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Published: 2009/08/26

"Loose and Light" in the Sirius-XM Studios with Widespread Panic

About 40 station guests and contest winners gathered at Sirius-XM Radio’s Midtown Manhattan studios yesterday afternoon for an intimate in-studio performance by Widespread Panic. The group is in the New York-area as part of a summer tour with The Allman Brothers Band and stopped by “Jam On” to speak with station personality Stef Scamardo and to play a few songs in Sirius’s glass-enclosed performance space—“the fishbowl.” Both the performance and interview are scheduled to air on “Jam On,” which can be found on SIRIUS channel 17 and XM channel 56, shortly after Labor Day.

The group ran through a five-song, hour-plus set that spanned its career, including “Pilgrims,” “Angels On High,” “This Part of Town,” “Already Fried” and “Imitation Leather Shoes.” In order to fit into the small performance space, the band shuffled its onstage configuration slightly, with drummers Todd Nance and Sunny Ortiz set up single-file on the audience’s far left, guitarist Jimmy Herring front left, guitarist John Bell in front middle and bassist Dave Schools in the back behind him. Keyboardist JoJo Hermann was set up mid-back right behind Scamardo and in-between Schools and Bell on the far right. Bell also used the opportunity to show off his new guitar and switched to acoustic for both “Pilgrims” and “Already Fried.”

Scamardo discussed a number of topics with the band between songs, ranging from what has changed during the band’s 20-plus year career (“We got Jimmy,” Bell said in his trademark growl) to Panic’s summer tour with longtime heroes the Allman Brothers Band (“They rock—like a locomotive!,” Schools remarked about the influential rock band) to their favorite new bands (“A band I’m really proud of is Dead Confederate,” Schools said of the Athens-based indie rockers, also adding that there are over 13,000 songs on his iPod).

Scamardo also mentioned the band’s surprisingly Sporadic early summer schedule, which Bell described as a “loose and light tour.” She later crowned the band the “The Kings of Bonnaroo,” to which Bell replied that he can judge a festival by its food—“and Bonnaroo has really good food.” The members of the band also discussed how they spent their time off: Schools has “just been trying to be a good husband,” Bell focused on the Clarkesville, Ga. Wellness Center that he recently opened with his wife Laura and Jimmy Herring practiced—even after shows while on the road (“Bathrooms at most hotels have good reverb,” he admits). In one particularly honest moment, Bell even mentioned that he was nervous lecturing to a group of UGA music business students early this month, but admitted,“the business can be an art form too.”

The in-studio audience watching Panic through a glass window had an opportunity to ask questions as well. When asked about the band’s relationship with the Allman Brothers Band, Schools responded that the group was a big influence on him through the years and that fans should expect a collaboration-heavy tour with shows that span 4-5 hours. Another question touched on frequent guest fiddler Ann Marie Calhoun, which led Schools and Bell to recount how they first saw her play “Surprise Valley” on a YouTube clip. “[She] hit every lick that Michael Houser played, but on a fiddle,” they said—with Schools adding that it was a good example of a video going viral. One young audience member from Rome, Italy asked a question about how the band writes its songs. Bell said he writes songs “wherever the gift comes from,” while Schools talked about group collaboration and said, “the coolest things happen when the group is ‘tossing a potato back and forth musically.’”

As the performance came to a close, Scamardo touched upon the band’s “Driving Songs” live releases and the new “From the Vaults” series. Bell mentioned that the band is trying to release an archival show every 4-5 months, and allow vault keeper Horace Moore to select the show, along with input from fans. But there is plenty of material to work with—the band has been multi-tracking all of its performances since the early 1990s.

For more on Widespread Panic, please read our recent Jambands.com readers’ interview with Dave Schools and our recent site interview with JoJo Hermann.

Reporting by Amy Jacques

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