"Part of being in Widespread Panic has always meant trying to break preconceived models of how bands are supposed to work and how they're presented to the world at large," explains bassist Dave Schools. This ethos permeates everything the band does from songwriting and recording to touring and finances. The music these six men make has earned them accolades in nearly every major music magazine, but it's their revolutionary business model that's led to features in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Variety, CNN, Billboard Magazine, CNBC and Fortune Magazine.
Panic doesn't follow the usual format of touring only when there's a new album and then laying low between releases. They tour constantly, and every show is different. In 21 years they've never repeated a set list. They don't fight for the limelight and search for recognition in the usual places. All songs are credit to the band, and their frontman, John Bell (JB), refuses to even acknowledge his place as the leader.
JB continues, "The biggest selling point of Widespread Panic is the fan base that comes out to shows and buys our albums. Their relationship with the band and with each other just as an entity all by itself, that's the phenomena. And, it's always been this way." That relationship has been paramount to the success and longevity of the band. Their fans are some of the most dedicated in the world. In addition to the more than 3 million albums sold, fans follow them around the globe, setting attendance records at some of the most prestigious U.S. venues, and making Widespread Panic a fixture on Pollstar's annual Top 50 Tours list for more than a decade.
Using the Earth To America sessions as a building block, Panic has already begun work on their next album with Manning. Although still in the very early stages, Schools also hears a bit of Zep in what the band has laid down, commenting, "Some of the songs really strike me as something you might have heard on Physical Graffiti. They're complex, beautiful, deep, and it rocks. And it's got some melancholy and a lot of color."
Although the band is excited about the next album, there's something much bigger going on in the world of Widespread Panic, and his name is Jimmy Herring. Having toured with The Allman Brothers Band, The Dead and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Herring is the perfect lead guitarist for Panic. Taking over where McConnell left off, Herring brings a fresh dynamic to the band and everyone is feeling it.
Herring's magic is clear to anyone who's seen Panic play since he took over lead guitar duties on September 14, 2006. Magic is never easy to find, not even for the people making it. "I've been a fan of theirs for a long time and a friend since about 1989," says Herring. "I grew up wanting to be in a band [like Widespread Panic]. This is what I've been hoping for my whole life. It just came to me pretty late."
With Herring on guitar, a new album in the works, and a major tour ahead of them, Widespread Panic continues to embrace the passion they've shared with fans for over 20 years. "We're barreling down the tracks and beginning yet another chapter," says Schools. "It's not necessarily even an Act Three - life isn't easily split into acts like theater. It's been challenging, but it feels like there aren't any limitations. We're still being children with active imaginations and finger paints.