Widespread Panic hits Colorado for their acoustic wood tour
:: Widespread Panic ::
:: Fillmore Auditorium :: February 10 - 12 ::
By Hap Fry
For all intents and purposes, Widespread Panic’s legendary Sit & Ski Tour — which took place 16 years ago and was comprised mostly of stops through various Colorado mountain towns — originally was supposed to be completely acoustic.
That was the plan, at least until Panic’s late-great lead guitarist Michael Houser figuratively pulled the plug on the acoustic setup during the tour’s infancy, according to bass player Dave Schools in between sips of a triple latte while listening to the soothing sounds of Primus at his favorite Sonoma County café on an early-January day.
“We started off with the idea of being totally acoustic, and that fell by the wayside after exactly one set at the Fox Theatre when Mike Houser said he didn’t want to play acoustic,” Schools said while chuckling during a recent phone interview with The Marquee. “So, he started playing his electric at low volume and, bit by bit, as the tour wore on — we were just like, ‘Acoustic, my ass.’ We were just playing regular rock and roll shows, but still with the idea that anything goes.”
This time around, with Panic heading into its 26th year, Schools said things will play out differently, but with the promise that the band will still apply an anything-goes policy that’s kept fans wanting more for a quarter century.
Widespread Panic will wrap up its much-celebrated 25th year anniversary shows and play its final shows of 2012 with a pair of three-night runs at the Denver Fillmore (Feb. 10-12) and the Belly Up Aspen (Feb. 17-19) this month. The six shows are part of the well-publicized Wood Tour that kicked off in January with two shows in Washington D.C. and was followed by three more gigs in Atlanta.
“What I’m looking forward to this time is the fact that it is going to be purely acoustic,” Schools said. “There’s no going back. There’s not going to be any speakers on stage. You know, JoJo’s playing a piano and Jimmy’s going to have a brand new acoustic guitar custom fit to his own specifications. It’s going to be for real.”
Schools said he’d also fool around a little with a mariachi bass, but that the band will incorporate plenty of new bells and whistles that one might expect with such a unique and intimate tour.
“Nothing’s out of the picture,” School said. “We’ve worked on some different arrangements with some of the more classic material. We’ve written some songs, and we’ve added some surprising covers to the mix – none of which I’m going to mention specifically.”
But after being pushed a little further about that material, Schools offered this: “As far as new material goes, we’ll see what happens with all these songs. I fully expect a lot of it to be realized and possibly worked into these setlists. That’s a really big step for us, and if we can make it happen then we’re well on our way. We just like experimenting with other things, and we’d be fools not to.”
Really, as Schools said, the acoustic setup may be the best arrangement to suit the band’s creative urges — creative urges that date back to their band house off King Avenue in Athens, Ga. that they shared in the late eighties and early nineties, and where they wrote the albums Space Wrangler and Widespread Panic (aka Mom’s Kitchen).
“This tour was a real good idea,” Schools said. “The more thought we put into it, the more we realized it was capable of performing several functions. One, it’s going to give people something totally different, and that’s first and foremost. Secondly, I won’t say it’s an excuse because that’s not the right kind of word, but it’s a really good opportunity to reboot material and scale it down to its essence — just see what we can come up with. As far as old material goes, I think anything’s in play. It’s going to give us a chance to outfit a new suit, so to speak.
“The other thing we realized, and probably the most important thing, was writing new material within a particular paradigm. We can sort of shake off the restraints — take away all the things like volume, distortion, electronics, processing — and take things back to their simplest, most pure essence and start there and see what happens.
“You know, we used to write that way. We used to sit around the front porch in Athens at our house on King with our acoustic guitars and watch people walk by and watch the cat try and dodge the catbirds. Some of the songs, well like ‘Porch Song,’ were written acoustically in the simplest [setting]or late at night when we couldn’t plug in because of the noise and the fact that the city councilman lived next door to us,” said Schools.
Panic most certainly won’t have to worry about any city councilman “pulling the plug” on them when they take the stage at the Fillmore. But rest assured, noise is a big concern of Schools and his five other bandmates this tour. “Really, to me, the biggest challenge is, are people going to be quiet and let us play quietly,” Schools said. “You know, they’re used to hearing us in arenas, and they’re used to feeling a lot of air moving through the speakers — maybe being in the back at the bar jibber-jawing. That’s going to be a challenge at a venue the size of the Fillmore — to actually get 3,000 people to focus and listen to us quietly.
“My hope is the strength of the music and the fact that it’s kind of the last chance to see us for a while will have an effect. We don’t mind if people sing along, but you don’t want to feel like people are talking over you because it’s quiet,” he said.
Those fortunate enough to attend any of the sold-out shows should want to tune in because, as mentioned above, these will be the final shows Panic performs as a group in 2012. Fans still concerned that the group may take a longer-than-expected hiatus should rest easy. Schools said he expects the band back on stage in 2013 and beyond.
“Oh, absolutely,” he said. “This [break]is something that we simply need to do — just take a little rest and just reboot ourselves. I’m sure plans are already in play in various circles to get us back out on the road. It was a pretty long year for us. We did a lot more little runs that satisfied a lot of [people]. It’s just time for a little break for everybody. I mean, there are some people with kids who might want to see them grow up a little bit.”
Arguably, no state has witnessed Panic grow up more significantly than Colorado. From their early gigs in Telluride to their sold-out shows at Red Rocks to their New Year’s Eve celebrations in Denver, Panic has evolved into a Colorado institution. And, as Schools reminisced, at the forefront of the institution was the Sit & Ski Tour, which ultimately helped pave the way for the Wood Tour.
“I’m pretty sure the idea of an acoustic tour was born from that — just reminiscing about the Sit & Ski Tour that we did in Colorado back in , so that’s been a byproduct,” Schools said. “I think Sit & Ski became legendary because of just the freedom it inspired in us. You know, starting off to do something different is one thing, but letting it lead you where it may is another thing. We started off with the intent that it would be strictly acoustic, and it ended up blending into one of our most creative periods.”
:: Widespread Panic ::
:: Fillmore Auditorium :: February 10 – 12 ::
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