Widespread Panic

Bonnaroo | 2008 | Review/Photos

"Tennessee, Tennessee, there ain't no place I'd rather be, Baby won't you carry me back to Tennessee."  As I packed up the car and prepared for my road trip, I couldn't shake the lyrics of 'Tennessee Jed' off my mind.  Chicago, IL to Manchester, TN – 534 miles.  This was going to be my triumphant return to the festival I had grown to love in its first three years, but hadn't been able to get back to since 2004.  Bonnaroo, for some, is the pinnacle of music festivals across the nation and even the world. 

CELEBRATE WIDESPREAD PANIC DAY!

photo by Sanjay Suchak- for the Grateful Web

Georgia's own Southern jam kings Widespread Panic return this weekend to their home away from home, Colorado.  The sextet will perform three straight sold-out shows at famed Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison (10 miles northwest of Denver).  What will make these performances so special is that fact that it will mark 32 consecutive sold-out concerts the band has played at the venue.

No other artist has taken the stage at Red Rocks as many times as Panic has; not the Dead, not Willie Nelson, nobody.  And to mark the momentous occasion Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has declared June 27th to officially be "Widespread Panic Day".  It is no easy feat to sell over 9,000 tickets per show, and the band's rabid fan base will surely be thanked with another exciting weekend of music.

The rock collective began their sold-out runs dating back to May of 1996.  Since then, they have gone through three guitarists (this will be new guitarist Jimmy Herring's second run at the Rocks with the band), but have seemingly not lost a step during those transitions.  It will be near impossible for any other artists to break this streak seeing how few groups can retain such popularity over so many years.

On a side note, rumors of late have swirled in the fan community that the band will reward the Colorado faithful with their first ever New Year's Eve show in the Rocky Mountain state, reportedly to be at Denver's Pepsi Center (home to many of Colorado's pro sports teams).  Keep your fingers crossed, and in the meantime grab a tall boy and toast "Widespread Panic Day".

Festival Preview: All Good 2008

Tired of missing an artist you wanted to see perform because it conflicts with another band you like?  Sick of wading through 80,000 people and not being able to see when you get there?  Wondering why Kanye is playing before your favorite jam band?  While it might not be able to solve all your festival problems, All Good Festival this year might solve some of them.

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Conscious Alliance and Whole Foods Market® announce a new partnership in an effort to fight America's hunger crisis, whereby Whole Foods Market® will donate more than 500,000 pounds of natural and organic food products to the Colorado-based not-for-profit.

Free tags: 

ROTHBURY Announces Solar Schools Program Details

ROTHBURY, the nation's first around-the-clock music and camping festival to implement maximum sustainability, near zero-waste initiatives and facilitate dialogue about climate change and clean energy solutions, is also giving back to the community with ROTHBURY's Solar Schools Program presented by RE: VOLVE APPAREL.

ROTHBURY Announces Additional Artists

Music is the soul of ROTHBURY, which recently announced a handful of new artists added to the lineup.  Sam Beam of Iron and Wine, Atmosphere, Steel Pulse, The Wailers featuring Elan, Ingrid Michaelson, Perpetual Groove, Kyle Hollingsworth Band, BoomBox, Brother Ali, Greensky Bluegrass, Trampled By Turtles, and Four Finger Five

ROTHBURY Announces More Artists. Tickets On Sale Today!

ROTHBURY announces the addition of Rodrigo y Gabriela, The Wailers, Mickey Hart Band featuring George Porter Jr. and Steve Kimock, and Trampled By Turtles to the artist lineup.  Tickets went on sale Today, February 27 th at 12pm Noon EST.  Check out www.rothburyfestival.com for more details.

ROTHBURY Announces Festival Dates and Initial Lineup

On July 4th weekend 2008, ROTHBURY emerges as a new American celebration. For this next generation of the rock and roll music festival, ROTHBURY sets forth as a huge party with a purpose. Hosted at the one-of-a-kind Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, Michigan, the unique festival site offers trails, forests, fields, lakes and beach fronts, and even on-site lodging, bars and eateries.

Just Like Old Times for Panic in Memphis (09/21/07)

photos by Amanda Bell- for the Grateful Web

Widespread Panic made their return to Memphis, this time with a new twist, a new guitarist and a few old tricks up their sleeve.

This year's Fall Tour-opening run marked the band's first shows in this melting pot of American Music since the end of July, 2006, and a few changes were apparent this time around.  

Not only was this their first time playing the new downtown FedEx Forum, only a stone's throw from world-famous Beale Street, but it was new guitarist Jimmy Herring's first Memphis Panic shows since he joined the band at this time last year.

The band's last shows at their old home, the dark, dingy and loveable old space ship that was MidSouth Coliseum, were also two of the final three shows for former guitarist George McConnell, who had replaced founding member Mikey Houser just before his death from pancreatic cancer on August 10, 2002. McConnell quit last summer's tour after the next day's show in St. Louis, once he confronted the rest of the band regarding rumors of his lame-duck status.

