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Though he was born over 100 years ago, this musical icon still inspires modern musicians and fans today. JoJo Hermann, keyboardist for Widespread Panic, told me this morning that "Fess' music is my life, pretty much. Everything I play, think, and do each day is related in some way to the music and lyrics from his records." And if that isn't the definition of a legacy, I don't know what is.

Professor Longhair, born Henry Roeland Byrd on December 19, 1918, in Bogalusa, Louisiana, was a legendary pianist and singer known for his boogie-woogie and blues style. He was a major influence on the music of New Orleans, particularly R&B, rock & roll, and later, funk.

As a child, Professor Longhair was fascinated by the piano and began playing at an early age. His unique piano-playing style was born by learning to play on a piano that was actually missing some of its keys. By the 1940s, he had honed his skills and was performing in local clubs and bars in New Orleans. It was during this time that he began to develop his signature style, a blend of blues, boogie-woogie, and R&B. He was known for his fast, rolling keyboard playing and his distinctive, gravelly voice. Though he would ultimately be known just as "Fess", Byrd was given his stage name of "Professor Longhair" in the 40s by Mike Tessitore, owner of the Caldonia Club.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Professor Longhair recorded several notable songs, including "Mardi Gras in New Orleans", "Big Chief", and "Tipitina." These songs became staples of the New Orleans music scene and helped establish Professor Longhair as one of the most important figures in the city's musical history. Despite his popularity, he only achieved commercial success with "Bald Head", and he struggled with financial and personal issues throughout his career.

He left music entirely in 1964 and began to work odd jobs and gamble for his income.  In the 1970s, a pure stroke of luck brought Fess back to the entertainment world as an industry professional recognized him while Professor Longhair was loading boxes in the gentleman's car, just doing his duties at the music store in which he worked. Fortunately, Fess' music was brought back onto the world stage after this run-in. Professor Longhair's music then began to gain a wider audience, as musicians and fans around the world discovered the rich, soulful sound of New Orleans R&B and funk.

Professor Longhair died on this day, January 30, 1980, in New Orleans, but his music lives on as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of the city. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and today, his music continues to be celebrated and influences musicians in a variety of genres. Whether you're a fan of blues, R&B, rock & roll, or funk, it's impossible not to be inspired by the talent and passion of Professor Longhair. His music is a reminder of the timeless power of great musicianship and the importance of preserving our musical heritage. If you're looking for a taste of the true soul of New Orleans, look no further than the music of Professor Longhair.



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December 10, 2022

It wasn't a two-night Christmas Jam like back in 2018 or other years past. It didn't blizzard like a snow globe as we all walked out like in it did in 2017. But when Warren Haynes Presents the 31st Annual Christmas Jam came to Harrah's Cherokee Center in Asheville, NC, on December 10, everyone involved came to seriously  get down. The setlists and the sit-ins were epic stuff that we'll all be talking about for years to come, as jam band fans do. The Jam and all of its pre-event activities had visitors frequenting spots all over town. Whether they were taking in a show at venues like the Orange Peel or checking out the merchandise at Records in the RAD, fans brought holiday cheer and much-appreciated sales to Buncombe County.  


The warm sounds of Scott Metzger, Katie Jacoby, and Simon Kafka opened the show with an acoustic set around 7pm. As concertgoers milled around and stretched their legs, Dinosaur Jr. played a raucous set that reminded the eager crowd they can still rock the energy of the very best alternative rock. Mike "MC" Taylor ("the scaled down version of Hiss Golden Messenger") is from Durham, like me, and treated us to a melodious set including the beautiful "Biloxi". Many of the folks wearing hunting-branded trucker hats around me were clearly there to see the next act, The Brothers Osborne. Their rich, thick version of country has earned a loyal following that only grew during the Jam. I especially enjoyed their version of "Whiskey River" at the end of their set.  


Once again, the acoustic trio of Metzger, Jacoby, & Kafka kept the crowd in harmony right before Gov't Mule took the stage. Their distinct sound is as strong as ever and re-established them as the ultimate southern rock jam band. The Mule set featured multiple sit-ins, including Audley Freed, Rob Barraco, Mike Barnes, George Porter, Jr, Jeff Sipe, and an UNBELIEVABLE "Blue Sky" with John Osborne. That left everyone in a high mood and pumped to see Tyler Childers, who's returned on the scene recently to great acclaim. Tyler presented piercing covers of the greats such as Charley Crockett, Kenny Rogers, and he even covered Charlie Daniels' "Trudy" while Warren Haynes accompanied him on stage. Next, the smooth sounds of Tyler Ramsey (formerly of alternative rock band "Band of Horses") soothed us while waiting for Phil Lesh & Friends to take the stage. The bright light that is Phil blew way past the original end time and he jammed until well after 2am. His set included covers of Wilson Pickett, the Beatles, and Miles Davis, but was mostly comprised of Dead tunes. The collaborating in Phil's set involved Warren Haynes and John Scofield. As I predicted earlier in the evening, Phil closed the night with his classic "Box of Rain".  


Now that we're adults, we don't have long or impressive wish lists for the holidays. Most of us would just like to get a good night's rest and see a familiar face every now and then. But if we DID make up a wish list, it would look much like Saturday's extensive setlist. And for that, we can all thank the artists of the Christmas Jam, the tireless weekend crew, and most especially we can thank Warren Haynes, the hardest workin' man in the jam band business.  

Xmas Jam '22


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October 31, 2022

This past weekend saw a Frodo Baggins version of Billy Strings and his merry band usher in Halloween with a "Lord of the Rings"-themed weekend titled "Away from the Shire" at Harrah's Cherokee Center in Asheville, NC. Billy was joined by Royal Masat on standup bass as Gandalf, Rushad Eggleston on cello as Gollum, Ahn Phung on flute as Eowyn, Billy Failing on banjo as Aragorn, Alex Hargreaves on fiddle as Legolas, and Jarrod Walker on mandolin as Samwise Gamgee. The commitment to their level of detail in their setlists and their costumes was as epic as the Tolkien tale itself. Each night followed the tale of one of the trilogy's three books: "Fellowship of the Ring", "The Two Towers", and "The Return of the King".  

The first night was "Fellowship of the Ring" night and it kicked off with 'Concerning Hobbits' from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy movie soundtrack. Next was 'The Old Home Place', a Dillards' cover that was reminiscent of the start of the stories and the Shire. This Shire theme was also felt in the next song, 'Home', Strings original. For Bilbo Baggins' 111th birthday, the band then launched into 'Happy Birthday to You', followed by 'Flaming Red Hair' from the soundtrack and then the original, 'Secrets', perhaps because Frodo's journey is supposed to be secret. We then heard 'A Walking Song', which was actually a poem in The Lord of the Rings with the title "Three is Company". Though the film trilogy does not feature the poem, it does feature parts of it. The title of the weekend was taken from an altered version of the next song, 'Away From the Mire'. The traveling theme was further carried through with 'Travelin' Down this Lonesome Road', a Bill Monroe number. The next original song was 'Hide and Seek', which may have been a reference to the ever-hidden Gollum.  


Set two led with the weekend original, 'Gollum's Nasty Nasty', and featured Rushad Eggleston on cello solo. Rushad perhaps got "into" his costume more than any other band member of the weekend, which is saying a lot. The crowd was then overjoyed with 'Midnight Rider' from The Allman Brothers Band, and it was reminiscent of Strider the Rider (a.k.a. Aragorn) who comes to the Hobbits' assistance, as was the following 'Wild Horses' by the Rolling Stones. The emotion of the Hobbits looking back at their simple lives with fondness was reflected in Strings' 'Heartbeat of America'. We then moved into the watchtower of Tolkien's Weathertop with Bob Dylan's 'All Along the Watchtower' in a seething and fiery version worthy of the Ring. Another clever lyric alteration then appeared in the form of the traditional 'Poor Ellen Smith' being changed to 'Poor Frodo Baggins'. Again, thinking of their simple Hobbit lives up North with fondness, we are presented with 'Whispers of the North' from Gordon Lightfoot and Strings' 'Love and Regret'. As the story's action moves through the icy pass of Caradhras, we hear Billy Failing on lead vocals during 'High on a Mountain' from Hot Rize and the original 'Ice Bridges'. A super interesting reference is seen in 'Dark as a Dungeon', originally by Merle Travis which says of coal mining: "It'll form as a habit and seep in your soul. Till the stream of your blood runs as black as the coal." This is eerily like when the Black Riders stab Frodo with a blade whose shards would work their darkness through a victim's system to their heart. When Frodo was temporarily enchanted by the ring is portrayed by Johnny Cash's 'Ring of Fire' with Royal Masat on lead vocals. Just as Frodo slept for almost 3 weeks after getting stabbed, we move into the dark with Bill Monroe's 'In the Pines'. Frodo discovers that Bilbo, now grown very old, lives with the elves on the riverfront and has retired from adventuring. This is mirrored in the original 'Meet Me at the Creek'. 


"The Fellowship of the Ring" ends with the actual formation of the fellowship, so the encore and the Saturday show end fittingly consisted a beautiful version of 'Will the Circle be Unbroken?' from William MacEwan. 


Sunday night would be the "Two Towers" show, featuring Jon Stickley of the Jon Stickley Trio, and it began with the soundtrack's 'The Prophecy' and then moved into the original 'Watch it Fall' in a moving tribute to the great loss of Boromir's death at the beginning of this book. As Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli chase the orcs across the fields of Rohan they begin to lose hope. Strings' 'Long Forgotten Dream' asks if one would look for meaning and find that motivation when needed. After three days of running with little rest, they meet a troop who lend them horses to continue the pursuit but offer little hope. This relentless run from evil is reminiscent of the next original song, 'Running' and Strings' instrumental 'Running the Route'. While our fearless heroes have little hope that the hobbits are still alive, the original, 'This Old World' reminds us that "It goes from bad to worse sometimes, before it can get better." Just as in Gordon Lightfoot's 'Home from the Forest' when "For his castle was a hallway, And the bottle was his friend. And the old man stumbled in, From the forest" we see that the Ents (literally a forest of tree beings) have destroyed Isengard, and the evil old man, Saruman hides in his tower. The Black Mountain of Isengard is then seen in the traditional 'Black Mountain Rag'. The view of the Ents is portrayed in Pearl Jam's 'In My Tree'. The dismal vibe of the Dead Marshes is ironically translated into the lively instrumental, 'Down in the Swamp' of Bela Fleck fame. The next lyric alteration was that of the original 'Show Me the Door' into 'Show Me Mordor'. Gandalf's confrontation with the Balrog/death is interpreted by Doc Watson's 'You Must Come in at the Door'. When Eowyn falls in love with Aragorn, but he does not return her feelings because he is betrothed to Arwen, one can picture his loneliness in the face of chivalry in 'Tennessee Stud' by Jimmy Driftwood. 


The second set kicked off with the traditional 'Rabbit in a Log' and its lines "How will I get him I know (I know) I'll get me a briar and I'll twist it in his hair. That's how I'll get him I know" can be seen as when Gandalf reveals Wormtongue's treachery. I was thoroughly confused by 'I Peed on a Bird' from the cello genius, Rushad Eggleston, until I learned that a 'peeing Gollum' was somehow photographed in Beijing mountains in 2014 and achieved viral fame. I'm guessing this inspired the weekend's original tune about Gollum relieving himself in nature. The tune was hilarious in person, regardless. Just as Gandalf miraculously re-appears in the "Two Towers", re-branded as Gandalf the White, Royal Masat appeared in a white Gandalf costume and a chrome standup bass that was truly a thing to behold. This appearance amidst a cloud of dry ice smoke went into 'Nights in White Satin' from the Moody Blues. In our story, as Faramir advises the travelers against the path they have chosen, the show transitions into 'So Many Miles' by Billy Failing. Wormtongue, possibly trying to hit Saruman, throws a crystal ball out the window. Later, Pippin cannot resist and he sneaks a look into the ball and beholds Sauron. As Widespread Panic reminds us in 'Fishing', "Narcissus is just too easy to see." Next, The Dillards are covered in 'There is a Time' as the hobbits discover a surprisingly pleasant countryside and pause for a stewed dinner. In John Hartford's 'All Fall Down', the hobbits find themselves in the middle of a battle between an army journeying to Mordor and a company of Gondorian men and the hobbits are captured. There is a retreat into the Glittering Caves, and this is reflected in the traditional 'Bonaparte's Retreat'. The Battle of Hornburg is seen in the original, 'Wargasm'. Galadriel's phial is a manifestation of hope and light as is the river in Johnny Cash's 'Big River' and again in the light of the original 'In the Morning Light'. Sam's despair at losing Frodo to Shelob is beautifully depicted in Strings' 'Taking Water'. The weary lone traveler, such as Sam, who's now taking on the journey on his own, is painted in 'Freeborn Man' from Keith Allison.  


