I've never seen Widespread Panic live, but apparently that's the only way to really experience what they've got going on. Like Phish or the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic's music is more complex than the average jam band and the sound is just as playful and digressive. According to guitarist/singer John Bell, they never play the same show twice,and for a band that plays 150+shows a year, that is a staggering thought.
Widespread Panic first came together in Athens, Ga., in 1986, but didn't release a major label debut until 1991. Billy Bob Thornton directed a concert movie from their early shows with the album called "Widespread Panic: Live from the Georgia Theatre." Soon after that, the legend was born.
Since the tragic death of founding member Michael Houser in 2002, the band's lineup has changed a little, but the core team of Bell, Domingo S. Ortiz on percussion and Dave Schools on bass and vocals, has remained untouched. Todd Nance, Widespread's drummer since 1986, went on hiatus this year, replaced by Duane Trucks of the super group Hard Working Americans.
Widespread has taken a few timeouts during its three decade tenure, but those tend not to last longer than a year. Having sold out Red Rocks 48 times, they have nothing to prove and haven't for quite some time. For Bell and company, it's all about the music: touring and playing is a life that Bell seems to take great pleasure in still.
The Source Weekly interviewed Bell about life on the road.
Source Weekly: You guys are notoriously known as Road Warriors, touring 150 shows a year at least. How do you keep it fresh when you're on the road that much?
John Bell: Oh well, you know, clean sheets in every hotel (laughing). Musically, we don't play the same show twice. We usually will not revisit a song for four or five shows. For us, it allows the shows not to get stagnant.
SW: What are some of your bad habits on tour that you try not to take home with you when you're finally off the road?
JB: I like to share my good and bad habits with my home life and my road life.
SW: Everybody gets it equally?
JB: I'm gonna have to qualify that. They're just tendencies (Both laughing).
SW: Because you guys have played some of the largest venues in the country, do you find more joy in playing the big ones or do you like the smaller, intimate, sweaty stuff?
JB: You know, for me, as long as the band is gelling, and the room sounds good, we could be playing to one person. Hopefully it'd be more than that. If you're cooking, there's joy in that.
SW: With most of you guys having been together three decades now, do you want to put another 15-20 years into touring, or do you eventually want to start scaling back the amount that you tour?
JB: Our plan is to keep playing, but we're just going to play a smaller number of gigs. This is our 30th year together and we're going to play a more select group of gigs, but there will still be plenty of music happening.
SW: How would you describe a Widespread Panic show to someone who has never seen you live?
JB: Well, I would tell them not to expect much in the way of choreography. But the light show and the music make up for that. (More laughter).
SW: (Laughing) Do you find when people come in expecting choreography they're disappointed?
JB: I don't know. I haven't heard from them. Maybe they walked out? (Hysterical laughter).
SW: Anything else you want to tell the people of Bend, Oregon?
JB: I'm looking forward to seeing a new place. When you've been around this long, you relish every new experience and checking out every new neighborhood.
July 2-3, 6pm
Les Schwab Amphitheater, 344 SW Shevlin Hixon Dr., Bend