Widespread Panic: The 1997 Relix Report
One of WSP’s favorite live tapes of the band is from Winston-Salem, North Carolina when keyboardist Jo-Jo Hermann went “keyboard surfing.” “He was up on his piano bench playing his piano with his feet, and the crowd was going crazy,” says Schools, “and he fell over, and you hear 3,000 people just go ‘Ohhh…’ And then, slowly, the drink comes up. The drink didn’t spill. And you hear ‘Ahhh…’ You should have heard the sound of him hitting the keyboards. We were doing two-track, and there was plenty of mic stands out there.” Hermann continues, “And then up comes Chan from Blues Traveler who came over to jam with us, and there I am sprawled out on the floor with my keyboards busted in five pieces and the crowd roaring.” Although his ego may have been slightly bruised, Hermann assured us that he was unhurt in the mishap, as the “bourbon broke [his] fall.”
To further fulfill the demand for more live music, Schools says that in the future there will be more live broadcasts where tapers can get a good mix. “We’ve done that a couple of times at Red Rocks where [the radio station] brought their own truck and ran a sub-snake off,” says the bassist. “I don’t know if we’ll ever get to the point where the Dead was in the late ’80s where there was so many people showing up without tickets that they would actually do a radio broadcast that would only go within a mile of the Coliseum so you could sit in your car and tune in the show.”
As flattering as the demand for its live music is, WSP knows that taping can hurt the record industry and the companies involved in the recording and manufacturing of the CDs. The band members agree, though, that most tapers are recording the live music for their own pleasure. “The whole taper mindset is they’re almost against studio stuff, in a way,” says Schools. “What happens is they get so addicted to the live sound that they almost are unwilling to accept the studio sound. It’s too claustrophobic. It’s too set in stone. They’ll go buy it because they want to hear it once or twice, but generally they want that live, raw song. They want to hear the interaction. They want the whole human element, and we’re as real as real can get. Warts and all.”
The commitment of this unit is indisputable. “Most bands go out in support of albums,” says Ortiz, “whereas, we go out in support of each other. Not only are there six of us involved, there’s the families and the office. It’s gotten bigger than just us six guys.” WSP has toured all over the United States and is presently nearing the end of a three-month, coast-to-coast tour. The band then plans to take a break before it embarks on a European tour and perhaps even a tour of Australia. “I don’t think we could be that kind of band that does an 18-month whirlwind world tour and then takes five years off like Pink Floyd,” says Schools. “We’d all go totally nuts.”
Although the band plans to continue its heavy touring schedule, it does not plan to be involved in any large festivals. “We did the first two H.O.R.D.E. tours, but we probably will not do any more,” says Schools. “There’s not enough time to play. It’s tough on fans—a festival setting is great. You get to see all kinds of music all day long but, at the same time, because it’s summer, the bands are starting at 1:30 in the afternoon and by the time the sun starts going down, those people are gone.” Houser agrees adding, “On festivals, an hour or an hour-and-fifteen minutes is pretty much the cap. It takes us two to three hours to do what we feel comfortable with.” “Yeah, it takes a little time to get rolling,” says J.B., “and then you don’t want to put the brakes on.”
Ortiz concedes that “[Some fans] just really wanted to come and hang out and listen to us and then, for whatever reason, they would just split and take off. They’d come back and say, ‘Oh man. I would have stayed longer, but I had commitments’ or ‘I would have really liked to have seen you by yourself.’ And that’s what we do it for. We do it for ourselves, but we also do it for the fans that come out.” “Our fans give us some shit about it,” continues Schools, “‘cause it’s like ‘damn, I drove 300 miles to see you play for three hours, not 45 minutes.’ We get a lot of that kind of feedback, so we can’t really ignore it.”
As for the future, a live album is in the works, and the band is also prepared to do another studio album. “Next year, another album,” says Schools. “For us it’s kind of hard because we’ll always be touring till our arms fall off. I know, for me, it’s just a day-to-day kind of thing. I know that tomorrow I’ll be doing something that will involve Widespread Panic, and I know that when we start our tour and get on the bus [that it will be] our lives for the next three months. For us, our main thing is just to play. It’s tough for us to look at what’s going to be in the future because we don’t even know.”
Whatever the future holds for Widespread Panic, one thing is certain. The band will continue to tour and attract legions of fans. “All we care about is playing music,” says J.B., “and the people who want to hear it.”
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