!
Esme: Have you ever heard of Avril Lavigne?
Esme: She has some pretty good songs.
MB: Right on!
Hannah: I like Drake Bell. He has really good music and he’s cute! I pretty much like everything that Esme likes.
MB: That’s great! Now what does it mean to you that all of these people get together in your name to help out
Hannah: I think it’s really great. It’s surprising how many people participate and everything. I think usually they’re here for JB, but then I have to think they’re here for me too. And everybody is really nice. Everybody knows me. It’s really good.
MB: You know, you’re kinda famous!
Hannah: Yeah, for the weekend, I turn into some kind of famous person.
MB: Does it drive you crazy, having everyone coming up to you, taking your picture all the time, or do you just love it?
Hannah: Umm, well I like it sometimes, but sometimes it can get old after like picture after picture and stuff like that. Sometimes I kind of have to go like hide away for a while. And then I go back. I mean, I never get all mad or anything like that.
Esme: Today, when we were at the golf tournament, Hannah told me that she’s famous and that sometimes people wanted autographs with her. I was like oh, it can’t be that bad! And then I went there today and everyone was wanting pictures. There was this guy and he walked up to her and was like, “I love you! I love you!”
MB: Oh my!
Esme: Yeah, and Hannah had no idea who this is. I was like, do you know this person? She said, no, not really. So it was really amazing that so many people came to help with SMA. I thought that was really cool.
MB: Yeah, it is very cool. Now how long have you guys been best friends?
Hannah: Since kindergarten.
MB: Wow, a long time!
Esme: When we were in kindergarten, we got along pretty well. Well at the start, we kind of like ignored each other, but towards the end, we got to be really good friends. And I’d always help her, like if she wanted her feet up or down, helped her get things. So this whole time in elementary school, they have kept Hannah and I together in every class that we were in. So every year, we knew that we wouldn’t be alone. We would always have each other, so that’s nice.
MB: That is just wonderful!
Hannah: Yeah, after kindergarten, our moms realized that you know, I needed somebody to be there and everything.
Esme: I’m what they call their fourth daughter. (laughs)
MB: I bet you need Hannah too, don’t you Esme?
MB: Now what do all of the kids at school think about all of this? Do they know you are here this weekend?
Hannah: No they don’t and I’m a little worried, because this is the first time I have actually taken someone from my class. We really haven’t told our friends yet. One of our friends goes like crazy when we don’t include her in something, so we are a little worried about that.
MB: You know, I bet it will all be ok. Just tell them it was really boring, everyone was wearing a suit and tie….(we all share a laugh)
MB: Now I know when you were first diagnosed with SMA, your mom found out that there was not a lot of research being done and that there wasn’t much awareness out there about SMA.
Hannah: Well more people have come and definitely like, the researchers have found out a lot more. It’s getting closer and closer. That’s why we do this, so they can get to that point where they have a cure.
MB: Now what would you say, if you could send a message out to everyone, about how important it is to get involved in the fight against SMA?
Hannah: It’s not much to ask for. You’re going to have fun, but while you are having fun, you are going to be helping millions of kids.
Amen to that.
THE EAR: Things are going well for Widespread Panic right now. Your shows are selling out from coast to coast, multiple Red Rocks shows sell out in 10 minutes, and the band has an excellent catalog of CDs. Did you ever think the band would have this level of success?
BELL: When we started out about 21 or 22 years ago, you just kind of hope while you’re having fun. And if things grow, that’s great, and if not, at least you had the experience. Right now, we’re still in the middle of it, inside looking out.
If you apply the word “successful” to us, we would define it as still being creatively viable while having fun. We’re very grateful that all that stuff is still happening.
THE EAR: Widespread Panic is about to start its fall tour. Are you looking forward to going back out on the road?
BELL: Yeah, a little bit. I get more excited when I’m out there in the thick of it. Right now, there’s that leaving-home thing that’s kind of a drag.
THE EAR: Did you take a vacation or did you work after the summer tour?