But in a new venue, with a new guitarist, the same old road warriors lit the same old town on fire, showing the versatility that has made them a stalwart of consistency for over twenty years.

This show had a little bit of everything you could ask for from a Panic show.

There was the bouncy, happy sound, exemplified by the show opening trio of A of D, Space Wrangler and Walkin' (For Your Love). It was Herring's first try at the instrumental A of D, a song not played since longtime producer John Keane and Houser's old guitar tech Sam Holt shared the lead spot to help the band finish last summer's tour, before Herring was hired for fall. Wrangler and Walkin' got the band warmed up and the crowd in the mood and ready to keep singing along with front man and resident preacher John Bell.

Another bit of joy marked the opening of the second set, with the instrumental Party at Your Mama's House showcasing Herring's growing sense of comfort with his new band in the form of a very patient jam. Bell also chimed in throughout with nice work on the slide, which is pretty much the only time during a show you can easily hear his instrumental contribution. But, hey, they don't pay the man to play the guitar.   

But that wasn't all this show had in store.

There were the hard rocking foot-stompers. The upbeat Tie Your Shoes followed Walkin', and gave the crowd a usual second set piece of sandwich bread in the first set. The song allowed both the rapid-fire notes of Herring and the rolling bass line of Dave Schools to shine.

More songs in this vein would follow the rest of the night, from the dark rollercoaster of funk that is Pigeons in the first set to their heavy take on the traditional blues of Junior in the second set.

One of the hardest rockers came in the person of Glory, making its first appearance in a set in nearly six full years. And the band nailed this version, appropriately providing a rare surprise for the fans in a town with its own special place in Panic lore.

And while Herring continues to find his comfort zone with this group, there are still noticeable growing pains. It seemed as though he approached shows in the spring as a contest to see how many notes he could play during solos, this Eddie Van Halen-esque style being a stark contrast to the floating, psychedelic sound of Houser. He began picking his spots a little better over the summer, but he overdid it a bit this time on songs like Big Wooly Mammoth and Surprise Valley.

The rest of the band had their moments, too. One can expect some hiccups during tour openers, and this Friday in Memphis was no different. Schools started early for the encore, Imitation Leather shoes, before becoming visibly agitated. Bell appeared to sound unsure of himself as he began the vocals to Climb to Safety, which led to a slightly disjointed beginning. And a second set drop back into Chilly Water from You Got Yours was a bit sloppy.

But, as it is with most Panic shows, the good far outweighed the bad inside the Forum.

The highlight of the first set came with the jam out of Rebirtha, into the fan favorite Ribs and Whiskey. The former ended with lots of funk and great work from Herring, before dissipating into easily one of the longest, most patient Ribs intros that this reviewer has heard, with Herring accented nicely by great slide work from Bell, both flowing over Todd Nance's steady kick drum.

More exemplary jamming followed in the second set, first with the opener, Party, and then with one of the funkiest versions of Climb to Safety you will ever hear. Keyboardist Jojo Hermann carried the jam with his clavinet, riding on top of a funky bass line from Schools that reminded one of their cover of Solid Rock, and song from Bob Dylan's Christian revivalist period. It was a wonderful change of pace for a song too often mailed in with little variation within the jam.

Hermann was not done there, however. His next standout moment would begin a stretch of the show that exemplified why fans still come back to Panic after all these years, because they feature a dark, evil edge to their sound that is truly unmatched by anyone else in the scene.

A drum intro from Nance and percussionist Sunny Ortiz led into an especially sinister version of Dr. John's I Walk on Guilded Splinters, featuring Hermann putting the fear into the crowd with a mix of funky Hammond B-3 and chaotic piano. The jam also featured outstanding work by Herring and a lot of call-and-response between the two of them.

Guilded segued nicely into a Chilly Water sandwich, the meat being more loud, dark, thunderous rock in the form of You Got Yours. The band followed this with the unquestionable highlight of the evening, Colonel Bruce Hampton's Time is Free, which Herring effectively carried on his back with one stretch of psychedelic shredding after another, helped by Bell's growling vocals and rambling raps. 

The set very well could have ended after Chilly Water, and probably should have ended after the marathon version of Time is Free, but Herring jumped right into the roaring stomp of Neil Young's classic, Mr. Soul, finally ending a monster second set and leaving much of the crowd exhausted, undoubtedly nursing sore arms from constant fist-pumping.

The crowd hardly seemed bothered by the short encore, but, after the previous stretch, who could blame them?

After all, once Imitation Leather Shoes gave them time to catch their breath, the debauchery of Beale Street awaited them outside the Forum's doors.