The third night was Monday night, a.k.a. Halloween, a.k.a. "The Return of the King", a.k.a. the night that Duane Trucks of Widespread Panic's percussion section stepped in. We started off with another amazing cello solo in the middle of Rushad Eggleston's 'Smeagol's Story'. Rock's original LOTR song (Led Zeppelin's 'Ramble On') was then translated by Billy on a Les Paul. If you know anything about Jimmy Page and Led Zeppelin, then you knew this song was bound to come up. As Gandalf and Pippin ride through the night, pausing only briefly to rest, we hear the original, 'Highway Hypnosis'. We can envision Gandalf and Denethor exchanging words and see Gandalf going to gather news and take part in councils of war during Black Sabbath's 'The Wizard'. The band sang Crystal Gayle's 'Ready for the Times to Get Better' in a moment of dying hope but Aragorn and his men come to shore and soon win the battle. The Hobbits are almost "next to" the fire of Mount Doom while Sauron is focused his "new fool", fighting Aragon and the armies of the West at the Black Gate to the tune of Jimi Hendrix's 'Fire', "You don't care for me, I don't-a care about that. You got a new fool, ha! I like to laugh at. I have only one a-burnin' desire, Let me stand next to your fire." 'Walk on Boy' by Doc Watson translates to Frodo and Sam beginning the final stage of the journey across Mordor. They move slowly and struggle and finally reach Mount Doom. Pippin finds Gandalf, who saves Faramir, but cannot save Faramir's father. The loss of a parent is poignantly echoed in Marty Robbins' 'When It's Lamplighting Time in the Valley'. Aragorn leads his armies to the Black Gate. An immense army strikes, and Aragorn's armies are gradually exhausted. "We're not the leaders anymore. All our believers washed ashore. We've got to find another door. We're not the leaders anymore" quotes Strings' 'Leaders'. When the time comes to sacrifice the Ring, Frodo cannot do it. Instead, he declares it for his own and puts it on. He has to live with the knowledge of that guilt and the shame is reflected first in Yonder Mountain String Band's 'Sorrow is a Highway' and in Widespread Panic's 'All Time Low'.  


Set two began with Bill Monroe's 'Mother's Not Dead, She's Only Sleeping', except that it was changed to 'Frodo's Not Dead'. This may be a reference to when Sam learns from the Orcs' conversation that Frodo is only unconscious, not dead. Frodo's shame and regret of what he could not do haunts him in his later years and that is depicted in the original 'Know it All'. We next see this theme in the original 'Hellbender'. In addition to his regret, Frodo is saddened to return home with Sam to the Shire to find the country not the peaceful land they remember. "Well the folks around here don't get along anymore. Everybody's dealing despair" says Strings' 'Dealing Despair'. The traditional instrumental 'Soldiers Joy' befits the revolt that Merry, Pippin, and Sam led to reclaim the Shire. Another Zeppelin song that has long been associated with the Lord of the Rings is 'The Battle of Evermore' which possibly sees Galadriel as Queen of Light and the "Prince of Peace" as Aragorn. The song's most obvious link to Tolkien is the line: "The Ringwraiths ride in black". Sadly, the hobbits learn that the cause of this devastation is Saruman. Now released, the former wizard has taken his revenge by bringing the war to the hobbits, as heard in Black Sabbath's 'War Pigs', "Generals gathered in their masses. Just like witches at black masses. Evil minds that plot destruction. Sorcerer of death's construction." Joining Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, and Bilbo, Frodo sails to the Undying Lands (which only immortals and ring bearers can do so Frodo and Bilbo are among the very few mortal beings allowed passage to the Undying Lands). This is represented by 'Fearless' by Pink Floyd. Frodo has saved the Shire for others, but he is sadly unable to stay there himself and still has to keep running, as seen in the originals 'Fire Line' and 'The Fire on My Tongue'. Since the only love that Frodo found was his love of the ring, it was fitting to hear Mother Love Bone's line from 'Crown of Thorns', "And this is my kinda love. It's the kind that moves on. It's the kind that, it's the kind that, it leaves me alone, yeah. Like a crown of thorns." Frodo will be perpetually on a journey to whatever feels like "home" or his calling as described in the traditional 'Long Journey Home'.  


Like bookends, night three ends as the weekend began, with the soundtrack's 'Concerning Hobbits' (featuring Billy on guitar synth) and 'A Walking Song', the Tolkien poem in The Lord of the Rings.  


Just as Tolkien was applauded not JUST for the mind-blowing level of detail that he put into his works but also for his amazing skill in writing what continues to enthrall us, I cannot attest enough to the heat that the band put on these works. "Lord of the Rings" can be polarizing in its popularity, but I cannot imagine a fanbase that would not appreciate the epic odyssey that I got to behold this weekend.

Billy Strings AVL '22

Chewin’ the Fat With My Do-Bro, Anders Beck


August 30, 2022

At Red Hat Amphitheatre in Raleigh on Saturday, August 20th, we were treated to the fabulous Greensky Bluegrass while they were touring with The Wood Brothers on their #WoodSky tour. In the days after, I was able to interview the dobro dynamo of Greensky, Anders Beck. We talked about the Raleigh show, their newest album, songwriting, and life. I truly enjoyed getting to know Anders and the time flew by. Keep reading to learn more about their recent local performance and about this kickass individual.

QRO: I just got to see y’all in Raleigh with our beloved Wood Brothers. Hah, I say “our” like they belong to us.


Anders Beck: Oh, they belong to us now. We love those guys.


QRO: Fair enough. You’re a family now and you’ll have that “blood harmony” phenom happening. Anywhere you like to eat when you’re touring in North Carolina?


AB: These days we really only get to eat what’s brought in because there’s just no time to go out, especially now that we’ve been on break for the pandemic for three years. We really need to rehearse all the time. And of course, each night I’m famous within a square mile of where we’re playing, so that can get weird. [laughs] I can still walk around an airport, I’m not that famous yet. Just good enough for my stupid ego. Hah.


QRO: Have y’all figured out how to have a Red Hat Amphitheatre shimmer wall installed in your yards yet? (GSBG recently started their Raleigh set by showing appreciation for the shimmer wall facing Red Hat.)


AB: Not yet, but who knows?


QRO: I love that y’all once covered Marcus Mumford’s version of Bob Dylan’s “When I Get My Hands On You”. Did you watch “The New Basement Tapes”?


AB: Watched some of it. Albums and movies are weird sometimes when they show “behind the curtain”. I don’t always like watching that.


QRO: My day job is in environmental and social sustainability, and I believe you have a degree in environmental economics and political science, which is super interesting. Does that education change the way you view the country as you tour around?


AB: Not particularly. It feels like eons ago, but I did gain critical thinking skills from education. The reason I put poli sci and economics in my environmental degree was because I felt that there’s scientists doing the work but they can’t advocate. Their job is to be neutral and just put forth the data. So, I was trying to connect the dots of politics and economics with science, and sometimes it’s politics and economics that shuts down the science. But yeah, I think critical thinking is mostly what I got from my education.

QRO: Is there anything especially fantastic that the fans do that really strums your strings?


AB: I love the little things that fans do, like jump with us in this moment during the melody of “Demons”. You can see who’s an inside fan during the jump. In “Fixin’ to Ruin” there’s this line that Paul wrote that goes, “This is the line I forget. Shit.” Our fans share that inside joke. When we first played with Sam Bush, I elbowed him and said, “Watch this…”. The lights came on and the crowd said the “Shit.” and he just doubled over. It’s almost more hilarious seeing the fans who aren’t in on the joke because they’re so caught off guard. Also, Our fans make cool stickers of their milestones, like their 100th show. I’ll slap those kind of stickers on my case. So cool that people come to see us that much. Being able to look out each night and know that front row crew sets me at ease. Friendly faces.


QRO: What’s the difference between Colorado bluegrass or Michigan bluegrass & North Carolina bluegrass?


AB: North Carolina is better. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what’s in the water down there.


QRO: Cheerwine.


AB: Mmmm. That explains it. People always say “Bluegrass from Michigan? What the hell?” but they forget or don’t know that the old Gibson factory was in Kalamazoo. All the instruments that Earl Scruggs played came from there and there’s a lot of ties to this scene. There’s traditional bluegrass and I love that stuff. Important that I studied that music, but I’ve got a lot of other influences. I love bluegrass but I also love the Grateful Dead and all these things create my music and my background. For a long time, we felt weird having “bluegrass” in our name, like people would say “that ain’t bluegrass”. But it’s a continuation of it. We’re all taking a very strict genre and kind of evolving it which is what I enjoy. The folks at the IBMAs (the International Bluegrass Music Awards held in North Carolina) take all of this very seriously and I love that, too. My favorite guitarists were always from North Carolina.

QRO: Speaking of North Carolina artists, my dad actually interviewed Doc Watson in the ‘70s. Did you ever meet Doc or share the stage with him?

AB: I got to say “hello” to Doc once at a festival and I saw him play, but we never had a big connection beyond loving his music. I love talking to the “older guys” who knew the “much older guys” on the scene. We were the underdogs and the younger brothers for so long and now here we’re the older brothers. We were always the younger brothers, and it just sneaks up on you. But it’s fun now to watch folks like Billy Strings take off. We met him when his hair was high and tight, and he wore a suit! We’d joke “We’ll open for YOU” one day and now it’s just amazing to get a window into that evolution. When we first knew Billy, he said “I wanna jam like you guys. How do I do that?” I told him “Just stop stopping.”


QRO: “Just stop stopping” is such perfect advice for this scene, both literally and metaphorically. I feel so lucky to watch these young artists like Billy, Taz Niederauer, and Marcus King come up on the scene. Marcus is another North Carolina guitarist, like Michael Houser and Jimmy Herring.


AB: God, I love Jimmy Herring.


QRO: I’m a big fan of Widespread Panic and Herring. The Panic fan base, while being good people, kind of pride ourselves on being a rough and rowdy crowd. The Greensky fan base seems to have a completely different tone and it seems like such a family.


AB: Our fan base is awesome because, like a lot of great fan bases, it was built from the ground up. I feel strongly that the way we’ve grown is one person at a time. Not long ago, we were still playing smaller venues in some tough conditions, and we’d still manage to pull off some killer shows, sometimes. So, someone would bring a friend to the show who hadn’t seen us before and then they’d become a fan. That’s the key to our success and to having such a loyal and awesome fan base. ​Also, we’re not so removed from it all because a lot of these people are our friends. I wanna know these people, though it’s certainly grown harder to get to know everyone as we’ve gotten bigger. We also had interesting timing of the internet and our fan group growing at the same time. People connect with each other over our band. With bands who were already as big as Panic when these internet fan groups got to be a thing, there was almost too much of a collision course because these huge groups of people were coming together over something they already felt strongly about. I always try to give a heartfelt thanks at the end of each show and spread my appreciation for our fans. I mean it from the bottom of my heart each time, and I don’t know if it sounds canned. But it’s not.

QRO: I’m used to bands, like the Dead, who have very established writers or writing pairs. Like, Weir wrote with Barlow, Garcia wrote with Hunter. But y’all seem to consistently mix it up. Other than the obvious, like the chance to write with someone like Benny Galloway, what inspires your songwriting pairings among the members of the band or the other musicians with whom y’all write?

AB: Motivation for pairings is all across the board. I wrote “Monument” with Chris Gelbuda, a great Nashville songwriter. I really needed help finishing it and he’s great at that. He can help me finish something and we’re good enough friends that we can tell each other if something’s just stupid. But I guess friendship equals honesty. I find that cowriting can be a little weird if there’s weird ego or respect issues where you can’t tell someone when you really like something and feel strongly about it. That can dumb down an idea if you don’t fight for that idea. In Greensky, someone will bring lyrics and melody to the table, and everyone is open to criticism and we try to approach it as a group, but of course, in the writer’s head, the song is already written. On this new album, “Stress Dreams”, Paul and Dave are singing what Mike and I wrote on some songs and that’s interesting because the majority of people will think they wrote what they’re singing.


QRO: Well, I’m glad to see you’ve returned to writing on this album.


AB: I’m trying to write more, and it’s been fun. I’ve been surrounded by my favorite writers most of my life so presenting your own song ideas to them is like “Ok, Shakespeare, what do you think of this?” No pressure, or anything. But you have to have confidence in your work and not suffer the imposter syndrome. There’s a book called the “Artist’s Way” that’s interesting. It helps people find that voice as an artist and feel confident in their work. I recommended it to any artist.


QRO: What prompted the Raleigh encore setlist of 1965-1970 songs with Wood Brothers?


AB: I actually write a lot of the setlists, and I do put a lot of thought into them, and I think they’re interesting to consider. But in this case, it was just fun to reach out in cover land. That’s our cannon of songs. Easy and fun to play.


QRO: And they’re songs you know the audience will love.


AB: Oh, we don’t care, we’re just playing for our enjoyment. [laughs] Just kidding.


Honoring the Old and the New with Greensky Bluegrass


At Red Hat Amphitheater in Raleigh, NC, on Saturday, August 20th, we were treated to the fabulous Greensky Bluegrass while they were touring with The Wood Brothers on their #woodsky tour. The evening was a celebration of both the tried & true and the brand spankin’ new. In addition to reinterpreting rock and blues superstars of years past, Saturday’s songwriting credits and covers also showcased modern mavericks (like Cris Jacobs, Ryan Adams, Chris Gelbuda, and Benny “Burle” Galloway) and songs from this year’s new album, Stress Dreams.