BELL: Mostly, I spent the time off doing the things you need to do to get caught up on the home front. We took a little time for ourselves. My wife and I and some of the guys from the crew and their wives piled into the car and went to the beach for a while. It was fun.
THE EAR: Widespread Panic tours are often 16 weeks or more. Is it hard to be away from home so much?
BELL: It kind of tugs at you a little bit, but it’s been part of the package for a long time now.
THE EAR: How do you account for having such a loyal fan base?
BELL: You’ll have to ask them about that (laughing). I can only say that we are real lucky to still be doing what we are doing. We’re lucky the folks keep coming out, we’re lucky to have the venues to play in, and lucky the system is in place for this thing we do to keep happening.
THE EAR: How is the new CD coming? Are you enjoying working in the studio with Jimmy Herring (The Allman Brothers, The Dead)?
BELL: We finished it! It was great working with Jimmy; he had a lot of great ideas. He fell into our unusual songwriting process very easily.
THE EAR: How does the songwriting for Widespread Panic come about? Is it collaboration, or do the individual members bring songs to the band?
BELL: This time, it was pretty hip. We had a session with Terry Manning (famed producer for Led Zeppelin, Al Green and ZZ Top) in the Bahamas for about a week, and everybody brought their ideas together. We put them in a big pile and started chipping away from there. We zeroed in on what felt good to everybody and went where inspiration led us. You are trying to get to that place where the music is at a magical level, where the music is playing itself. That’s when I’m the happiest.
And that magic is never a given; you can’t make it happen. If you try to make it happen, that can put the kibosh on it real quick.
THE EAR: Who are your musical influences? What are your favorite albums or CDs?
BELL: At home, I listen to the whole Van Morrison catalog. I always have my ear peeled for new Van Morrison stuff that comes out. He’s so prolific; he puts out a new album every six months so. I feel lucky to get to be a fan and not be picking his songs apart for song structure, a pitfall that comes with being a musician.
I’ve never seen Van Morrison live, but at the end of our last tour, we missed him by one day when he played Atlanta. If it had been a day earlier, I’d have been there.
THE EAR: Can I ask you about Michael Houser’s passing away? The band didn’t cancel any shows or take a break for more than a year. How did you have the strength to do that?
BELL: Oh, you know, maybe a little feeling of responsibility. There’s a whole machine going with a lot of people who are employed and benefit from the business side of Widespread Panic. Also, playing music for our own heads and hearts was very therapeutic. And there was probably a little dash of denial in there. It helped us from getting too wigged out about his death. It was what it was, and now it’s part of the whole story.
THE EAR: Did you enjoy the hiatus (the band took its first-ever extended break in 2004-05)? Will you be doing that again? Do you think it adds the longevity of the band to take that much time off?
BELL: Yeah, I enjoyed it while I was doing it. It was the first time we had taken an extended break, and I had to reset my gears. My autopilot system had been dismantled after taking 14 months off.
We’d do it again. It was a gas to be able to just sit there writing songs and doing other things. It helps you appreciate the rock ’n’ roll experience that much more. And it allows you to do other things that will, hopefully, complement the way you apply yourself and make you more rounded.
THE EAR: I know you are into Major League Baseball and playing golf. Does that help keep you relaxed when you are on tour?
BELL: Yeah, it was like I was saying about other things that add to the experience, that add a little spice. With both of those games, you’re out in nature, and in both games, you don’t know what’s going to happen from the first pitch or the first golf ball you hit. The turn of events (isn’t) choreographed, and that’s kind of the same with us. I like seeing that parallel in a non-musical experience.
For any who have been following this thread, there will be a single released next Monday, Oct. 15.Earlier, Manning talked about the upcoming album and said:
The song is "Up All Night." It originated from Jojo, and then received further band input. Background vocals are sung by the same three person group that backed Al Green on all of his great soul hits, and a horn section (part of which played on the Wilson Pickett classics) honks throughout.
