Time To Panic

Time To Panic
By James Calemine for Swampland.com

Friday evening I drove to my second hometown, Athens, Georgia, to meet up with Todd Nance, the drummer of Widespread Panic. Todd suggested I stop by after rehearsal to say hello. Stepping into the Panic practice space, one enters a time machine. Classic totems, gifts, art, and memorabilia line the brick walls as well as their high-grade gear in this sonic nook. The last time I visited here was in 2001 for a Bloodkin band meeting. My longtime association with Bloodkin led to my introduction to Widespread Panic and their extended family all those years ago. In the near future, Swampland/Mystery And Manners will present an enduring perspective on these seasoned professionals...

Due to distance and tomorrow's rehearsal time, JB split to drive home, as did Sonny. After talking with Todd a few minutes, I went back out to the truck and fetched my laptop. On the way back in, bassist Dave Schools was getting some fresh air, and we had a cool conversation outside in the pleasant Athens night. I haven’t been able to speak with Dave in such an uninterrupted manner since we hung out in New York at the One For Woody benefit for the great Allen Woody in 2000.

I didn’t know Dave moved to northern California. I told him it would be interesting if he could write something for Swampland. After all, that’s what he went to school for, and he said he’d love to do it. “Maybe write something about how the barbecue isn’t the same out there,” he said. I look forward to his contributions. Dave’s perspective proves worth documenting. It's always an interesting conversation when you talk with him. Panic, unfortunately, is not really known for their literacy of the arts by so-called critics, journalists and music intelligentsia…and I believe it’s important to write an accurate portrayal of the group, and being around the band's community for over 15 years my perspective may be just as relevant as anyone else's. So, Swampland will keep Widespread in our rotation as they hit the road behind their latest release, Free Somehow.

Panic's tour starts on Tuesday in Washington D.C. So, they’re rehearsing for this spring tour. I went over to say hello to Jimmy Herring because I haven’t seen him since The One For Woody show either. I reminded him of one of my favorite Woody stories he told me, and Jimmy relayed two others that are just hilarious. What a great dude. Jimmy Herring seems like the only guitarist who could really come into Widespread Panic and keep up with them musically. He’s a great fit for the band. This upcoming run should prove beyond formidable…

Jojo sat down and I reminded him of our interview years ago. He perked up when I told him about my recent interview with Jim Dickinson. Dickinson produced Jojo’s band Beanland in Mississippi. Jojo told a couple great Dickinson stories…and he talked about fine memories of Cody and Luther. Jojo told me he was writing his Master’s thesis on Vic Chesnutt. I told Jojo I welcome him to contribute also. He's got plenty of material. Each guy's story weaves another layer to Panic's grass-roots origins that provides a wide scope on their musical contributions...especially in the south. They have served as very strong allies to other musicians--not just in Athens, Georgia. Panic emerges as a real force in the southern musical community.

Danny Hutchens came down and hung out for a while. One by one, each guy bid a goodnight and left to get some rest. Around midnight, it whittled down to just Todd, Danny and I. Todd reminded me of some upcoming viable dates and opportunities I should see the band. It’s a matter of me coordinating my schedule. I’d like to work up some rare article on the band, since after all these years I’ve kept an eye on their music and development from a very close proximity and a quiet distance. They’ve built a great organization. Panic ranks as one of the finest, most durable rock and roll bands of the last 20 years...

Todd points out various wall art and explains the significance of each: the GONZO poster signed by Hunter S. Thompson’s wife Anita, to the band. Mikey Houser’s black Halloween suit threaded with Christmas lights. Todd said it was so hot, and Mikey was sweating so bad that night, they were worried he might get shocked by the lights in his suit.

It was getting late. There was a huge Lady Dawgs gymnastics event, and all the hotels in Athens were booked, so I went out and stayed at Danny’s house. It’s a new era…and I'd respectfully suggest everyone pay close attention to ongoings in these modern times...from politics, gas prices, corporate media outlets, death of print, to music business changes, timeless literature, and the unknown future.

I’d like to raise my glass to Todd Nance and the rest of the guys for their hospitality. It's always a memorable ride when you climb on the Widespread Panic rock and roll locomotive. I look forward to the next step.