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John Bell: Salad Days with Widespread Panic

JPG: I’m just real curious about this, not just because you’re from the same area but in the recent Relix cover story there wasn’t room to go into much detail about your pre-college days. So, I didn’t know if there was more there, that you had the usual high school bands playing around town…

JB: Doing more of a folky, bluesy thing in high school. Didn’t do anything outside of a friend’s house or school talent show. Then, in college I was strapped for cash and did some open mic nights. One night nobody good was there so I got 20 bucks. I was there for school, playing the guitar was an escape so there was no pressure to it. So, I started gravitating towards my no pressure gig. Then, just started schlepping myself out as a single [act], learned a bunch of songs and started playing ‘em. Then, I met the guys.
There was a lot of sports in school and a little music intermixed when I started playing music. In college I wasn’t very good at anything so sports fell off and it was more music. So, it seemed like a natural progression.

JPG: Did you ever get your degree?

JB: I was an English major and I had all that stuff taken care of. I was five hours short of my degree. But music was rolling and I had been largely into Cliffs Notes. I wasn’t really up for the charade of having people pat me on the back for faking my way through college. (laughs)

JPG: Would that be on your agenda during the band’s hiatus? Finish up for the hell of it?

JB: You know I think about it probably two or three times a year. So, one of these days I’ll probably do it. That’s something. It would be interesting. But I’d probably do an independent study course because I don’t know if I can, classrooms were always tough. First, it was tough finding ‘em…

JPG: As for the present, you’re home now, just about to get back on the road.

JB: Hanging out, visiting with some friends, playing a little bit of golf, doing a lot of gardening. Right now, it’s hot down here. So our season, we start early so things are pretty much wrapping up. Start to get ready to plant for cold weather, fall crops.

JPG: Up here we’re doing the harvest with zucchini and eggplant…

JB: You guys are peaking right now.

JPG: It’s been a weird year where we’ll go without rain for awhile and then get a major downpour and then nothing again. So, the tomatoes have these weird marks on ‘em.

JB: Stretch marks. It’s a gas going out there and making that into your salad for the evening.

JPG: We are going to get to Panic in a second here.

JB: (laughs) That is a Panic thing as far as I’m concerned. Whatever you bring to the table.

JPG: Well good, because before we get to the band I wanted to bring up that I was at your panel at Bonnaroo’s Solar Stage last June. You spoke about your wife having a wellness center and that you visit the energy room.

JB: It’s called the energy enhancement system and if you want to read about, really check it out in depth, get a good grasp of the description, check out Yeah, it’s pretty freaky. Has a bunch of computers that are configured in physical location and spacing between each other. They’re programmed that they interact in such a way that creates a bioactive field that resonates you on a cellular level.

JPG: Is it like an advanced version of the hemi-sync method from the Monroe Institute?

JB: Yeah, but this would be more akin to a mechanically-derived version of reiki. On that website,, there’s a list of all the systems in the country and in the world, actually. And their highlighted as to which ones are publicly accessible.

JPG: You mentioned that you use it for something like two hours a day.

JB: Yeah, if you’re just doing a phone call or something, you just decide to multi-task and go in there and resonate. (slight laugh)

JPG: I thought it was something where nothing else is going on, kind of like deprivation tank.

JB: No, I do that as well. Basically, it’s a very nice room with 16 computers, shooting their waves at each other and that creates the field that you immerse yourself in. We’ve got a couch and four anti-gravity lounge chairs. It’s real easy to relax, listen to a meditation tape, fall sleep or go in there and read if you want. It’s a peaceful gig.

JPG: If you’re doing that all the time at home when you go out on the road, is it like a drug where it goes out of your system or is there some way that you can reactivate it without the computers?

JB: It stays with you. Actually, when I’m away from it…what can I compare it to? It’s like if you’re getting a massage every day or doing yoga every day, you get used to that and you can be relaxed and real supple. But then, when you go out doing regular stuff like working in the yard and other things you feel the strength that those activities have given you. And that’s what happens when I go out on the road, you hold the energy…you’re there. You feel alert and strong and it lasts. But, there are some places on the road, if we have a day off, there’s one in L.A. where I’ve got some friends and we’ll go do that instead of going to get cocktails. We’ll go to the energy room. And there might be a cocktail afterwards. (laughs)

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