After an amazing first set by the always groovy Wood Brothers, GSBG kicked off the second set with appreciation for the shimmer wall facing Red Hat and then the song, “Past My Prime”, of which Greensky author Paul Hoffman has said, “Was one of the most fun tunes to record because there was this energy we had, it being new and totally unlearned to everybody – even me, because I was rearranging it.” That energy opened their set with a bang and the band never looked back. They next “dug” into “Bone Digger” by the super talented singer-songwriter, Cris Jacobs. In the next number, the songwriting in Hoffman’s “Tuesday Letter” revisited the idea of the new versus the old and looking at the past in the line, “I forget all that I keep to save from losing / And I remember all I loved but lost.” We then touched on this idea again in “Fixin’ to Ruin”, as they so eloquently sang a line I can really relate to as I’ve rounded the bend of my mid-40’s, “Well I’ve learned to speak at the risk of being all wrong / But this is the line that I forget, Shit.” Right around the time that a passing train had me hollering, “Play a train song!” (shoutout to Townes van Zandt), Greensky rolled into “Train Junkies”, co-written by their own Anders Beck and bluegrass and songwriting big gun, Benny Galloway. Only a road-hardened touring musician could come up with the wizened perspective of the ageless lines, “I won’t be around forever / But I’m still a firm believer / I got to go and roll on down the track / A million miles behind me / A million more remind me / My better days / One more I’ll understand / If I got to go / I’m going down the track.”


Of course, you’ve got to know your audience and play to their tastes, so the band rolled out Ryan Adams’ “Oh My Sweet Carolina”. This is a song of Adams’ longing to come back to his home in Jacksonville, just 200 miles down the road on your way to Emerald Isle. Another modern songwriter that’s earned GSBG’s respect is Chris Gelbuda, who cowrote the next song, “Monument” with Anders Beck. We again considered the old and aging in “You can build a castle / But it crumbles to a cave / Funny how a monument / Looks just like a grave.” This was the first song of the night to come off 2022’s album, Stress Dreams. We then rolled into a trio of Hoffman songs with “Do It Alone”, “Living Over”, and “Demons”. As the first notes of the Grateful Dead’s “China Cat Sunflower” came wafting out after “Worried About the Weather”, there was no doubt who inspired this crowd and this band. The love poured into the performance of this song and the warm reception it received was truly as cosmic as the song origins. Robert Hunter has said, “I think the germ of ‘China Cat Sunflower’ came in Mexico… I followed this cat out to – I believe it was Neptune – and there were rainbows across Neptune, and cats marching across the rainbow. This cat took me in all these cat places; there’s some essence of that in the song.” Because who doesn’t follow rainbow-marching Mexican cats, amiright? Greensky ended their set with a recent song I truly enjoy, “New and Improved”, written by Mike Devol. “How can I help you see, my newfound maturity, isn’t the same old bullshit, how could it be?” This line from Stress Dreams should be printed on a shirt for me (and a few other people I know…).


After a quick set break, Greensky was joined on stage by the Wood Brothers, “It’s all eight of us! We are WoodSky!”. They launched hard into a four-song encore that celebrated the music of the swingin’ sixties. First up was “Get Out of My Life Woman” from Allen Toussaint in 1965. Then came “One Way Out”, first written and performed by Sonny Boy Williamson in 1962 and later re-popularized by the Allman Brothers in 1971. Next was “Keep on Growing” from Derrick and the Dominos in 1970. Finally, the evening ended with a soulful rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” from 1968. One can only imagine the walk down radio memory lane that inspired this setlist.


Though I walked out of the venue feeling every one of my 40-something years, the energy brought by this show had me feeling like a kid again during the music. Or, at least, feeling like someone who still gets carded when buying a drink. It’s amazing to see that after decades in the business, Greensky Bluegrass is still churning out original albums, lyrics, collaborations, covers, and concerts. Kudos to all five members on a night, and a career, that any performer would be proud of. Old and young.


Greensky Bluegrass Tour Preview

August 20, 2022: Red Hat Amphitheatre, Raleigh NC

When you combine a uniquely modern bluegrass band and a Grammy-nominated American roots band, the combination is more than the sum of its parts. 

Be sure to witness the natural combustion that is the Greensky Bluegrass tour with the Wood Brothers at Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheatre on Saturday, August 20th, at 6:30pm. It’s time to get your body and soul moving again and tickets are still available for the last stop on this collaborative tour. 

Greensky’s latest album, Stress Dreams, has already been a hit with fans this year and is sure to be featured in the sets along with classic favorites from both groups. Y'all need to come out to welcome these folks to the land of Doc Watson properly and I’ll see you at the show.


Greensky Bluegrass summer tour dates:

8/10 @ Freelam Arts Pavilion | Selbyville, DE
8/11 @ Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater | Bridgeport, CT*
8/12 @ The Wolf Trap | Vienna, VA*
8/13 @ Live at the Heights | Seaside Heights, NJ*
8/14 @ Roanoke Island Festival Park | Outer Banks, NC*
8/17 @ Ting Pavilion | Charlottesville, VA*
8/18 @ Salvage Station | Asheville, NC*
8/19 @ The Caves | Pelham, TN*
8/20 @ Red Hat Amphitheater | Raleigh, NC*
8/21 @ QC Jam Session Festivalal | Charlotte, NC
8/28 @ Sacred Rose | Bridgeview, IL
9/10-9/14 @ Moon River Music Festival | Chattanooga, TN
9/15 @ Dillon Amphitheatre | Dillon, CO
9/16-9/17 @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO

* w/ The Wood Brothers

Wilmington '22

Wilmington Widespread: A Celebration of The Ones Who Shaped Us

May 6-8, 2022: Live Oak Bank Pavilion, Wilmington NC


Like all true Southern gentlemen, Widespread Panic takes the time to pay homage to the great influences in their lives. During May 6-8 (Mother’s Day weekend) in Wilmington, NC, Panic created a foot-tapping, heart-warming, gut-wrenching tribute to some of their greatest influences: the literal mothers in our lives, the rough-and-ready character of the “Panic Mama”, and the musical influences in their careers. Most especially highlighted was their friend, mentor, and songwriting influence: the late, great Danny Hutchens. Sunday brought the emotional one-year anniversary of Danny’s passing. I was friends with Danny, and not only did I get to interview him, but we also collaborated on an article about his own late mother and the inspiration she provided for his song “American Country Ghosts” during her struggles with dementia. I consider Danny’s words that he so poignantly shared in that article as much a work of art as the song he composed. I share the same reverence for the musical influences that Widespread Panic works to continually expose us to and remind us of. I truly enjoy weekends like this past one, when I get a refresher of the playlists and pop culture that created their sound.

Panic launched an all-original set one on Friday with “Jack”, which hasn’t opened a show since 9/18/91! Song two, “Goodpeople”, kicked off the “mom” theme of the weekend with “The ones your mama warned you about”. Stay tuned for more of those references. The band then ebbed and flowed through “Pilgrims >”, “You Got Yours”, and “Pickin’ Up the Pieces >” like the Cape Fear River running behind their backs. In honor of Willie Mays’ birthday that day, the band obviously had to cover “One-Arm Steve” (“Well, say hey, Willie Mays, what's in your suitcase full of wonders?”) The return of the mom is seen in “Steven’s Cat >” during “Mama tried to protect my soul yes, she did bit by bit save me from sorrow”. “Bear’s Gone Fishin’ >” then rolled out with its supposedly scandalous song origin in New Orleans, reminding us of the band’s raucous roots, despite their sweet love of their mothers. Speaking of, “Love Tractor” prompts us that “Mom said that I'm alright…” and ended set one. Thanks, Mom.

Set two led with two Bloodkin songs: “Henry Parsons Died >”, into “Sleepy Monkey>”. Remember this lyric - “It' could be a déjà vu, Cognition coming true” for a couple songs, mmm-kay? “Diner >” cites the quintessential idea of a Panic Mama – “She's beautiful - natural.” We peacefully settle into “Cease Fire >” and then are taken into “Jamais Vu >”, which is the opposite of déjà vu. See what they did there? “Bass And Drums >” satisfied a primal urge to just converse with the rhythm, as always. “Tie Your Shoes >” carries the ageless lesson to “Love your girl, you’ve got to love your girl”. Take note, y’all. Perhaps one of the sweetest images of mothers is represented in “Papa’s Home >” with the line “Mom's holding sister in the chair, sharing stories and forgetting time.” The band’s friend and sometime lyricist, Jerry Joseph, is highlighted in “Climb to Safety” to end set two. 

The encore kicks off with the seemingly shelved “Flicker >”, which hasn’t been played since 8/31/18. The hauntingly beautiful “This Part of Town >” took us into “Travelin’ Light” by the formidable J.J. Cale, whose influence on the rock world cannot be overestimated.

Saturday’s set one led with the always poetic “Surprise Valley >” and the geographically appropriate “Mother talkin' the waters; Spirit moves in all things...” Easily one of my favorite musical influences, and perhaps yours, too, is David Byrne. When the band went into Byrne’s “City of Dreams >” before diving back into “Surprise Valley >”, I was as pleased as ever. “Rock” and “Heroes” then took us into “Airplane >” and the trademark oath of love, “Got me a pilot, she's going my way; If she's got wings, if she's got wings.” As they so often do, Panic went from “Airplane >” into “Take-Off Jam >” (teehee). Coming back ‘round to their great influences, we heard “Rebirtha >”, which once debuted as an instrumental in ’93 with "Apologies to George Porter" (of the Rebirth Brass Band). It is our great fortune that Widespread, and JoJo Hermann especially, have such a love of New Orleans music that shows in their work and that we get to boogie to. There was an interesting “Not Fade Away” tease after “Rebirtha” for the 76th birthday of Grateful Dead member, Bill Kreutzmann. Our musical influences then swing over the Atlantic to everyone’s favorite Irish rabble-rouser, Van Morrison, and “Send Your Mind”. Some technical or vocal issues popped up during “Blackout Blues” but the band ended set one strong, nevertheless. 

We crashed into set two of the night like a wave, starting with the Vic Chesnutt pair of “Protein Drink >” and “Sewing Machine”. Even Vic is makin’ Mama references – “Mama makes a dress on the sewing machine…” As is required by a coastal setting like Live Oak Bank Pavilion, they covered “Vacation >” and then “Disco >” and then a freakin’ cross-country roadtrip of a “Drivin’ Song >”. The tune bookended “Ain’t No Use >” (last played 8/31/19 and originated by New Orleans’ The Meters), “Saint Ex >”, J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High >” (with “Sewing Machine” reprise), “Zambi Jam >”, back into “Ride Me High >”, and then back to “Drivin’ Song >”. Whew. It makes me tired just typing that set out because it spun us around and shook us up, for sure. “Space Wrangler” ended set two as sweetly as ever. Skål, as my Norwegian family would say (that’s “skol”, to y’all). 


The encore began with “Sometimes >”, by Ed Crawford of fIREHOSE. This band is of the Camper van Beethoven scene and that in itself just warms my heart, much less the line: “But now April's turning to May.” The closer of “Action Man” brought up an interesting mom reference – “Willie said ‘he was the mostest horse’; Mahubah, Fair Play, desert mama's boy.” I just learned in researching this article that Fair Play was Man o’ War’s mother (dam) and Mahubah was his father (sire). The more you know…

Sunday can be summed up in one word: cold. But we loyal Spreadheads filed into the venue wearing everything from Patagonia to hotel robes to warm up. JB’s greeting of “We can play, we can dance, we can snuggle up" added a lightheartedness to the weather as the sun started to set and the band began to play. “Little Kin” brought the ever-loveable “He's got his mamma's eyes, He's got his daddy's younger hands” in honor of Mother’s Day that day. “Ain’t Life Grand” went into “Greta >” and the always-amazing chorus “Mother Nature's come to arms, She's in a fighting mood. Greta's got a gun, This ain't no flowerchild.” This aptly depicts not only the band’s friend, Greta, but also once again brings up that Panic Mama ideal – a tough hippie that you don’t mess with, despite her sweet exterior. “Radio Child” bounced along into “Aunt Avis >” by the beloved wordsmith, Vic Chesnutt, who is again recalling his mom – “Help me mama, for I have grinned; Save me daddy from where I'm goin'.” Perhaps to remind us not to gripe about the cold so much, we were then served “You Should Be Glad”. “Hatfield >” was a timely choice with the story of how "’Charles always kept in touch’, swears his mother; ‘Always had the touch’". We were then treated to the wise words of New Orleans’ Allen Toussaint’s “On Your Way Down >” (last played 12/31/11). In what JB has jokingly referred to as "A tender little love song” the band busted out Bobby Rush’s “Bowlegged Woman” in the kind of love anthem that Panic couples could most easily identify with. We all love our mamas, but Bridgerton characters we ain’t. 


Set two of Sunday kept everyone warmed up with an "I Trusted You" tease, which has only been played twice before. Riffing on this “song” of Andy Kaufman’s is one of the reasons why this band is so loveable. They aren’t afraid to make a joke or even be the punchline of their own joke. See the Halloween ’19 performance of this song by Schools and the Kaufman video, if you’re unfamiliar with the skit. The set then officially started with David Bromberg’s “Sharon >”. “Bust It Big” brought back the Panic Mama / Panic Daddy down & dirty love vibe with “She's my little salt lickin', agave guzzlin', worm eatin', lime suckin' girl, I love her so.” Next, we cannonballed into “PAYMH/That Thang >” and Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breakin’ Down”. It should go without saying that Robert Johnson is an influence on anyone and everyone who ever played the blues or rock. He, too, was a sucker for a pretty lil’ mama: “Every time I'm walkin', Down the streets. Some pretty mama start breakin', Down with me.” “Sundown Betty” then took us into another couple of New Orleans references in “Gradle >” (“A blind New Orleans painter man, Doesn't get many straight lines”) and “Fishwater >” (“Drink more fishwater there, Than any whale's mama ever seen. " JB has said this is a tune about “just excess and the nature of New Orleans".) For only the second time ever, the band went into “Dear Prudence” by Paul McCartney and John Lennon and ended the set with “Porch Song”. 

