Widespread Panic - One Big Musical Family

By Lee Abraham

 

The first time Widespread Panic played Las Vegas was April 1992 at the old Shark Club. Although the turnout was small, twenty-five people at most, the Panic were undaunted and delivered nearly two hours of scorching originals, craftily weaving the magic carpet of polyrhythmic grooves that has had their hometown fans in Athens, Georgia flying since 1981. Next time through town it was a near sell-out at the Huntridge and most recently, last year's absolute blowout of psychedelic proportions at the Joint.

Its no accident that WSP plays a larger or better venue each time they tour, in fact it's part of the Panic's master plan. "Every town and every show is like a stepping stone," says Widespread's percussionist Domingo "Sonny" Ortiz, "our ultimate goal for playing Las Vegas is to do some shows at the Silver Bowl, where the Dead always played."

Like the Dead, WSP attracts a travelling circus of tie-dyed "Spreadheads" who follow the band from town to town, travelling roads that often lead them to the same concert halls the Dead once played.

"It's like a reunion," explains Ortiz, "There's a group of people that make it to like 99% of the shows and they have friends in Vegas that see 'em comin', its just a big reunion. Everybody in the band feels like part of a family, a family where the music binds us together, thatís how we relate to each other, including the fans."

"Everybody's looking for an outlet, that goes for the guys in the band too," says Ortiz, who came to the band in 1986 by way of Austin, Texas, "our shows are a way for everybody to release and share their energy."

Positive energy that is, and lots of it. Not only at concerts but on the internet too. There's an "Official" WSP site, an "Official Unofficial" site, "An Honest Tune" (online fanzine), a site with song lyrics, chords and lead guitar tablature, as well as several sites devoted to "tape trading" of live concert recordings, an activity WSP encourages.

The fact that the Panic's fanbase has such a widespread tape trading network didn't stop Capricorn Records from releasing "Light Fuse Get Away," a new double CD of live material. Culled from various concerts over the past couple of years, the release is a cherry-picked compilation of nineteen tunes that cover all eighteen years of the Panic's prolific history.

Don't bother looking for a list of dates and venues in the CD booklet, or even on the Web (an "Official" list anyway), the band is purposely keeping the dates and venues a mystery for as long as they can. Knowing their fans will ultimately figure it out, it's a game of musical trivial pursuit, another way to have some good clean fun between shows.

Another piece to the puzzle is WSP's commitment to Capricorn for one more album, which will be recorded later this year and released sometime in 1999. "After that," says Ortiz, "we'll see what's out there. We're constantly working on new material, so we're excited about all the possibilities, but right now we're just psyched to get on the road."

With over 200 songs in their active repertoire, WSP can take the long, scenic route, certain that their faithful will follow and recently converted will turn out for the shows in their hometowns. "Every time we get out to the West Coast itís a thrill for us. We love coming to Vegas. It means a whole lot to us to see new faces, but it means that much more to see those same faces again when we come back to town."

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