is a rock 'n' roll band from Athens, Georgia
. The current lineup includes guitarist
/singer John Bell
, bassist Dave Schools
, drummer Todd Nance, percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz, keyboardist John "JoJo" Hermann
, and guitarist Jimmy Herring
. Michael Houser
and George McConnell
have also played lead guitar for the band.
Formation of band
On February 9, 1986, Houser, Schools, and Bell, with Joel Morris on drums and Kelly Jo Davis on backing vocals, recorded Monkey Image (Sleepy Monkey) and Coconut Image (Coconut) at Panoramic Recording Studio in Arnoldsville GA, to be released as their first single. The 45rpm vinyl was released (in a pressing of only 500) shortly thereafter on the band's Space Baby label.
During the rest of 1986, Widespread Panic played mainly in Athens, although they did branch out to venues in Macon, GA and South Carolina. Early on, they began playing Monday nights at the Uptown Lounge in Athens, a tradition that would last well into 1988, alternating shows with Atlanta jam band The Grapes. Along the way, they developed original songs (in addition to the four originals that they played in 1985), including Stop-Go, C. Brown, Tie Your Shoes, Porch Song, Driving Song, Conrad, Vacation, Postcard, the instrumental Machine, and another instrumental jam that Bell later added lyrics to, titled Cardboard Box.
On October 6, 1986, Texan percussionist Domingo S. Ortiz ("Sunny"), sat in with the band at the Uptown Lounge for the first time. Ortiz continued to perform with the band on numerous occasions in Athens, Macon, and Atlanta, and eventually (late 1988 or early 1989) accepted the band's request for him to join as a full-time member.
During 1987, WSP continued to play primarily in Georgia, while steadily spreading out to South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Tennessee, and as far north as Richmond, Virginia (Dave Schools' hometown). They developed a few more original songs along the way, including Barstools & Dreamers, Contentment Blues, I'm Not Alone, and instrumentals L.a. (aka "Liza's Apartment"), and The Take Out. Bell added lyrics to Cardboard Box, and to another instrumental titled "Puppet Song", subsequently renamed Pigeons. Cardboard Box was only played a handful of times before being dropped from the repertoire.
Later that year, the band signed with Landslide Records and recorded their first album, Space Wrangler, at John Keane's Studio in Athens. Guests on the album included Ortiz on percussion, David Blackmon on fiddle, Tim White on keyboards, and Alberto Salazarte (of Athens band White Buffalo) on percussion. Phish keyboardist, Page McConnell, also played on the studio version of Holden Oversoul.
In June 1988, producer John Keane appeared for the first time on stage with the band. Usually playing pedal steel, Keane became another regular guest at special Panic shows.
Their debut LP, Space Wrangler, established a small fan base and inaugurated several years of constant touring.
Rise to national prominence
The band signed to Capricorn Records
and released their major label debut, Widespread Panic
in 1991. John Hermann ("JoJo") joined the band as a keyboardist in 1992.
On April 18 1998, to celebrate the release of their first live album, Light Fuse, Get Away, Widespread Panic offered a free "CD release party" concert in Athens Georgia. An estimated 80,000-100,000 fans descended on the town, transforming it into one of the largest CD release parties in history.
In 2002, the band received gold certification for their concert DVD Live at Oak Mountain. It also headlined two nights of the first annual Bonnaroo Music Festival which drew a crowd upwards of 70,000 people.
Death of Houser
In early 2002, guitarist Michael Houser
was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer
. Houser continued to perform with the band into the middle of that year, but following a performance on July 2, 2002 in Cedar Rapids
he left the tour due to his declining health. Guitarist George McConnell
, a former bandmate of JoJo Hermann's in Beanland
, took over as lead guitarist for the remainder of the band's scheduled dates. Michael Houser
died on August 10, 2002.
