John Bell - guitar, vocals; John Hermann - keyboards, vocals; Michael Houser - guitar, vocals; Todd Nance - drums, vocals; Domingo S. Ortiz - percussion; Dave Schools - bass
This Widespread Panic performance was captured on May 28, 1995 at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California. The road dogs play for over an hour, drawing tracks from their first four albums, as well as unreleased favorites. The sextet opens up with the mid-tempo "Pigeons" from their self-titled sophomore LP. This track is driven by the bluesy, whiskey-soaked vocals of guitarist/vocalist John Bell.
Fans of the classic jam band sound will love their over 15-minute medley beginning with "Little Kin," from their fourth album, Ain't Life Grand. Lead guitarist Michael Houser shows off his mindblowing chops as he soars over the country-fried backbeat of drummer Todd Nance and bassist Dave Schools. Same goes for marathon versions of other old favorites including "Space Wrangler" and "Rebirtha," as different songs flow seamlessly into one another almost 40 minutes of jammy excellence.
While Widespread Panic shows are available all over the internet, every show is so different, and this set highlights the qualities that made Widespread one of the biggest jam bands in the country. It also serves as a testament to the brilliance of Michael Houser, who tragically passed away in 2002 at the age of 40.
Formed in the fertile grounds of Athens, Georgia, Widespread Panic has enjoyed a successful 20-plus year career that has seen them rise to the top of the Jam Band circuit. The seeds of the group were sowed 1981, when guitarist/vocalist John Bell and guitarist Michael Houser met at the University of Georgia. The duo decided to form a band and added bassist Dave Schools in 1984. The group played with a number of drummers and settled on Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz. The quartet began playing parties around UGA and released their debut Space Wrangler through Landslide Records in 1988. Featuring favorites like "Chilly Water" and "Coconut," Space Wrangler is still a fan favorite and helped the group build a buzz outside the southeast.
The released their self-titled sophomore disc on July 30, 1991, which was also well-received by fans and critics. They got help from a famous fan, when actor Billy Bob Thornton helmed a tour documentary called Widespread Panic: Live From the Georgia Theatre. From there, the group began building a rabid, loyal fanbase that continuously flock to their famous three-hour plus live shows. Known for their expansive, technical jams, Widespread has amassed a massive following, selling out famous Denver-area venue Red Rocks Amphitheatre a record 32 times.
Sadly, founding guitarist Michael Houser was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2002, and, after pulling out of Widespread's 2002 tour in July, he returned home and passed away on August 10, 2002. Houser was replaced by George McConnell, and the band regrouped and released their eighth studio album, Ball, in 2003. It was a fitting tribute for a fantastic guitarist, an influential musician, and a man who was known for being warm and down-to-earth. After a brief hiatus, Widespread Panic reformed in 2005 and has since continued to their rampant tour schedule. They released their 10th album Free Somehow on February 12, 2008.