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Published: 2002/08/14

Musicians Remember Mikey

As friends and fans gather around the country to exchange stories of Widespread Panics Michael Houser, spoke with some of the musicians that have shared the stage with him over the years.
Col. Bruce Hampton was the frontman for Aquarium Rescue Unit and later with The Fiji Mariners and The Codetalkers. ARU and Panic have a long history together and both toured with the HORDE Festival in 1992 and 1993. Hampton has appeared on stage with Widespread dozens of times, dating back to 1989:
There was probably no better spirit anywhere. The courage he showed was just unbelievable. He was an inspiration to everybody. Its a tough time to talk about it, but he was just an amazing guy. Ive known him 17 years and I wish I got to hang with him more. We went to ballgames together when neither one of us was working. He was just a quiet, courageous guy, to say the least. I dont have the guts to face what he faced. I talked to him about 3 months ago. We were the ones crying and he was the one keeping everybody above water. Hes probably the strongest person Ive ever encountered. He did everything in a quiet way. You just dont find people like him. They dont make that type anymore.
Guitarist Trey Anastasio of Phish performed with Widespread last October in Seattle and in November of 1993 in Los Angeles. Phish and Panic also played four shows together on the first leg of the inaugural HORDE tour in July of 1992 and opened various shows for each other in the early 90s:
Michael Houser was truly one of the kindest and most beautiful people that I’ve ever met. I say that from the deepest part of my heart. He was unique. The first time I met him was backstage at the Roxy in Atlanta when Phish was opening for Panic. Dave Schools brought me into the dressing room and there he was, kneeling in front of his wife Barbette, who was sitting in a chair. They were holding hands and he was just lost in her eyes, radiating love. I’ve never forgotten that moment. She was pregnant with Waker at the time and it was like they were actually glowing, not even aware of all the noise and commotion around them. Just at peace, floating. He was capable of that kind of emotion and it was beautiful. Just a rare, beautiful thing. I know that people who love his music already know this. We’ll all miss him terribly.
Rev. Jeff Mosier played banjo for Aquarium Rescue Unit and Blueground Undergrass. Hes sat in with Panic three times, most recently alongside Col. Bruce in August of 2000 at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre in Pelham, AL. Mosier also credits the members of Widespread for the existence of BGUG, as their encouragement motivated him to form the band:
He was one of the sweetest, nicest, most unassuming, egoless cats youll ever meet. The reasons for him dying at this age are going on in another department of the universe, because we are certainly not able to understand it in this department. Aquarium Rescue Unit played with Panic in 89 and 90 and Ive played with them a ton of times. Panic welcomed me and they always made me feel like I could rock as hard as anyone. When youre a banjo player, you need to have that. I give them credit for helping me understand that I could rock. The last time I played with them at Oak Mountain, while they were filming their video, I stood there right beside Mikey and he just had pure joy in everything he did. That was his home, sitting in that chair. He wasnt outgoing and he never really got that much into the press, but if you knew him and his wife, youd just see that he underpinned the vibe of that band. He was one of those guitar players that always played in the music and was never written up for his ability, like a Jimmy Herring, but he underpinned the bands entire sound. Mikey represents the most pristine of all support musicians. Even though he was a fundamental part of the band, he was just an incredible supporter, not only in his stage presence, but by letting JB and Dave do their thing. Kind of like Mark Vann, you dont really notice it until hes gone.
Drew Emmitt plays mandolin, fiddle and guitar for Leftover Salmon, a band that recently had to deal with the passing of one of its own members, banjoist Mark Vann. Drew sat in with Widespread Panic twice in July of 1998 in Charlotte, NC and Cleveland, OH. He also joined them in October of 96 and June of 97:
We did some touring with Panic and I got to sit in with them a bunch, which was really great. When Id sit in, Id sit down with Mikey and hed show me the chords to the tunes. I remember one time in particular, sitting on his tour bus, just the two of us and we just really connected. I remember him telling me that in high school he was the only musician that could play all of Freebird. He knew the whole solo and I just thought that was really cool and really funny. He said that was his claim to fame in school and we were laughing about thatIts hard to imagine the band going on, in their case and in our case because the sound changes so much when you lose someone so integral to the band. It’s really tough at first. Somehow, the music does go on and the energy goes on. I think the people that leave us, thats what they would want; for the music to go on and for the fans to keep supporting the band even though its not the same and you really miss those people. I really feel that there can be a new birth of a band. The music can be reborn. Its really really tough and theres no way to replace those people and I dont think thats the idea, but we need try to keep the music going. Thats all we can do is keep moving ahead. Life goes on.
Count MButu played percussion with Aquarium Rescue Unit. He appears on Panics most recent live album, Live in the Classic City, recorded on April 1, 2000 in the bands hometown of Athens, GA. He has also jammed with the band several times since the mid 90s:
During the HORDE tour, I got a chance to know him and hang out and listen to their music. I really liked his approach to music. To me, music is like having a conversation. Playing with Michael was always easy. When Id work with him, wed sit down in the dressing room and talk about the show and then wed just go on the stage and do it. I call it to conversate and thats something that he was really good at; communicating with other musicians. He was really special.
Saxophonist Roger Lewis of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band has joined Panic on stage a handful of times since 1998, when DDBB opened Widespreads Halloween show in New Orleans. Lewis also appears the bands 2000 live album, Another Joyous Occasion: He was one of the nicest guys I ever met in my life. He was a beautiful human being, really soft-spoken. It is really a great loss to the music world. We did quite a few gigs with Widespread Panic. Every time we played together, Michael would always be the guy to show us the parts. He wasnt loud, he just had a nice warm sound. Great musician. Weve been tripping out ever since we got the news. [Sunday] night we were in Nashville and we played a song for Mike. Everybody in the audience got real quite. We played Big Chief. You know, he was a lively guy. We didnt want to send him out on a sad note, so we sent him out on a happy note. He was so well-loved.
Galactic recently opened a number of summer dates for Widespread Panic. The individual members of Galactic have joined Panic on several occasions, including Houser’s last performance on July 2, when drummer Stanton Moore sat in on percussion. Galactic issued a collective statement:
‘Michael Houser was a great a man and a great musician – the heart and soul of Widespread Panic. He will be sadly missed by everyone in our band and everyone whose lives he touched.’
Warren Haynes plays guitar for Govt Mule, The Allman Brothers Band and Phil & Friends. He has collaborated with Panic numerous times, dating back to July of 91 in Colorado. Since the passing of Allen Woody, Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools has performed several shows with Govt Mule:
‘Mikey was a wonderful spirit. He was one of those guys who was always in a good mood and was always making other people feel better. Musically, he was always exploring. It was all about trying to find some new territory and innocence really took over his musical style. I remember playing with them in 93 in Virginia and it was Freddy Jones Band, my band, Dave Matthews Band and Widespread Panic, and that tells you how long ago that was. I got up and played Low Spark of High Heeled Boys’ for about 45 minutes and it was great. I remember Dave Schools coming up to me and saying you know, Mike does his thing and his thing is like stream of consciousness. He just plays and you just join in there with him. He was trying to prepare me for the fact that it wasnt going to be like a traditional [jam] it was just going to be like bobbing and weaving and musical conversation. When we got done everyone was smiling and hugging.
‘Aside from being a stylist on the guitar, Mike had a cool songwriting style as well. His overall sound was such a big part of Widespread Panic. His approach to guitar was a little different than the average person and that helped make Widespread what it was. It was the sum of all those people, but he was a really big part of that sound. Again, he was such a wonderful person to be around, that plays into the music as well. Your spirit comes through your music.
‘Weve lost a lot of great people recently and the older we get, thats going to happen more and more. We just have to seize the day and take advantage of the opportunities that are here now and live life to the fullest. Not to say, to excess, but just enjoy your life and be thankful for the friends you have and the experiences that youve had because you never know. We always learn from these kinds of experiences.’

A Michael Houser tribute website has been established. Fans are encouraged to share their thoughts.

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