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An average music listener of today has a proclivity towards slicing and dicing the music that he or she listens to in genres such as rap, hip hop, rock, pop, jazz and R&B. Yet there are certain music lovers that prefer to be surprised not by neatly wrapped music packages but ones that have multiple layers, of which each one upon being unwrapped reveals a different listening experience. Jam bands have pulled off this feat of “extended musical improvisation” since the 1960s, when it was pioneered by the group Grateful Dead. The grooves conjured by these musical necromancers left a lasting legacy that has been borne by the likes of Phish and Widespread Panic. The latter, rather than driving the audiences to run helter-skelter have herded them together in great numbers in sold-out performances across the country.
For a band whose name is perceived in a grandiloquent style, Widespread Panic had quite low key beginnings. Back in 1981, the founding members John Bell and Michael Houser both attended the University of Georgia and in fact wound up in the same dorm. Both had prior strumming experience and a few years into writing and composing music together, teamed up with bassist Dave Schools, drummer Todd Nance, percussionist Domingo S. Ortiz and eventually keyboardist John “Jo Jo” Hermann to collectively spread their particular brand of panic by 1986. Houser’s past panic attacks finally found a silver lining in yielding the band’s chaotic moniker.
Widespread Panic signed up in the late eighties with Landslide Records to release Space Wrangler. After some further drifting, the space cadets crossed into the nineties and landed back on Earth with a big splash. Hooking up with Capricorn Records, Widespread Panic released their self-titled album and made their film debut in the Billy Bob Thornton directorial debut Widespread Panic: Live from the Georgia Theatre. Striking gold with their concert DVD Live at Oak Mountain in 2002 , the band seemed to hit rock bottom the same year when Houser died following a bout of pancreatic cancer. However the band’s remaining members urged themselves to keep on keeping on and soon released the studio album Ball with their new entrant McConnell on the lead guitar.
The unruly lot of Widespread Panic relentlessly toured during the period following their formative years. Their exposure via the Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere (HORDE) tours of 1992 and 1992 developed their image fabulously amongst their ever growing horde of fans. The band truly created “widespread panic” on 18 th April 1998 when they pulled off a Light Fuse, Get Away act by throwing a free “CD release party” for their first live album. In 2002, the band embarked on their summer tour but soon found itself minus a guitarist whilst on the road. Though initially McConnell only joined to fill Houser’s shoes but after the latter’s demise was given his own permanent pair to wear, which he eventually took off in August 2006.
As if in a bid to have their music as widely dispersed as possible, Widespread Panic has given their fans a free hand in recording, swapping and distributing their concerts and shows. Contrary to their name’s implication, the band’s members have opened their hearts out in various charity and benefit events: From their efforts to reforming Marijuana laws and contributing to a cure for Cerebral Palsy, to singing covers of the Doors and John Lennon to lead towards alleviation of landmine survivors and resolving the Darfur Conflict. Pitching in the New Orleans rehabilitation efforts following Hurricane Katrina’s devastating run, the band joined hands with their fan managed organization Panic Fans For Food in running food drives at some of their shows during each tour to augment the food reserves in local food banks. So for finding your own rock to anchor onto in a sea of musical chaos, get your Widespread Panic Tickets now.
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