To aptly wrap-up the Mother’s Day weekend dedicated to their lost friend, Danny Hutchens, the encore started with Bloodkin’s “Trashy” and a line that summed up Danny, the band, and many of us so well – “Wild eyed love and getting high and trucks and cars and my guitars; That’s my recipe for life so far.” In what could not be a more perfect closer, the band played George Clinton’s “Red Hot Mama”. Did you know that George Clinton is from good old Kannapolis, NC? Thanks for bringing it all back to the Old North State, fellas. 

At the end of the weekend, I was left with a feeling of overwhelming gratitude. I’m grateful that I still am lucky enough to have my mom around, that I’m the mom of two amazing little girls, that I have an extended Panic family who always surprise and delight me on tour, that I have had the chance to see this band for the past 27 years who has introduced me to music and experiences I never would’ve had otherwise, and mostly I’m grateful to have met amazing people like Danny Hutchens. I’m so very grateful to have heard his music, read his words, laughed at his jokes, played with his beloved pets, and just generally know the man. Thank you, Danny, for the mother of all songbooks and the colorful stories that you’ve left behind. You are greatly missed but your legacy lives on in your own children and your musical contribution to the world. 

Thanks to Steven Ziegler, Bennett Schwartz, Curtis George, PanicStream, and Brown Cat for their tapings, resources, and support.

Panic Vegas '22

Peace in the Valley

Widespread Panic at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, March 11-14, 2022














"Let's Get Down to Business"


The name Las Vegas was given to the city in 1829 by Rafael Rivera and literally means “The Meadows”. The artesian wells and grasses found in the area gave much needed relief to weary travelers. Almost 200 years later, the same still holds true for Widespread Panic tour veterans. We gathered for a much-needed weekend full of sentiments of world peace and several new and notable songs. Keep reading and be sure to click on Jeff Fernandez’s photos and the songs’ titles to hear that specific song from this weekend. Song files are found on Relisten and are powered by PanicStream. Thanks, Curtis!


The buy-in for capturing all of Friday’s show was actually getting there on time. The band did not kick off at their usual twenty minutes after the hour but went promptly into “Let’s Get Down to Business”, “Good People”, and then “Worry”. “This Part of Town” then offered the first taste of their seemingly intentional message of love and hope with "Where there is love, there is hope". After “Little Kin” came an “Airplane” that I heard many people call “the prettiest one I’ve heard”. Like a gambler running hot, they cruised into “Take-Off Jam”, “Impossible”, and “Machine”. The first set ended with “Barstools and Dreamers” and its idea that "All the world's dreams have died".


In what could easily be another Vegas theme song (were it not about Savannah), Panic kicked off the second set with “Up All Night” and “Blackout Blues”. The following “Party at Your Mama’s House” debuted 5/7/97, the same day as the “Take-Off Jam” featured in the first set. JoJo’s classic “Tall Boy” sums up southern stereotypes such as our obsession with religion: "We're gonna summon the Holy Ghost from the battlefield". This is basically the song equivalent of Danny McBride’s "Righteous Gemstones" series which is his ode to Southern spirituality and the current favorite tv show for many of us. We were then absolutely blown back by only the 4th ever performance of the instrumental “Halloween Face” which is a new favorite of mine. After “Second Skin”, Leon Russell’s “Stranger in a Strange Land” appeared for the 2nd time ever. Panic then doubled down on another familiar Russell song in “A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall”. The song was written by Bob Dylan, of course, and he was quoted as saying that he wrote "A Hard Rain" in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis (though he actually began writing the song a few months before the crisis). In a time of tension that’s very relatable now, Dylan said "Every line in it is actually the start of a whole new song. But when I wrote it, I thought I wouldn't have enough time alive to write all those songs so I put all I could into this one." The more things change, the more they stay the same. We went back into “Stranger in a Strange Land” and were reminded “Well, I don't exactly know, what’s going on in the world today. Don't know what there is to say, About the way the people are treating each other, not like brothers.” The rare nugget “Four Cornered Room” is not only elusive to many fans, but War is quoted as saying that “through that song, what we’re really trying to say, you can be successful, as long as you do unto each other as you’re supposed to do, be a good neighbor. Get out and do the best you can. Work with each other. Work as a team. That’s what we need in America. We don’t need all these different factions: I’m a Democrat, I’m a Republican, I’m Independent…” There’s some food for thought for you. After that heater, we ended the second set and cooled off with “Chilly Water”, though the water bottles were too expensive for much liquid to be tossed around.


The fellas went for broke in the encore of “Blue Indian” and “Lawyers, Guns, & Money”. We all absolutely roared as they sang Warren Zevon’s line of “How was I to know, she was with the Russians too?” Take that, Putin. (Just kidding. Don’t come for me, please.)














"Good People"


The boys more than “covered the spread” (see what I did there?) with Saturday’s first set which was led by “Greta”, “Bowlegged Woman”, and “Bear's Gone Fishin'”. In “Better Off”, we’re inspired with the timely idea of “Gonna get together gonna write us a book; Call it, 'Stop Running the World'.” They hedged their bets with “Shut Up and Drive” and “Radio Child” before going into a touring theme with “Travelin' Light” and “Travelin' Man” (last played over 2 years ago on 10/25/19). The first set closed with “Waker”, a bet that was formerly “off the line” out of respect for Michael Houser and his namesake son.


It may be an underdog, but Saturday’s second set kicked off with “Thought Sausage”, a favorite of mine. This was followed by Bloodkin’s “Henry Parsons Died” and then a rare “Dark Day Program”. This song hasn’t been played since 2/28/20 and has been played less than 20 times in 14 years. After “Proving Ground” we were given another rarity in Tom Petty’s “Honey Bee”, which has only been played 15 times in 5 years. A “Surprise Valley” > “Drums” > “Surprise Valley” sandwich brought us into Vic Chesnutt’s “Protein Drink > Sewing Machine”. We ended the set with “Papa's Home” and “Mr. Soul”. Whew.


The Saturday encore consisted of “Visiting Day” into Jerry Garcia’s “Cream Puff War” (he loved to point out that he actually wrote this one himself). Stop and take a minute to consider this lyric in the current political situation: "Well, can't you see your killing each other’s soul? Your both out in the streets and you ain’t got no place to go. Your constant battles are getting to be a bore. So go somewhere else and continue your cream puff war."


On Sunday night, Panic parlayed their bets into one face-melting, house-burning throwdown. The first set began with “One Arm Steve”, “Walk On”, “Rebirtha”, and “Postcard” (first played 10/6/1986 – the same day as “Machine” heard on Friday night). Alan Price of The Animals wrote the next song, “Sell Sell”, and it is one of my favorites not only for its message but because it will always remind me of beloved tour veteran Erika “Sell Sell” Selman Patrick. If I had to put the over/under for the next song’s number of times played, it would statistically be high, but for only the 9th time ever, we were offered a version of Bloodkin’s “Trashy”. Cheers to our late, beloved Danny Hutchens. Following “You Got Yours”, Panic went into the first ever solo “Dark Bar”. This is usually played every 2-3 times they play “Goodpeople”, in the middle of the song. However, it was not played at all from 2/1/12 til 6/29/19. Hmm. I would love to hear why. This particular version of the song sang “Had a dream in Vegas, got up and boogied outta bed. Dancin’ with the aliens, just like we were little kids.” I feel ya, JoJo. There were some aliens in our section dancing with us, too. A pretty out-of-this-world “Love Tractor” brought the set to a close.


Sunday’s second set anted up with openers of “Old Neighborhood” and “Jack” (first played 8/4/1988, the same as Friday’s “Impossible”). During “Diner”, we were tickled to get a "Her Dance Needs No Body" JB rap. This was surely a nod to the Dolly Parton stickers I brought to town with that line. Heh. After “Pilgrims” and “You Should Be Glad”, the crowd howled along with JB to Howlin’ Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning”. Next up were some Panic staples: “Contentment Blues”, Jorma Kaukonen’s “Genesis”, and a “Fishwater” > “Drums and Bass” > “Fishwater” sammy.















Though it sometimes seems we take the encore set for granted, Sunday night reminded of us how to close a show like damn rockstars. The timely “Hope in a Hopeless World” from Roebuck 'Pops' Staples (father of Mavis Staples) echoed today’s sentiment of "Searchin' for love in these hateful times". But the closer absolutely blew our minds. For the first time ever, Panic broke out The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” and the crowd went nuts. John Lennon and George Harrison wrote this in an attempt to lure Prudence Farrow (sister of Mia Farrow) out of her obsessive, days’ long seclusion in her tent during their shared studies with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Interestingly enough, the song follows and crossfades in from “Back in the USSR” on the “White Album”. In light of other lyrical references this weekend, I doubt that was a mistake.
















So, how do you sum up such an amazing weekend? I asked some tour “high rollers” and “card sharps” about their thoughts on the Vegas run. Jacob Christiansen said “After hearing the second set on Sunday, they sound like they’re at the top of their game. They sound as good as I have ever heard them.” (Spoiler alert: he’s heard them A LOT.) Chloe Hickman was the first to point out the peace, love, and rainbow-colored-lighting theme of the weekend to me, FYI. Michael Estep spoke for many of us when he said, “The whole feeling/underlying message of songs like ‘YSBG’, ‘Contentment Blues’, ‘Genesis’, etc. is the reminder of why I bother waking up. The boys remind me of that every time I see them, but last night they were really driving it home for all of us. They really give me the ‘Hope in a Hopeless World’ I needed to continue striving forward.” And one of the newer tour figures, Maddi Hodgson, stated so very eloquently “Jimmy be doing a lot.”


Whether you spent the weekend in complete debauchery (some of you may have even gone to The Champagne Room with a 90’s TV icon, though I’m not naming any names), obsessive gambling (note: bet on your birthdate on roulette), or dining on Vegas’ best food (Salt Bae is now my homie, y’all), this weekend provided musical inspiration to make this run a win, across the board. We’ll keep betting the limit and going for bust, on tour and in the world at large, as long as the band keeps doing the same. See y’all on the next run.


All opinions are the author’s as well as any errors. Huge thanks to Ellie at Brown Cat, All Eyes Media, Jeff Fernandez, and Curtis George of PanicStream. See more of Jeff’s amazing photos below (without song hyperlinks).

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Billy Strings GSO.jpg

Photo: Jerry Friend

Billy Strings leaps from Bluegrass to Arena-grass at the Greensboro Coliseum with a record sized indoor show

On Friday, February 11, at the Greensboro Coliseum, we gathered at the Home of the ACC Basketball Tournaments. This Billy Strings show would be like a Tournament of Champions. Imagine a dream team of bluegrass, psychedelic, and metal artists, that come together to form an otherworldly mash-up in the form of one artist.

The first half tipped off with "Dust in a Baggie", a song about methamphetamine use and the cruelly harsh toll it takes. Billy's father died of a heroin overdose and his life has been a battle to win, but Billy's prize is not a college sports title, but the independence away from his upbringing. "Hellbender" was up next, proclaiming "Only one way to do it, just to grin and bear through it; With a chip on my shoulder, I'm another day older; And I swear I could break down and cry". I always really enjoy the following composition by Billy Strings & Paul Hoffman of Greensky Bluegrass: "In the Morning Light". After spending a childhood without a stable birth family, Strings' mother and stepfather turned their lives around about the time he graduated. This song was inspired by finally having that consistent love in his life, and the love of his fiancée. This was a time that he was trying to learn how to let more love in. "I think rock bottom was back there, and now it's morning. It's time for the sun to come up again, and it's time for it to dry the rain." A well-deserved victory after a tough-fought season. Another favorite of mine in the first set was "Samson and Delilah". This Gospel-Blues traditional song was made famous by the Grateful Dead, but Billy has only played it once before (Asheville, 10/31/21). Of course, this is a song about the ultimate battle. "Slow Train" exposes his weariness of the constant fight against that which we call life: "And I'm gettin' tired of goin' down the track; Still honey, I ain't never comin' back".

Like all athletes, us wookies need a halftime. Er, set break. This is a time to catch your breath, drink a Gatorade (or Jim Beam, whatever), plot your next strategy, and reflect on the first half. If you're more motivated or more desperate than me, you can even try to go the restroom. Then you'll really be fighting for your life.