Following the death of Michael Houser, the band announced that George McConnell
had been officially named as the new lead guitarist in Widespread Panic. In 2003, the band released Ball
, the first studio album with McConnell as the guitarist. The album was unique among the band's offerings in that none of the songs included had been performed live by the band prior to the recording. All of the material included was written specifically for the album with the exception of "Time Waits," a song which John Bell had performed in solo appearances, and "Don't Wanna Lose You," a song John Herman had written for his wife and performed at least on one occasion with Smiling Assassins, which included members of the North Mississippi Allstars
, in Aspen, Co, sometime during the winter of 2003. Late in 2003, the band announced that they would be taking a hiatus from both recording and performing in 2004. However, 2004 did see the release of three live albums: Night of Joy
and Über Cobra
--both of which were recorded during a November 2003 three-night run of shows at the House of Blues
in Myrtle Beach, SC
--as well as Jackassolantern
, a compilation of cover songs performed during the band's Halloween shows. A third live album taken from the Myrtle Beach shows, Live at Myrtle Beach
was released in early 2005.
In January 2006, the band recorded their 9th studio album, Earth to America, with Terry Manning in Nassau, Bahamas, at Compass Point Studios. It was released June 13, 2006. Their May 9th show at Atlanta's Fox Theatre was simulcast in LIVE HD, via satellite, in select movie theatres nationwide. Over 60,000 fans across the country watched it live in the theatres. This show was also released in DVD format on November 14th, 2006, entitled 'Earth To Atlanta'.
On August 2, 2006, the band announced that George McConnell had left the band. Producer John Keane and former Houser guitar technician Sam Holt filled in on guitar for the rest of the tour.
In late 2006, Fayetteville, NC native Jimmy Herring
took over the reins of the lead guitarist in the band kicking off their fall tour with three nights at Radio City Music Hall
in New York City, New York
The band released their 10th album, Free Somehow, on February 12th, 2008. It, too, was recorded with legendary producer Terry Manning at Compass Point Studios.
On September 20, 2008, Widespread Panic was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
Known for never playing the same show twice, the band has a show-to-show ritual of choosing the night's setlist. At the beginning of each tour Garrie Vereen, a member of the band's road crew, makes a master list of all the songs the band performs and laminates it. Each night before the show he marks the last 3 nights' set lists in different colors. The band can see what has been played recently and then decide what songs to play during the first set. They return back to the list during setbreak to pick songs for the second set, and likewise, return after the second set for any additional sets if playing more than two, or the encore. This process is explained by Vereen in the DVD The Earth Will Swallow You
The band has sold more than three million albums, and released a total of 15 CDs and five DVDs.
- Space Wrangler - 1988
- Widespread Panic - 1991
- Everyday - 1993
- Ain't Life Grand - 1994
- Bombs & Butterflies - 1997
- 'Til The Medicine Takes - 1999
- Don't Tell the Band - 2001
- Ball - 2003
- Earth to America - 2006
- Free Somehow - 2008
- Light Fuse, Get Away - 1998
- Another Joyous Occasion - 2000
- Live in the Classic City - 2002
- Night of Joy - 2004
- Über Cobra - 2004
- Jackassolantern - 2004
- Live at Myrtle Beach - 2005
- Carbondale 2000 - 2008
The band recorded two albums with guitarist Vic Chesnutt
, in 1996 and 2002.
- Contributed a cover version of Van Morrison's And It Stoned Me to the Capricorn compilation album Hempilation, a benefit CD for NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), 1995.
- Contributed a live performance version of Blue Indian to Live in the X Lounge II, an album benefiting United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham, a Birmingham, Alabama charity, 1999.
- Contributed a live June 2000 performance version of Give to Carved in Stone, Vol.1, an album benefiting the Preserve the Rocks Fund, a donation-driven reserve dedicated to the rehabilitation and preservation of the historic Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 2003.
- Recorded a cover of the NRBQ song Ain't No Horse for the CD "The Q People - A Tribute to NRBQ", 2004
- Contributed covers of The Doors' medley Peace Frog/Blue Sunday to the album Too Many Years to benefit Clear Path International's work with landmine survivors, 2005.
- Recorded a cover of The Band's song Chest Fever for the CD "Endless Highway - Tribute to The Band", 2006.
- Recorded a cover of John Lennon's Crippled Inside as a bonus track for the compilation album Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur, 2007.