About Widespread Panic
When it comes to jam bands, the Grateful Dead stands head and shoulders above all others. Phish has long been the heir apparent to the Dead's throne, even with their hiatus takings. Somewhere further down the lineage would be Widespread Panic.
Athens, Georgia in the mid-80s was a hotbed of music, thanks largely to R.E.M. and its legions of college-aged loyalists. It was out of that scene, in 1986, that Widespread Panic emerged.
Guitarists John Bell and Michael Houser had actually met in 1981 in their college dorm. Bassist Dave Schools connected with the cohabitating songwriting duo in 1984, and started playing with them a year later. In early 1986, Houser called in an old friend, drummer Todd Nance, to join them for an Athens charity event and Widespread Panic was born. Texas percussionist Domingo S. Ortiz ("Sunny") came on board later that year.
The band made the rounds of college bars and frat parties. Landslide Records signed them up in 1987 and they recorded their debut, Space Wrangler, with famed Athens producer John Keane. Their touring circuit started expanding westward and northward.
Capricorn Records snatched them in 1991 for their sophomore, eponymous release. Dixie Dregs keyboardist T. Lavitz came into the fold, only to be replaced by John Hermann ("JoJo") in 1992. The tours kept rolling, including a slot on the HORDE Festival in 1992 alongside Phish and Blues Traveler.
By the time 1998 came around, a few more albums had been released and many more fans had been accumulated. The band's first live record, Light Fuse, Get Away, came in April of that year. To celebrate, Widespread Panic threw a free CD release concert in Athens and upwards of 80,000 fans attended.
In 2002, they headlined the first-ever Bonnaroo Festival, playing for over 70,000 people. Earlier that year, Houser was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He passed away on August 10, 2002, having been replaced by George McConnell.
For 2003, Ball was their first record with McConnell in place and it featured all-new material that the band had never even played live. The band followed that by announcing a hiatus for 2004 which they filled with the release of three live albums: Jackassolantern, Night of Joy, and Über Cobra. A fourth, Live at Myrtle Beach, came in early 2005.
Getting back to work in January, 2006, Widespread Panic went into the studio to make their ninth album, Earth to America. McConnell left the group at the end of July, leaving producer John Keane and guitar tech Sam Holt to fill the void for the last couple of weeks of tour dates.
In late 2006, Jimmy Herring stepped into the lead guitarist's shoes as they opened their fall run with a three-night stand at Radio City Music Hall. They headed back into Terry Manning's Compass Point Studios for album number 10, Free Somehow, in 2008.
More live releases followed, as the band culled through vintage performances resulting in Carbondale 2000, Valdosta 1989, and Huntsville 1996. An induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame also ensued in 2008, as did their 32nd sold-out show at Red Rocks Amphitheater, earning them a “Widespread Panic Day” proclamation by the mayor of Denver.
Summer 2009 brought a co-headlining tour with the Allman Brothers to run through the rest of that year. Their 10th studio album, Dirty Side Down, came out in May, 2010, just in time for another summer of touring.
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