The second half saw "Fire on My Tongue" first off. My middle-aged-self felt the line "And the weariness of we who stay behind" deep in my soul. "Clinch Mountain Backstep" by The Stanley Brothers made another appearance. Billy has been playing this since '18 Delfest, but did you know that The Stanley Brothers' band was the Clinch Mountain Boys from '46 to '66, hence the song title? Billy and his band next treated us to "Must Be Seven" with thought-provoking lines such as "Like there wasn't something wrong; Like he couldn't see the sorrow in the soul". Though not basketball-related, the next song "Pyramid Country" was inspired by Billy's collaboration with the skate brand of the same name. Baller. I'm so pleased they included "Show Me the Door" by the talented mandolin player, Jarrod Walker, & Christian Ward. It speaks of the struggles of love, more than life: "She lit me up like powder, and she scattered me like dust". Like a bunch of co-eds in the background of College GameDay, everyone went wild for "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town", the classic Pearl Jam tune. As Billy has overcome his humble beginnings so triumphantly, I can only imagine how he feels about singing "I changed by not changing at all; Small town predicts my fate". The next Stanley Brothers medley to be featured was "If I Lose": "If I lose a hundred dollars while I'm trying to win a dime, My baby she's got money all the time." Damn fine song and a rockin' cover, for sure. Billy next went into the NC great he'd mentioned at the beginning of the show: Doc Watson. Doc is to bluegrass what Coach K is to college basketball. And then some. Billy and the gang launched into "The Train That Carried My Girl from Town" and then "Black Mountain Rag", another traditional song that was often covered by Doc Watson.

As we all limped into overtime (a.k.a., the encore), Billy rolled out his original song, "Meet Me at the Creek". Like an exhausted player easing into an ice bath, Billy intones, "Well the water keeps a churning while my poor heart is burning; Muddy water take my pain away". May Billy's latest successes and this tour be a balm to ease his travel-weary body and his life-weary heart. The depth and breadth of his life experiences add that unique color to his music, and I hope that playing these tunes provide the therapy for him that they give to us as fans. Only a professional who's played 'em all can play like that. Hang his flannel tie-dye jersey up in the rafters, for he is already in the hall of fame of players in my book.

Billy Strings GSO
billy strings avl.jpg

October 29, 2021

Photo: Jerry Friend

Dark Side of the MF Rainbow: Billy Strings, “The Wizard of Oz”, and Pink Floyd All in One Fantastical Asheville Night

Imagine you're at a family pig pickin', just listening to Grandpa's bluegrass on the radio out back. Then your weird uncle decides to play "Dark Side of the Rainbow" for you in his room because "Man, if you know, you KNOW...". That's what it was like to experience Billy Strings' Halloweekend opener at Asheville's Harrah's Cherokee Center on October 29. The light towers around the perimeter of the band were like a psychedelic picket fence. The background and the band's wardrobe were as gray as granny's wedding photo and an impending storm on the horizon. And what a trippy storm was to come.


Set 1 - I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore...


The first set kicked off with Red Wing, a Kerry Mills cover. This was the first time Billy played this as an instrumental. The lyrics would be a great intro to the Dorothy and Oz theme, though. "A shy little prairie maid, Who sang all day a love song gay, As on the plains she'd while away the day." This tune also included the first "Jessica" tease of the evening. This was in honor of the 50th anniversary of Duane Allman's fatal motorcycle accident (one year and three blocks away from where Berry Oakley would later meet a similar fate). We also heard our first "Over the Rainbow" tease of the night during the opener. They then went into Fire On My Tongue, which included instrumental back-and-forth like two bickering aunts, only instead of two Virginia Slims' stained-voices, it was an eargasm between Strings and Jarrod Walker on mandolin.

Next up was Must Be Seven which carried the "house in a storm" theme with "To build a house the big bad wolf could not blow down". Just like at any family barbecue where there's always a cousin with the game on sneakily, I did note a guy in front of us peeking at a college football game while still head bobbing along to the music. Attaboy. Ready for the Good Times to Get Better, written for Crystal Gayle, continued with "I've had enough of this continual rain". And then! They played their first ever rendition of Judy Garland's Over the Rainbow! This movie score is so beloved that Harry Styles actually covered it the next evening in concert (how's that for broad spectrum?) Billy then segued into a cover of Frank Wakefield's End of the Rainbow followed by the instrumental, Ice Bridges. We got a little treat in the switch-up of the opening line of Everything's the Same with "I'm going to Asheville; I'm going to Maine". The line "I'll burn down your orchard and dance in the flame" is reminiscent of the Wicked Witch throwing the fire ball & cackling at the Scarecrow in the forest. Did this scene keep anyone else up at night in childhood, or was that just me? The inimitable Thirst Mutilator then led into Running the RouteHighway Hypnosis featured another "If I Only Had a Brain" tease and the perfect line, "Gone like the wind". Though there's not much that you'd call "traditional" about Billy and his band, the bluegrass customary lack of percussion allowed for a small intimate space on stage. Like a cozy front parlor, except you're actually allowed to sit on the furniture and "touch the things".

Set 2 - Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!

After a set break breather, Set 2 opened with Black Clouds, a String Cheese cover that notes "Thunder clappin' in the treetops" and came back with another "If I Only Had a Brain" tease. We were then thrilled to hear Thunder, a Robert Hunter cover rewritten by Strings to perform with Billy & The Kids at Bill Kreutzmann's birthday this year. I had been dancing at the rail of the upper level and started heading back up the stairs to our gang. But then suddenly, Ride Me High came on and obviously I ran back down to the rail to boogie some more. This this is, of course, a JJ Cale cover, I am a Widespread Panic fangirl, so it will always be a Panic song to me. (I know...sue me...) The song conjured up images of the little Kansan house riding the wave of the tornado and featured yet another "If I Only Had a Brain" tease. 

A "Feel Like A Stranger" tease was then found in Hide & Seek. This John Perry Barlow tune was a nice complement to the Hunter tune found earlier. Their lyrics form the two halves of the didactic Dead whole, in my humble opinion. If there's any doubt as to how genuinely trippy this young musician is willing to go, just take a listen to the next tune, Spinning. This freaky narration is evocative of Dorothy awaking, dazed upon landing. "So she took me out into the outer edges of a multiverse..." After a quick wardrobe change from gray to color, like when Dorothy enters Oz, the band busted out with Pink Floyd's Brain Damage for their first time ever. The psychedelic picket fence went wild in rainbow tones. Balloons dropped from the ceiling in every color. "And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear; You shout and no one seems to hear" is more fitting a line than it's ever been.

"And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes; I'll see you on the dark side of the moon..." If the tour you're in doesn't start playing different tunes, and doesn't completely blow your mind, you should hop on the Billy Strings tour, instead. No other musician out there today can challenge your ideas of a genre, especially that of bluegrass, like Billy can. To quote the Wizard of Oz himself, "There's only one of him and he's it. He's the Horse of a Different Color, you've heard tell about."

August 6-8, 2021

Photo: Jerry Friend


In every culture, there are leaders, disciples or followers, and fables or parables. Parables are stories to remind the listener of his beliefs. Traditionally, a leader's disciples were chosen because they "had ears to hear" the true life lessons. After decades of following Widespread Panic around the world, it's safe to say that we could be considered disciples of this rowdy gang from Georgia. This past weekend's run at Harrah's Cherokee Center Asheville, NC, could easily be seen as another book of parables. Sent from on "high" to give us a hint of what's important. Aren't we all trying to be better and do better? Who couldn't benefit from a few more life lessons? I certainly could, but y'all know that. Let's dive into this three-chapter tome...


Chapter 1: Friday Night - Once upon a time...

...A band opened with "Let's Get Down to Business" to emphasize that it's time to "tackle this what shackles us, all of this pressing business". We had to face the fact that safety measures were needed to have this weekend and the band did a fan-damn-tastic job of screening for vaccinations and/or negative COVID tests. No system is perfect, but we were blown away at how efficiently they managed to instill this extra measure of health & safety. Kudos. The band also gently told us that "we don't have to do this, we can just walk away from here" in "You Should Be Glad". But they don't walk away. In "Gimme", JB tells you "I'd give you my heart if I could." And doesn't he give us his heart? Aren't they all putting their safety on the line to keep the show going and keep us entertained? Panic Laureate Josh Stack states it so eloquently when he says "They ascend to this new world with grace and style, as always. Doing so in a town like Asheville, known for its bohemian musical depth and passion, allowed them to approach this run with vigor, despite the new atmosphere. They spoke through their setlists with more than just a bevy of songs, but a ferocity to the music that was echoed by the fans." "Good People" lamented "Faster and faster, Fables overturned...Some are weak and wounded, Others sick and sore..." And that's not a Grimm fairy tale. That is our grim reality, unless we come together to keep each other safe. But it's not all dire, folks. We were treated to another magnificent "Dark Bar" during "Good People". Next came "Tail Dragger", which always makes me think of the Link Wray version, not Howlin' Wolf's. That's because Link Wray is a Shawnee Native and North Carolinian, but we'll get to that. After closing the first set with "Love Tractor", set two kicked-off with "Rumble", which is a Link Wray original. This Tarheel's single includes a genre-changing guitar staple riff and is the only instrumental to ever be banned from radio. Now THAT is a power chord. Do yourself a favor and watch the documentary "Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World". A beautiful "Don't Be Denied" was a touching tribute to Mikey Houser's start with the band, "Well, pretty soon I met a friend, he played guitar. We used to sit on the steps at school, and dream of being stars. We started a band...." In fact, Neil Young wrote this song in tribute to longtime music partner, Danny Whitten, who had recently died too early. Widespread Panic, and the Panic community, have lost too many friends in the five years they've been gone from Asheville. Since the last run here in 2016, we've said goodbye to Col. Bruce, Todd Nance, and recently Danny Hutchens. And the lost friends on tour are far too many. On a lighter note, this song is also a snapshot of when Neil Young legitimately sold "eggs & chickens on the side" after his parents' divorce. Eggs & chickens will come up in the evening closer. Panic would also later cover Neil's "Walk On" on the second night. Second set included power jams like "Take-Off" and Pink Floyd's "Run Like Hell". The boys love covering Floyd in Asheville, hmmm? (Oh, take me back to that Floyd's Barber Shop Halloween set...) I found the closer of "Expiration Day" as beautiful as always. However, the line "And I know it'll kill me, breathing all those fumes" has a new meaning in this pandemic world.


Chapter 2: Saturday Night - The Plot Thickens...

"They say it takes hardship, boy, to let you love the rest...". This line from set one opener "Pleas" sums up our feelings about returning to live music. I appreciate it more than ever, no matter what security/testing lines I must go through. When I hear "Blue Indian" and "Oh, how long 'til the medicine takes", I can only think about our vaccinations. And "What doesn't kill you has a momma's way of, helping ya learn" in "Time Zones" seems especially prophetic now as we timidly return to concerts. Nothing was timid about the set closer of "Flat Foot Flewzy", I tell you. The arena positively SHOOK. If you've ever wondered WHY you love that song so much, just know that the legendary Carl Perkins co-wrote it. So it was destined for musical greatness. Set two opened with "Walk On". The entire song seemed a message of moving on, which we all need to do at times, amiright? Then came a "Turn On Your Lovelight" jam that hasn't been busted out since 2016, the same year that Panic last visited Asheville. Hot damn. I wish I would've made a mask/social distancing t-shirt that said, "Oh no, I just need a little room to play" when I heard the "Conrad". Anyone else snicker during "Blight" for "Caught an illness that was literally viral"? What followed was a series of core show staples, including a FIRE "Protein Drink > Sewing Machine". Just when things couldn't get hotter, the encore began with Bloodkin's "Trashy" in honor of late, beloved Danny Hutchens. The first set had already seen his "Makes Sense to Me".  I knew Danny, interviewed him together with Todd Nance and others, and collaborated on an article with him (also featuring Dave Schools). Everyone seems to have so much to say about Danny, now that he's gone. It's hard to tell who knew the real Danny if you just trust what you see online ("Who knows who is both your best friend and brother? When everyone has deserted you...") Some people seem to have sunk to an "all time low". So I spoke to one of the people who knew Danny best and she had this to say:

Okay, first things first. The tribute from Red Rocks was amazing, and it's wonderful to see Panic adding "Trashy" to their repertoire. It makes my heart smile to think so many people have loved it as much as they do.


He said when people would ask him what a song meant, he would say songs are like time travel. They mean different things to different people at different times in their life. It's all about what the listener draws upon. Sometimes he would think one way about something, and years down the road, something would happen, and he goes, "Oh, never mind..." Townes Van Zandt had a quote about it ("I'd like to write some songs that are so good that nobody understands them. Not even myself.") It's meant for you to interpret the way that fits you at different points in your life. As in the "Trashy, but we're true" line. Danny was a mess, bless him. But he was true, and his home with his family was true, and it was a place filled with love. When he would talk to people about the meaning behind the song, he'd say "If you read it, it's all right there, right in front of you. And if you were around me at that point in my life, you probably know what it means." The meaning is literally for the person to interpret the way that they see. He didn't want people to know the exact stories behind each and every song. He wanted people to take from it what was best for them. He wanted them to have their own emotional connection to his music. Not his emotional connection from outside. And honestly, there are so many songs that the world hasn't heard and God, I really want them to be heard.

The verses, chorus, and melody of "Trashy" are all genius, but I especially love "my yard's a field trip to my past". As is every yard (in the South). And as is every show, as you bump into people that you haven't seen in years. But that's the beauty of it all. That walk down memory lane that music as beautiful as Danny's and Panic's music takes you on. "Weight of the World" said "Children, too, fall to this weight of the world" and it just grabbed my heart in light of the current state of the world. But then we soar again with the encore closer of "Action Man" and race joyfully outta the civic center like racehorses down the straight.