And it can now be told that Panic's contract with Sanctuary was up with the last album, and they have decided not to go with a major label for this new one. Their own label, Widespread Records, will be handling things directly with the consumer. A subcontracted indy distributor will ensure hard product gets into appropriate stores (any stores that are left) and one stops.
By the way, all of this happened well in advance of the recent "Radiohead" news and resultant threads, so this is not a "copycat" scenario.
The new single will be available free for download in an mp3 format from various sites.
iTunes will be carrying it, but so far Apple have not allowed the band to give it away through the iTunes site, so there (for now at least) will be a 99¢ charge for the AAC.
Radio receive the track tomorrow.
As for the rest of the album, we have been experimenting with a few other little overdubs, but things are almost finished now.
Thanks again to all for your interest.
I think the fans, as well as the general public, will be quite surprised by this album. It is something that few groups today can, or could make, both from the musical sense, as well as the ability to spend the time and money necessary to achieve the results.
We have songs in 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 7/4, and other tempos I'm not sure I can quantify. We have acoustic instruments, electric instruments, synthesised instruments, antique instruments, you name it.
We have very hard rock. We have very quiet rock. We have symphonic rock. We have almost-approaching country, and jazz, and vaudeville.
12 string guitar
Wurlitzer electric piano
Rhodes electric piano
Orchestral tympani drum
Protein powder can lids
...lots more percussion instruments...
Male backing vocals
Female backing vocals
..and lots more on this album.
Jimmy Herring got the call.
When The Dead needed a musician brave — and nuts — enough to take over Jerry Garcia's former role and, as the New York Times pointed out, "go in front of 20,000 fans and play music that they probably know better than you do"?
Herring was the man.
Like a hired gunslinger with a lifetime silver-bullet supply, the 45-year-old musician — who's also played lead guitar for The Other Ones and Phil Lesh & Friends — has made a career of replacing the seemingly irreplaceable. But he never stays too long. The next challenge is always too great to resist.
"It's so weird, man," Herring says, phoning from the road with his latest musical pit stop, Widespread Panic. "In my entire musical life, I've never looked for a gig. And I've been very blessed. These things just keep falling on my doorstep."
Bearing this in mind, would it not be wise for fans of Panic to avoid falling in love with Herring's incredible playing? Won't Herring eventually just leave them at the altar for a younger, more attractive band?
"No," Herring says, sounding content and relieved. "I think I'm done."
That long-term commitment is huge news for Panic fans, aka Spreadheads. The
Athens, Ga.-based band — which plays Monday, Oct. 8, at the Idaho Center — has earned a diehard following during its 20-plus-year career. For the past eight years, Panic has ranked among the top 50 grossing touring acts.
But the lead-guitar role has been difficult for Panic, known for a combination of Southern-fried rock and jam-band improvisation. Tragically, founding member and lead guitarist Michael Houser died of pancreatic cancer in 2002. His replacement, guitarist George McConnell, left the band last year.
When Panic phoned Herring, he was not about to refuse.
An expert player with a background in Southern rock and jazz fusion, Herring might still be playing bars in Atlanta if not for Houser, singer-guitarist John Bell, bassist Dave Schools, drummer Todd Nance, percussionist Domingo Ortiz and keyboardist John Hermann.
Herring was a struggling local musician when Panic walked into a bar he was playing in early 1989. Herring had a one-night-a-week-gig with a gleefully inaccessible act called the Aquarium Rescue Unit, a band led by the irreverent frontman Col. Bruce Hampton. Herring describes the group as "a sort of a free jazz group in rock 'n' roll clothing."
"It was one of those 99-cent beer nights or something like that," Herring remembers. "These guys come in, and we didn't really know them at all."
It was the members of Widespread Panic, who were blown away by what they heard. They invited Aquarium Rescue Unit to open for them for three sold-out nights in Atlanta. Then they took Aquarium Rescue Unit on tour.
"They believed in us, man. They were so cool," Herring says. "They brought us into their family, basically."