09/21/07 FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN

1: A of D, Space Wrangler, Walkin' (For Your Love), Tie Your Shoes > Pigeons, Blue Indian, Rebirtha > Ribs and Whiskey, Big Wooly Mammoth

2: Party at Your Mama's House > Junior, Glory, Smoking Factory, Surprise Valley > Climb to Safety, Guilded Splinters > Chilly Water > You Got Yours > Chilly Water, Time is Free > Mr. Soul

E: Imitation Leather Shoes 

Jimmy Herring vs. George McConnell

Jimmy Herring - photo by A. Bell- for the Grateful Web

Now twenty years after their inception, Widespread Panic remains one of the biggest touring acts in all of rock.  Recently they completed another successful run at Colorado's Red Rocks Amphitheater, officially setting the venue record for the most sold-out shows performed.  Their unique blend of southern rock and dreamy jams has garnered a hard-core fan base, one who has stuck with the band through the good times and the bad.

The worst of course being the death of founding member and guitarist Michael Houser in 2002, who passed away after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.  With such a prominent figure of the band gone, fans were unsure if the ride could continue.  However, one of Houser's final wishes was for the group to press on and continue with the dream they started so many years ago.

Sensing the inevitable, the search for a new guitarist began shortly before Houser passed and the decision was eventually made to introduce guitar virtuoso George McConnell as the new member of the group.  The southern rocker from Mississippi had formerly played with acts Beanland and the Kudzu Kings, projects familiar to the members of Panic (keyboardist Hermann and McConnell played together in Beanland), so I suppose you could say it was a natural choice for the band to ask a longtime friend to help them carry the torch.

Fans were ecstatic that the band would continue performing, however were unsure what to think of their sound without Houser.  His signature guitar notes and unique style (Houser always performed sitting in a chair on stage with his flowing hair usually covering his face) was what helped give the band its familiarity.

McConnell's boyish good looks and "machine gun" solos wowed many new fans, but failed to fully win over many old ones.  He continued to play with the band through the mid-2000s and recorded "Ball" and "Earth to America" with Widespread Panic.  Near the end of their summer 2006 tour the announcement was made that McConnell would be leaving the band to pursue other musical endeavors.

Keeping their promise to Mikey, the members continued touring for a short time thereafter with longtime engineers John Keane and Sam Holt filling in.  Rumors began to swirl about whom the band would ask to permanently fill the lead guitar position.  Enter Jimmy Herring.

Jammed Online was one of the first outlets to publish the rumors surrounding the possibility of longtime jam-scene troubadour Jimmy Herring joining the band.  It was learned a week later in the fall of 2006 that Widespread Panic would introduce him as their new guitarist.

Herring is best known for his work with Aquarium Rescue Unit, a jazz/rock band formed with Col. Bruce Hampton in the late 80s and early 90s.  More recently he had been touring with The Dead as well as Phil & Friends, lending his chops to fresh takes on the Grateful Dead catalog.

This brings us to now, the current lineup of Widespread Panic anchored by Herring on guitar.  Since he joined the band last year, discussions amongst fans and musicians have centered around who has better filled the enormous shoes left by Houser's departure.  The fans I have spoke with regarding this situation seem to all agree that Panic is playing with a new sense of vigor and a recharged sound, all thanks to Jimmy Herring's presence.

To be fair, George McConnell may have not really ever had the chance he deserved to win over long-time fans of the band.  Those folks had barely any time to grieve the passing of Houser before McConnell was introduced as his successor.  It is possible that fans were just not ready to follow the band without Houser in the mix.

At first glance, McConnell's guitar playing was much edgier and fresher that Houser's.  He seemed to give Panic a "dirtier" sound and helped them explore grittier tunes.  It was refreshing to hear this at first, because trying to replicate Mikey's guitar may have been disastrous to the group.

But alas, he never seemed to click with the band.  His improvisations, albeit spectacular, didn't fit the path some of their songs were heading during their live performances.  All this was the real reason George McConnell and Widespread Panic parted ways last summer.

Herring, on the other hand, has been welcomed by Panic fans with open arms.  They seem to feel that his technique and experience better fit the overall vision and compliment the band's sound perfectly.  His improvisational skills are amazing, while his clean performances supply the shot-in-the-arm every aging band needs at point or another.

It was last month's run at Red Rocks that officially sold me on what most die-hard fans had been telling me for months:  Jimmy Herring is a much better fit for Panic, and they are now playing as well as they did in the old days.  Hearing Jimmy and the band tear through scorching renditions of staples like "Wondering", "Space Wrangler", and one of my personal favorites "Surprise Valley" was truly joyous.  I did feel like I was witnessing a whole new band.  The fire was there, and the guitar playing was exceptional.

For any fans who gave up on this band after Houser passed, I encourage you to come back.  It will not be the same, but the change has been good.  Widespread Panic are still the kings of southern jam, and it has been a long time since they have sounded this good.

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