Chapter 3: Sunday Night - And They All Lived Happily Ever After

Our happy tale ends with an evening of debauchery, launched by "Coconut", which hasn't been a non-Playa opener since '17 St Augustine. It takes a heater to pull that baby out at the start. I felt like you could almost see JB wink during "If we can live together, the dream it might come true" in "City of Dreams". And who hasn't learned in the last year that "It's the new mother nature taking over, she's getting us all, she's getting us all..." like the closer of "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature" says. As we opened the second set, I side-eyed my friends during "Deep six keeps the population down" in "From the Cradle". Talk about your timely relevance. Next came "Dear Mr. Fantasy", which my friend, Chloe, called at lunch. But how perfect is the Traffic line of "Do anything, take us out of this gloom, sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy"? That ended up being a smart call. However, while the band is trying to take us out of our gloom, sometimes we demand too much. We want everything exactly how we want it, when we want it. And it all takes its toll on the performers. "You are the one who can make us all laugh, but doing that you break out in tears..." And I'm guilty of asking too much of the band, as well. Wasn't I the one who started the petition to have them play "Eminence Front" years ago? A girl can dream, though, right? "Dear Mr. Fantasy" and "Sleepy Monkey" from Night 2 are also on the original setlist at THE A-frame house (if you know, you know). Set two's poetic "St Ex" goes back to JB's quote about writing the song, "What if you knew the people that you were fighting against? That they were not nameless. They weren't faceless." This is worth thinking of when we're tearing each other down in the comments online. When we're railing against spending a little extra energy to keep our community safe. These people we're talking about, they aren't nameless. They aren't faceless. The people we insult and hurt every day are real people. And some of them are heroes to us if we only knew the whole story. And please don't ever think y'all are getting the whole story on Facebook, gang. Living your best, most authentic life isn't putting on "a well-executed smile". It's truly recognizing "we are not enemies". Anyway. The Black Sabbath "Electric Funeral" jam we heard hasn't been around since 10/25/2016. This absolute face-melter was sandwiched in "Surprise Valley" with "Maggot Brain" and "I'm So Glad". Sing it with me now, "Tired of weeping, tired of moaning..." Yet, Panic tells us "Still I try, to make you happy" in the closer of "Postcard". And you do, gentlemen. You make us SO happy. The encore came out with Fabian's "This Friendly World" and "Every heart should be so thankful, thankful for this friendly, friendly world". Indeed, Mr. Bell. After "Down", we were blown away by "You Can't Always Get What You Want". The only complaint I'd have about this amazing rendition, was that it was SO touching, SO rock-your-heart-out, SO powerful and meaningful in the moment, that it further fueled the rumors that this was it. The end. Jazzfest was cancelled and everyone was saying that there would be no more touring. However, as JB performed his customary farewell, he prompted us that he'd see us in Austin. New safety protocols have been released for Austin since then (masks on, y'all) and I'm sure after this weekend, that's no problem for anyone.


Epilogue: Our Heroes Live to Fight Another Day


So, what did we learn from these parables? Well, I learned that things that seem insurmountable and just too damn complicated (like COVID precautions, downtown parking, liquor lines, whatever) can sometimes be easily achieved. I learned that I still adore seeing every single person I bumped into (Team Bell - *ding*). I learned that I love JoJo on upright as much as ever. I learned that Panic appreciates my beloved Link Wray and his tie to NC, too. I learned that Edie Griffin Jackson, ASL Interpreter, shares my sentiment in the new meanings to the songs now. Edie says "You literally took the words out of my head regarding the meaningful songs of the shows.  It was similar at Red Rocks where it was clear there was a message and all songs were thoughtfully chosen. Of course so many of the song lyrics evoke a different meaning and perspective with what we are working through together NOW.  The way I interpret certain songs has changed:  "Blight'' is an obvious example: it used to be about toxic negative relationships and now it's much more literal! Other songs like "Climb to Safety" have become (to me) more about mental health and depression than addiction and recovery.  And so many of the songs about coming HOME and coming TOGETHER have so much more intensity because these things we thrive on we can no longer take for granted...People are fearful of the future shows being cancelled but being with the capable crew and doctor consultant behind the scenes gave me a greater level of confidence that shows can likely go on.  There were safety measures beyond testing and vax was impressive and other bands are calling them up to follow Panic's lead." I hope we all learned something this weekend, and every time we come together as an audience. If you make it to Austin, be sure to wear a smile under your mask. "You should be happy to be alive...."


Sources: Deepest thanks to members of the Athens community, Josh Stack, Edie Griffin Jackson, and for the data and commentary, as always. Any errors are strictly the author's.

WP NYE '18
Fox 1/1/19

Photo: Craig Baird


January 5, 2019

People all over the world have their own New Year’s traditions. A little ritual to mark the end of one year and, hopefully, usher in the next with joy and love. Some people greet every New Year in a bar with their friends. Or in Times Square. Or at home, eating black eyed peas for prosperity with family. For my “framily”, we follow Widespread Panic on December 31st.


This year, as often happens, that was a three-night run at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta. For me, and thousands of others, this pilgrimage reunites me with those I love on tour, introduces me to the new and amazing people that somehow still always seem to appear, and reminds me why I love this damn band so much after decades of doing this. Night One kicked it all off with an opener we’ve never seen before: “Vacation”. So, yeah. Let’s just begin with something we’ve never done before, shall we? We’re all glancing over at each already. “Did they just…?” “Have we opened with this before?” “What’s Curtis saying?” The first set saw many of our beloved classics, including “Papa’s Home”, which went well with the commemorative Papa print we all loved of Valentine’s this weekend. Second set favorites for me were the Low Spark > Jam > Low Spark. The whole weekend was very “jammy”.


Recently, I’ve noticed myself becoming defensive about the “jam band” description for Panic. “No, no, no,” I’ll say. “You don’t understand. It’s more than that. It’s blues and southern rock and so much more.” But why should I be defensive about a jam band title? When done well, like it was this weekend, a jam band’s work is transcendent. It’s magical. It jams you away from a song you know and love and takes you to another place and then brings you back to a song you forgot you left. That’s mystical.


On Night Two, they decided to reeeeeally impress us. They not only opened with a slow “Porch Song” (swoon), but they closed the night with “Porch Song”. They’ve never played both versions in one show and this was dubbed on the setlist as “Front Porch/Back Porch”. Heh. How witty is that? Another front/back feature of the weekend was the double-sided Matt Leuning minis, printed at Ruby Sue Graphics. It means so much to me, and to all of us, that this band and this community has placed a high value of promoting visual artists and letting their creativity run wild.


Matt also created commemorative coins this weekend, of which I was gifted one by my friend, Zeke. The slow “Porch” opener was followed by Billy Joe Shaver’s “Chunk of Coal”, last played two years ago on the NYE run. The second set included a “Ball of Confusion” jam out of “Rebirtha”. Thanks for the tease, boys. Of course, the show closer of that second, “fast” Porch knocked everyone’s socks off. Great way to end the night.


Night Three began with a beautiful “For What It’s Worth” that would set the tone for an emotional evening. Acoustic JB was a nice touch for the first set, as were his red pants. The second set featured a heavy focus on jams and I danced myself weary, especially during “Good People”. This is a topic I’ve been preaching on this year. It was good to see people behaving themselves (relatively speaking) at this show. I saw people treating each other respectfully, working hard to get tickets for their friends, miracling total strangers on Peachtree Street, gifting stickers and koozies and whatnot, and a kind gentleman bought drinks for my friend and I when our cards wouldn’t scan.



Of course, I heard stories of some guys not treating the ladies so respectfully, sadly. But each of those stories seems to end with “…and then So-And-So came up and told him off in no uncertain terms.” We stand up for each other. We ARE the good people. Remember that going into this year. Apparently, our good behavior was rewarded.


After the midnight countdown, the band went into “The Waker”. Lemme repeat myself for those in the back. They went into “THE WAKER”. Whaaaaat?!? Years ago, our dearly missed Mikey Houser wrote this song, titled after his son. The song hasn’t been touched by the band since Mikey’s passing in ’02. We never thought they would touch it again. It’s like Grandma’s china that you put away and don’t ever break out in live action anymore. You just appreciate for the beauty and the care that went into the creation of the thing. And then one day, you’re eating ribs (and whiskey) off that china and you love it even more. You realize that it’s a thing that’s meant to be taken out into the daylight. And when Panic brought this song back out into the light, oh my.

It took a few moments for the first few notes of “The Waker” to really sink in. We all look at each other. We do that “cover your mouth in shock” thing with our hands. “Are they really playing it?” “Is this a tease?” Damn. They played it. The whole thing. And we were in awe. And in tears. And in love. And in hugs with our friends. It was an amazing thing to behold. Talk about an emotional release to start your new year. Thankfully, we danced the tears away by going straight into “Arleen”. And that always gets you shakin’, doesn’t it?



I’m especially happy that the Fox run included a nod to Col. Bruce Hampton (Retired) in the form of a JB/Schools Zambi rap into “I’m So Glad”. We miss you, Col., and we were certainly thinking of you in that venue of all places. The third set also included the second ever “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress” that was face melting. Our encore consisted of dear songs like “End of the Show” and the first ever “Bastards in Bubbles” from the brute. project with Vic Chestnutt.


I can’t thank the band and staff and fans enough for 23 years of “therapy” at these shows. This was one of my very favorite runs, for so many reasons. I’m going into the new year looking forward to discovering more amazing surprises and reconnecting with more long-loved treasures. Skäl, everyone. Cheers to your friends so near.


Photo: Ian Rawn


January 1, 2019

Widespread Panic kicked off another epic New Year’s Eve at the fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta with a beautiful “For What It’s Worth” that was worthy of the gorgeous venue. That song is as timeless as the Fox’s arch. The first set saw John Bell on acoustic guitar, which is always endearing to me. We also heard “Genesis,” another touching song, and “May Your Glass Be Filled” is an especially fitting song on NYE.


The second set was almost all one big jam, including “Pleas” > “Pusherman Jam” > “Good People.” Then we went right into another rager of “Honky Red” > “I’m Not Alone” > “St Ex.” And I’ll never tire of hearing the story of St. Exupery. A warm “Holden Oversoul” took us into another much-needed set break.

Just like in the days of Bill Graham ushering in the New Year, it’s always a treat when [Widespread Panic crew member Steve] Lopez emcees the countdown for us. He and Dave Schools were welcome masters of ceremony, and Schools’ thoughts were insightful, per the usual. A rainfall of confetti and balloons set the stage for a celebratory “Auld Lang Syne,” right before the band just blew our freakin’ minds. They went into “The Waker.” “THE WAKER.” This song is about the late, great Mikey Houser’s son and has not been performed since his passing in ’02. Many fans thought it was permanently shelved with the songs too sacred and holy to touch again. And then they played it. And we gasped. And we cried. And we sang. And we danced. And we hugged. And we laughed that we were crying. It was beautiful. The most beautiful New Year’s moment I’ve ever shared.

From “The Waker,” they went into “Arleen” and allowed us to dance all those mixed emotions out. We were later gifted a JB/Schools Zambi rap right before they went into “I’m So Glad” with Nick Johnson and Kevin Scott on vocals and percussion. And weren’t we all thinking of Col. Bruce Hampton (Retired), that night in his hallowed Fox Theatre? The previous evening I’d sported a Col. Bruce dress while standing beside my friend Pat, in his GREASE shirt. We were all thinking of the Col. at some point over the weekend. “Little Lilly” brought us back into “Arleen,” a common theme of the jammy weekend. Towards the end of the third set, we were all thrilled with the second-ever cover of The Hollies’ “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress” and one that nearly shook the Fox down.


An emotional rollercoaster of an encore began with “End Of The Show”, for which I’ll forever thank [the song’s writer Bloodkin’s] Danny Hutchens. A kickass “Protein Drink” saw me nearly knock myself unconscious, and I’m not even mad. After that, it took me a hot minute to recognize “Bastards In Bubbles.” Just when Panic melts your face, they tickle your heart with something amazing that they haven’t played before, like a Brute masterpiece to remind you of Vic Chesnutt. We closed it down with “Sewing Machine,” and I’d say they stitched it up pretty tightly. I’ve been rolling the setlist around in my head all day. Wondering if this means that “Waker” is now off the shelf going forward. Interpreting the raps. Polling our friends for their take on the weekend. So much to consider. It’s not just another rock show to us. It’s church. It’s an annual pilgrimage. And even after 23 years of doing this, somehow, Widespread Panic still manages to surprise me. And tire out my legs from dancing harder than I’d think possible. Thank you, to the band, the crew, the staff of Brown Cat, the amazing venue and ushers (especially the dancing ones!), and the fans that make this all a reality. During every Panic show, I have a moment when I realize that there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. And this show warmed my heart for four hours with that sentiment. Here’s to another few decades of doing this whole thing together, eh? May your year be filled.


Photo: Christan Newman


August 15, 2018

In every industry, there are the consummate professionals that others seek out. In the world of tunes, these are the musicians’ musicians. The people that highly talented and creative artists listen to and with whom they want to collaborate. The people who write the music that us nerds can all bliss out to. Folks like Col. Bruce Hampton (Retired), Big Star, Leon Russell, and the luminary like. 