Aquarium Rescue Unit soon met and played with Phish, Blues Traveler and the Dave Matthews Band, "and it was all because of (Widespread Panic)," Herring says. "So when they called me (last year) and needed my help, I was like, absolutely."
Nobody mentioned this until years later ("That's the kind of people they are," he gushes), but Panic even prevented promoters from kicking Aquarium Rescue Unit off the first touring H.O.R.D.E. festival in 1992.
"The promoters didn't like Aquarium Rescue Unit. It's not hard to understand," Herring adds, laughing. "We weren't really what you call a big draw. But the musicians, for some reason, liked us."
Friendly and devastatingly talented, Herring soon became a sought-after musician. A graduate of the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood, Calif., Herring is capable of slashing, jaw-dropping licks. But feeling also plays a large role in his musical vocabulary.
Feeling also is a big part of his life. It's the reason he lasted just seven months with the Allman Brothers Band, which had fired Betts.
"I never would have imagined myself being a guy that comes into bands that retired icons as a replacement," Herring says. "And it's a tough spot to walk into. You walk into Dickey Betts' spot, and think, ‘I started playing because of Dickey Betts.'
"I did that for a while, and then I was, like, ‘Man, I can't do this. I'm too much of a fan. It's so close to home.' It was an incredible experience, and I loved it, but Dickey didn't pass away or retire. I just felt like, ‘This can't be right.'"
The line between playing guitar right and wrong has been a fascinating balancing act for Herring. He likens each new situation he's been in — whether it's the Allmans or Widespread Panic — to learning a new language.
"You've gotta tip your hat to the original," Herring says, "but you can't copy it. It's really fun, and it's a big challenge. I can't just go in and play the way I play, because that's not what the gig needs. It's like, ‘OK, you've got to listen to this, you need to internalize it, and start from the same kingdom this music is from.' Eventually, you can fit your own voice into it."
Herring's searing guitar solos were more restrained with Phil Lesh & Friends than, say, his all-guns-blazing Aquarium Rescue Unit, a group he still performs with to this day. Some of Herring's friends even gave him grief about not unleashing more notes at Lesh concerts.
"That was horrible! You never even got out of first gear!" Herring remembers them protesting. "I'm like, ‘Look, man, you don't understand. You can't go 80 miles an hour in a 35 zone.'"
Herring has gained musical wisdom by filling the shoes of guitarists before him — and by studying the peers they left behind. He remembers Lesh telling his group,"OK guys, I don't want to hear any solos. I want to hear people having an interactive group conversation."
"And he had one basic rule," Herring adds: "If you find yourself in your own space, stop, listen and react. And that's a beautiful philosophy."
The joyful nature of jam-band audiences has had a significant impact on Herring's success. Whether he stepped in for Betts or the late Garcia, fans have been almost universally positive, he says.
"The common thing between all of them that I've noticed is, ‘God, they're so with you,'" Herring says. "They're so supportive. I've been very lucky, too, because it could have gone the other way."
Musicians have been equally supportive. When Herring got the call to join Widespread Panic, he had two weeks to learn songs, he says.
Talk about ... panic.
The group not only has a vast repertoire, it takes pride in never playing the same set twice and in making selections at the last minute.
"They've been really great with me," Herring says. "Because I was like, ‘Guys, please, help me out. If you could give me tomorrow's set list tonight I could work on the gig in the hotel room.'
"I'm still struggling to just keep up and learn these songs," Herring admits. "So I'm spending a lot of time listening to an iPod that's got, like, 300 Widespread songs on it. ... Luckily, everything I've done before this has kind of prepared me for this."
Joining Widespread Panic after the band helped Aquarium Rescue Unit so many years ago feels like "coming full circle," Herring says.
So it's really not just for a tour or two? Not just for the money?
No, Herring promises.
"It's funny to me," he says. "Because I've never done anything for the money. I've been blessed and got some great gigs. But I would have done them for a lot less money. It's a musical journey. I was just looking for a home, and sometimes it just doesn't work out for people. But I've never done any gig that I didn't want to do."