I had the rare and fortunate opportunity to sit down with six of these examples in the modern era. These gentlemen share a body of work that has interwoven over the years in such acts as Bloodkin, Widespread Panic, Drive-By Truckers, Barbara Cue, Blueground Undergrass, Aquarium Rescue Unit, brute., and a number of others. And that’s quite a formidable résumé. When the group of friends and peers were all in Asheville recently to perform under the moniker of “Todd Nance and Friends”, I got to sit down with them and geek out about all things music. Here’s how that all went down. 


Ok, so I do I want to warn you guys that I was quite the talented drummer in sixth grade when we all had to choose chorus or band so I don't want the legend of my “Wipeout” performance to intimidate any of you going into this. You just have to forget about the reputation I built up at Bragtown sixth grade. 



So, when you guys come here to Asheville is there anywhere that you like to go? I know during the day you gotta rest, but is there anything that you hit here with all the fatty food and heady breweries and hipster hangouts? 

MOSIER: We went to Sierra Nevada today. It was cool. 


We couldn't get in; it was, like an hour and a half wait. 

MARTINEZ: We went kinda early and there was still a decent line.


You’re troopers. We gave up and went to the seedy BBQ joint instead and it was pretty good.

NANCE: Luella's. That's good.


That’s my favorite. Imma steal that mirror ball disco pig one day. It’s going home with me. 

MARTINEZ: I like Sunny Point. I don't make it there too often, though.


Yeah, you have to go up there early too.

MARTINEZ: I passed it.


So, if you guys are on the road and you stop at a gas station, what kind of junk food do you get?

NANCE: I get pistachios.


Shelled or lazy?

NANCE: Shelled. Salty shelled.


So it gives you something to do and...

NANCE: No, I just like pistachios (laughs). You can pick 'em out too quick if they're already shelled. You gotta pace yourself.


So what do you guys eat on the road? Like, not what you tell your wife you eat, but what you really eat when you stop at QuikTrip in Burlington.

MARTINEZ: My wife knows exactly what I eat. She watched me look at, and she tells the story all the time, we were at a kiosk of cinnamon buns and she said to Tori (Pater), "I wish he looked at me that way..." (laughter all around) I was like "damn, look at that!" 

“Look at the curves on that thing…” Have you ever heard the Louis C.K. skit about people in line at Cinnabon? There's no one happy in line at Cinnabon?

JN: Yeah yeah yeah (laughs) he stopped at one when he was leaving the airport.


Yeah. Even better. If you have to get your fix on your way out, that's a whole new level of Cinnabon hell. (laughter) Speaking of on the road, when you get to go somewhere very "hallowed", like Muscle Shoals, or when you worked with Terry Manning and there was some guitar that was supposedly Robert Johnson’s, do you ever feel that, like, magic around those places and those instruments or is it "this is all hype that we've all built up in the urban legend folk persona?"

NANCE: In some places, it's actually documented, you know, the Robert Johnson guitar will, it's not officially documented but they're pretty damn sure 


It stays in tune, right? You don't tune it?

NANCE: You don't tune it. If it stays in tune with itself, you just, well, that's what we did


And the sound at Muscle Shoals is hard to reproduce

NANCE: The whole vibe there, too, is just...


I just don't know if I get into that whole fan girl thing like this is magic and I watched the documentary which is so amazing and- 

NANCE: I love that stuff


Yeah. Now. I have a theory that the guy who's the drummer in the band is the guy who "gets things done" and is the toughest and strongest in personality. This may be another stereotype, but think about Jon Bonham, right? Bill Kreutzmann used to be the guy that would punch people out if they didn't pay the band. Charlie Watts punched out Mick Jagger for saying, "where's my drummer?"

NANCE: I love that story!


MARTINEZ: In his suit! Got dressed in his suit.

Yeah! Got dressed in his Savile Row suit first.

NANCE: Are we talking about punching people out as gettin' shit done? (laughter)


Hahaha. Or just being tough mentally.

NANCE: Gettin' shit done! (laughter)


I mean, even Animal in the Muppets, they modeled him after that stereotype. He's the toughest in the band. If no one paid the Muppets, they'd definitely send in Animal. (laughter). Do you see that in drummers or that could be anyone and they just get that...?

NANCE: That could be anyone. 


Do you see that in you?

NANCE: I just wanna play my drums and take it easy. I'm not looking for trouble. (smiles)


MOSIER: He's one of the most mild mannered drummers I’ve ever seen.


I was gonna bring that up. You don't tear through your kit like Bonham and other drummers...

NANCE: No...


And he never thought they were precious. Do you keep your kits?

NANCE: Oh yeah.


Do you collect other kits?

NANCE: (laughs) I’ve got enough of my own.


That's true. You collect guitars, right?

NANCE: Yeah, I do have a guitar collection, it's not a huge collection, but-


MARTINEZ: He's got some badass guitars.


I know I’ve heard you talk about a hollow body Gibson?

NANCE: Yeah, I’ve got an ES-330 


That's interesting! I'm listening to Clapton's autobiography now-

NANCE: There ya go! (laughs) But it belongs to my brother, it's on permanent loan.


Ahhhhh. I see. In your storage facility, yeah. So I am actually listening now to Clapton's autobiography talk about how he had the generic mock-off of the 335, it was the k-something? And when he knew "I’ve really made it" was when he could buy an ES-335. He was "holy shit, I’m a professional". 

NANCE: (laughs)


And I don't know a lot about guitars so I didn't even know that was such a big deal til recently. Any other really notable in your collection? Or, to you, they're all notable. They're in your collection....

NANCE: Yeah, John Neff gave me a lap steel, which I’m kind of fond of.


Oh really? Do you get to play that often? 

NANCE: At home, but I’ve been so lazy lately that I haven't really touched my guitars very much.


Yeah. It seems like, even for a guitar player, the lap steel is such a different instrument. I can't imagine knowing all the layers of that. Do you guys collect your own instruments? Different instruments other than what you play?

JN: Yeah


What is your weird and freaky “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” instrument?

JN: I don't know...I have an electric sitar.



JN: Mmmm-hmmmmm.


I don't think I even knew that was a thing. Is that like Beatles psychedelia Indian electric sitar?

JN: It's not as exotic as a real sitar. But it sounds buzzy it has a bridge, it's strung tuned just like an electric guitar but the bridge is a buzz bridge and it gives it that buzzy sound.


I could see that. Do you guys have any interesting instruments in your collection, collecting dust at home?

HUTCHENS: I don't think of it as a collection, I have a number of guitars at home, but I play 'em-


That's true. If you play it, it's not a "collection".

HUTCHENS: They don't hang on the wall. Although there are a few that hang on the wall....


JN: I hang 'em on the wall but I play 'em (laughter all around)


HUTCHENS: Mine have just been hangin' on the wall recently...But you know, it's not like a museum piece, and I beat the hell out of 'em and they get dirty and sweaty and scratched up.


MOSIER: It's a weapon of mass construction. (laughter)


I like that. That'll be my next t-shirt I make (referencing our earlier discussion about the stuff I’d made and worn that weekend). 

MOSIER: Yeah! That's what it is.

Don't let me hear anything witty I’m just like "I want that on a t-shirt!" (laughter) Do y'all collect anything else? Does anybody have any quirky-

MOSIER: I don't have to collect banjos. I'm really blessed to the extent that I leave my window cracked on my car and I leave a banjo in there and always somebody in the public will come by and leave another banjo (laughter) with my banjo, so I’ve got like 150 thousand banjos that I’ve collected over 30 years of parking lots all over the country (laughter). 


NANCE: Mosier Depository. (laughs)


MOSIER: It's just they all…they usually just put a little note on there, "Good luck".


NANCE: "I hope you give it more life than I did!" (laughs)


MOSIER: Yeah. "Take this outta my life..." (laughter)


"Take this pain!" I just keep imagining these little banjos just popping up all over the country... (laughter)

MOSIER: It's marvelous.


I love it. Does anybody have any quirky collections? Or when you're on the road is there any random thing you collect? 

NANCE: I had a friend and she always wanted a refrigerator magnet from whatever state I was in or city, so I would go out on a little quest at these truck stops.


MOSIER: (laughs) I did that for my kids.


NANCE: Did you? 


It's nice to have a thing to look for. It gives you a reason to get out and look and interact. You're like "Man, I gotta find another magnet. I have five skylines of cities, gimme something new."

NANCE: Yeah. I don't have to do it anymore because I think she got all of the states I go to, she got one from there already.


Nice. When I was a kid and we had the pens that you tilt and they'd slide and the picture'd be revealed? Like of a lady’s boobs? That was my thing.... (laughter)

So, I find the drum-guitar crossover interesting. I always hear blues guitarists talking about "bending the note" with their string and I’ve wondered before, is that something you can or want to or tried to bring to percussion? Like with a flick of the wrist or inner-to-outer edge?

NANCE: You can do it with timpani, the foot pedal.


Oh, right.

NANCE: And there are other-


MOSIER: What's the talking drum?


NANCE: The talking drum is where there are cords that hold the heads together and then they're on the same cord and you squeeze it and tightens the tension on it and you got this little curl stick that looks like a walking cane. Actually, I’ve seen one that was a floor tom and you would, it had like a kick pedal or a high hat pedal you would step on and it would change the pitch. I can't remember where I saw it. But I have seen one of those.

Have you found other guitar or other instrument tricks that you've found you could translate over? I think that's fascinating all the subtleties that everyone in the audience isn't even aware of. Or have you now fine-tuned your set-up? What defines your sound? Do you have one with what you've refined over the years as your set-up, do you think?

NANCE: Yeah, I think all of us could answer and say 'yes' to that. It's like these guys, it's easier for me to play a rental kit, it's not as hard as if you've got a certain amplifier or certain outboard gear you use and stuff like that. So, yeah, everybody tries to keep their general sound about them and have that available now.


Yeah, cause I’m in my Clapton phase now and he was talking about how his sound was modeled after Freddie King and that high thin sound, but because he brought his amplifier closer and had more distortion, it became the Clapton sound. So, have you ever, maybe when you were starting out, modeled your sound after someone do you think? Even consciously or subconsciously?

NANCE: No, not, no...


MARTINEZ: I’ve been trying to copy Eric Carter since day one. (laughter)


HUTCHENS: Can't be done. 


MARTINEZ: I’ve been trying.


MOSIER: I’ve tried to sound like Bela Fleck and after five attempted suicides, I quit trying. (laughter) He's just the master. Amazing. He's just great. I’ve met him and he's a great guy, too. But he helped the banjo more than, in this kinda world, I could even say. 


I’ve just started learning more about banjo. I know a luthier outside of Raleigh who's taught me more about banjo and strings, James Griggs.

MOSIER: I know who you're talking about. I’ve heard the name.


I figured. He's taught me more of the ways because he realized how poor my education was in the banjo arts. So have you guys learned any tricks that translated over from another instrument or have you invented anything like 'Oh, this is the Hutchens English Flick of the Wrist'?

HUTCHENS: No, I don't think so. I think you just, or to me, find what you're comfortable with. Not looking for a trick. And I think with a lot of us it's just a kind of second nature, like you know what works for you. 


Like, what doesn't give you carpal tunnel syndrome? (murmured agreement)

HUTCHENS: All the experimentation, I could know pretty quickly when I play a certain guitar if it suits me.


And now you guys have better guitars and they're not strung as high and you're not having to kill yourself hopefully...

HUTCHENS: I’ve definitely had worse guitars. 


I honestly didn't even realize til a few years ago the difference that that made and I think it's so hard to play a good guitar-



I just don't have the hands to fit it, so I can't imagine having to really grab up there. 

HUTCHENS: I play heavy strings, anyway. 


Oh really?

HUTCHENS: I’m used to playing rhythm, and like, a solid chord, so-


So they don't snap as often but it's gonna be harder to play?


HUTCHENS: Yeah, there's a difference, but you know. It's all relevant to what you do. 


I'm such a nerd about that stuff. (To Todd) I noticed how low your drum kit is and Ashley was saying that's a jazz kit and Chris was saying it's also adjusted for your back to not hurt to be-

NANCE: Well, also it's low, too, cause it's just a 20" kick drum and my big ass behind it makes it look small.


Like Bonham aping it up behind the drum!

MOSIER: You really are bigger than it seems. When we were in the car, I was like, "How tall are you?!?" (laughter)

Yeah. We always see you sitting! You know we have these big dogs in the hotel this weekend that are way over 25 pounds? The joke is that if we get busted, we're standing them beside Big Jimmy for scale so they seem tiny. (laughter, as the dogs have been the running entertainment of the weekend) 

So another thing I find interesting is the technology interface that's kind of coming about. You've come a long way from having the phone receiver tied to your head with a bathroom belt (for phone rehearsals) to Bluetooth headsets and ears and all that. Does that make it easier for you guys? Do you miss the simplicity of not having so much?

NANCE: Saved my hearing. 


Good! Okay.

NANCE: If I hadn't started wearing "in-ears" 20 years ago, I’d be deaf as a post.


Right. What about the social media?

NANCE: I don't...I haven't looked at it.


It's not your thing. And, full disclosure, I work in technology and my company works in making concerts more interactive and that's something I may get into, but the thing is how interactive does...? Because the audience wants interactivity, the venue wants interactivity because that feeds sales, but is the band like "Jesus, another point of interactivity? Can we not have the green room sacred space?” Or, is it interesting to see the interactivity during that? I think that's such a controversial issue. Some bands are "Gimme all the data you can" and-

NANCE: But that's not the music.


Right. Even when I’m writing a show up, I don't take my phone out, I don't take notes, I think it's very distracting. And I get paid a whole buncha money to push technology, but in the show, I think that's sacred. I dim my watch (laughter at my Apple watch), I put my phone away, so that's what I worry about. Are we pushing it too far? Is it one more burden when you have so much going on already in your headspace?

MOSIER: There's no replacing being there.



MOSIER: You get the most pixels when you're there. We're the highest definition. So, that's what it's for. It's a medicine we made for ourselves and we purvey these things called songs and package this wonderful material of polyrhythms, lyrics, melodies, and hopefully help the people feel better than they did when they got here. If they had a gun in their mouth, they'll pull it out. They'll just feel more hopeful. Now more than ever, even with all the technology, it's the need for just standing in the shower of sound coming off that stage is something that I need, we need it, and the people out there need it. It's just an amazing powerfully magical life-changing substance, and that's music. It's just incredible and there's no technology, there's nothing that could come up that could jazz up the jazz.


Yeah! That's a good way to put it.

MOSIER: You can't jazz up the jazz. And music is truly…it doesn't need to be jazzed up.


I think that's a good point that it's so unifying and there's very few places that you can go to today like that. You can go to a sports arena and even a fan of the same team may argue with you about a referee's call. If you go to church, there's controversy about who made the pound cake. This is one of the few places that we can just come together and just openly, freakily love each other. (laughter). So, what do you see on the horizon for y'all? Each of you or together?

NANCE: We're just gonna see how this goes and if it keeps rolling down the hill then we'll just keep riding it. If the wheels don’t come off. We've all got to a place now where we've got time to get together and do this and before we were all a little too busy, you know? 



NANCE: To do just a couple single shows here or there or wherever....


Right...half-assedly? Not that y'all would do anything half-assedly...

Mills: Yeah.


NANCE: What were you gonna say?


Mills: I was just agreeing about the half-assed part. (laughter)


Mosier: I’m just hired; I’m not on the board of directors.


A contractor. 

Mosier: I’m a hired gun.


Martinez: He's our gunslinger. "Banjo...Banjo..." (sung in a western tv show style)



What kind of recordings have you not released? Isn't there a kids recording?

HUTCHENS: Yes. A bunch. A bunch.


Mills: We had a whole record that we never did anything with.


Which one? Do I know of it?

Mills: No, because nobody's heard of it.


Nance: The Romper Stompers?


Mills: Yeah.

No, I know that. I’ve heard of that.


Mills: Yeah, that was me and him and Danny and Neff. 


Yeah. And I have two children so we're your target demographic.

Hutchens: There's a number of things. That's always on the-


You just wanna finish post processing or are you still recording or...?

HUTCHENS: It's just, things get backed up. I want them out. You know, you have to find the right way to do it. You have to find financing, and then the Bloodkin world, Romper Stompers, recordings with Interstellar Boys. There's a bunch of stuff, it's just not released and it's, you know, it's always something coming in the pipeline. 


Where do you like to play? Music halls like this? Do you see yourself outdoors? Do you see yourself doing some sweaty festival? I'm getting ready to go to Lockn and avoid heat stroke as hard as I can.

Nance: We talked about trying to get on some festivals.


I didn't know if you enjoyed that anymore.

Nance: You get a huge crowd, you get paid, you get exposure, you're on a big ass stage, and they accommodate everything you need. 


Mosier: Great way to see music, too. You get to see your friends. Kind of like the watercooler for musicians. Otherwise, we don't get to see each other. So, there's a lot of magic that happens with sit-ins and collaborations and workshops. It's just more heady and sweet and nice and it's very lucrative. And you get word of mouth, like Todd said. It's a very human way to present music. It's very communal.


I like that about Jam Cruise. I got to do that once, and just all the random impromptu set-ups. You know, they're sitting on the deck, the guys from Love Canon. 

Mosier: They're great.


Imma let you guys relax before the show, I really appreciate your time. I hope they weren't questions you've been asked a million times.

Nance: Those were better questions than most.


Oh, good.

Nance: "What's your favorite color? How'd you name your band?" (laughter)


I listen to music audiobooks all day long and interviews. And I get bored of that. First of all, if you're a fan, you'd know the basic facts and second of all, that doesn't really speak to YOU. Like "tell me your favorite color", unless it was the blue of your grandmother's eyes. 

Mosier: The great Col Bruce Hampton, one of the things that he taught us on some level, it IS all the same. If you're playing Danny Boy in a nursing home, or if you're in Madison Square Garden, the gigs are the same. The tenets of music. It requires the exact same attention no matter what the crowd. It's easy to look at the crowd and the budget and the hype and the delusion and all that, but, that's why I'm here because I know why they're here and how they play and we're on the same page that way.


It's a thoughtful interaction, like what he had. He (Col Bruce) was on that Jam Cruise of course. He was on all of 'em. And my last conversation with him was about this framed artwork where they took all the Jam Cruise luggage tags and put 'em together for all the years he'd been there and he wanted me to bring that back with me. He's like "Shug, how am I gonna get this back?" And I go "How am I gonna get this back?!? What are you talkin' about? Col, they'll ship that for you." He goes "That's right...they will..." and we leave Jam Cruise and I go party on a sailboat for a night and I just remember thinking "Thank God I don't have Col Bruce's framed artwork on this boat right now." (laughter)

Mosier: That's right!


And I had very many wonderful interactions with that man which I'm very grateful for. I'm a lucky, lucky soul. Thank you gentlemen. I'm gonna wrap this up.


Photo: Christan Newman


August 15, 2018

Todd Nance is perhaps best-known as the original drummer of Widespread Panic, but for others, including myself, he’s so much more than that.

Nance has composer credits on some classic songs, has contributed to projects such as Barbara Cue and brute, has sat-in with the likes of Bloodkin and the Dyrty Byrds and on top of all that he’s genuinely a nice guy. Whenever I’ve bumped into him (usually around the tiny metropolis of Athens), he’s always been a friendly face and never had the personality of a “rock star.” At least, not the rock star brat that I’d be if I were as successful as he.


That approachableness came through when I recently spoke with him about his current endeavors, including Todd Nance & Friends and his plans for future work. As always, he was a delight to speak with and it just made me look forward to the next show that much more.


JAMBASE: Hey, Todd. Thanks so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.

TODD NANCE: No problem, no problem.

JAMBASE: So, what are you doing as a musician these days?

TN: Playing music. [laughs] I’ve got a little band called Todd & Friends, and we’re going out and doing some tours. I had a project called Interstellar Boys.

JAMBASE: Ah, yes. What ever happened to Interstellar Boys?

TN: We’re all so far apart geographically, it’s just really hard to get together. Sometimes it’s tough to just work out the logistics. The other Interstellar Boys may as well be “out in space.” [laughs]

JAMBASE: Is this current project of yours going to stick, you think?

TN: You know, we just have to keep playing and see if the people come out to see us. As long as there’s people to see us, we’ll probably keep on doing this. We’re just gonna see how this goes and if it keeps on rolling down the hill, then we’ll just keep riding it. If the wheels don’t come off. We’ve all got to a place now where we’ve got time to get together and do this, and before we were all a little too busy, you know?


TN: To do just a couple single shows here or there or wherever …

JAMBASE: What were some of your musical highlights from the latest run of Todd Nance & Friends shows?

TN: Oh, man. That first set of the second night in Asheville. It was acoustic. As a whole, that entire set was my very favorite.

JAMBASE: I loved that set. I like the funkiness that Jon Mills brings to the bass. And the “pickled” sound that you get from having the Rev. Jeff Mosier there. You know what I mean?

TN: Oh yeah. Yeah. I know what you mean. Man, I just loved that entire set as a whole.

JAMBASE: So, what is the future going to hold?

TN: I’ll just keep working and I’ll keep playing music. We talked about trying to get on some festivals. You get a huge crowd, you get paid, you get exposure, you’re on a big ass stage, and they accommodate everything you need. I just wanna play my drums and take it easy. It’s really the only thing I know how to do. I’m not gonna start painting houses or start roofing.

JAMBASE: It’s like that Jason Isbell song, “Outfit,” when he says, “And don’t let me catch you in Kendale, with a bucket of wealthy man’s paint.”

TN: [laughs] Right on. I’ve done that before and I’m not doing it again.

JAMBASE: Indeed. Look, thanks so much for your time, Todd. This has been great.

TN: My pleasure. Thanks. See ya out there.


Todd Nance & Friends featuring guitarists Danny Hutchens of Bloodkin and Eric Martinez as well as multi-instrumentalist John Neff and bassist Jon Mills will perform at the Rabbit Hole in Charlotte, North Carolina tomorrow, Thursday, August 16 and at Southern Hops Brewing Company in Florence, South Carolina on Friday, August 17. The group then heads to Georgia for shows in Augusta on August 18 and in Atlanta on August 19.

panic rocks.jpg

Photo: Jeff Fernandez


July 3, 2018

You know how you have those inside jokes with your friends? Especially friends that you have travelled around the country with, in search of great music? This past Panic Red Rocks weekend was a beautiful three-night example of that (June 22-24). We all have our own songs that we — or even our entire group of friends — are chasing (“Zoom… zoom… zoom…”). We all have those songs that we maaaaybe take a knee and catch our breath during. We all have those songs that we look knowingly at our friends with a teary eye throughout. And the same song could be any of these and more to anyone in the crowd. That is the beauty of it all. And after spending way more time looking at these setlist stats than I should have, I think Widespread Panic likes to rehash their old stories and jokes mid-show, too. Pull up a chair. This is pretty damn cool.


Friday night featured three songs debuted within a week of each other on a ’95 Southeast tour (“Glory,” “Happy” and “You Got Yours”). We also got two ’95 Midwest debutantes that appeared within two days of other (“Sleeping Man” and “1 X 1”). [Side note: if you do not know the backstory to “1 X 1,” please go learn about Sugarman.] And our beloved “Protein Drink/Sewing Machine” both rolled out originally at the NYE shows in ’01. And, no, they haven’t always been played together every single time (it’s 113:116). One of those good ole JB-isms spawned the line “…and the mushroom tasted like America in my mouth…” which got quite a howl out of the crowd as they kicked off the second set.


A crowd favorite of Friday was “Space Wrangler.” The LED backdrop featured the Space X Tesla floating in space. The band shared this image on social media and then Elon Musk retweeted it! Panic is everywhere. Also during “SW,” a little wrangler was born, literally, back home to a fan’s grandson. Guess what his nickname will be? This weekend also saw friends of ours get engaged and get married at Red Rocks. This is a special place to us, and this weekend saw the creation of many new, special inside jokes and stories.


A Night 1 highlight for this gal was the “Give Me Back My Wig” rap during “Stop Breakin’ Down Blues,” which he has done a handful of times before, the last being in ’16. This is from a 1971 tune by Hound Dog Taylor. Go give it a listen. After that “SBDB,” we went into the encore of “You Got Yours” and “Climb to Safety.” The crustiest amongst the tour veterans may roll their eyes at “CTS,” but you will always see the crowd find their special someone beside them and sing the “After all that I been through, you’re the only one that matters” bit. We all have our inside stories about all that we’ve been through, and we always connect on this line. Brah.


Saturday’s first set featured “Tickle the Truth,” which is usually bound to make ’em happy. “Weight of the World” and “Tail Dragger” closed the first set and I think it’s notable that those were both introduced to us at Halloween shows (’90 and ’11). Curtis George of mentioned to me that he noticed a kids’ theme in the first set (“Little Kin,” “Radio Child,” “C. Brown”). I didn’t catch that in the heat of the moment, but I love when CG points this stuff out online for us. And I love watching people frantically scramble for their phones to check his site when they wonder what’s going on. Curtis to the rescue!


The second set was cut short after “North,” “Sharon,” “Sell Sell,” and two tunes from ’05 Fox ATL (“Goodpeople” and “Second Skin”). After the crew took that shmancy LED screen down, we got a “third” set that included “Holden Oversoul” (now an inside joke with my friends) and THRILLED the crowd with “Puppy Sleeps.” Did you ever think you would catch that live when it has not been played in 16 years?!? Have you gotten that guitar riff out of your head since then?!? Nope. Its first time played was that same NYE when we first got “Protein Drink/Sewing Machine,” just so ya know. Apparently, “Puppy Sleeps” was added to the Red Rocks setlist during the wind break. All hail the gods of wind.


I was talking with Edie Griffin Jackson, ASL interpreter, about how we view these shows differently, and she offered her perspective. “The gorgeous perspective from the Red Rocks stage upon the full-energy crowd of Colorado is always special, but this year more than ever I felt the connection between the deaf patrons and the band. John Bell himself knows a lot of American Sign Language, and in early years it was usually employed to sign ‘sorry’ to me when he’d throw me major curveballs. Now I see him using it in his lyrics (check out “Puppy Sleeps”). Maybe only a few of us out there notice… but they are highlights for sure. If it weren’t for that pesky guitar of his he could handle the interpreting job on his own…” So, while you and I are shooting sideglances at our buddy about the fact that one of you needs to go get more drinks, Edie and JB are up there on stage, getting through another day’s work with the most subtle of communication between the two of them. And now you can all go watch the video for JB’s signing handiwork.


This highlight rolled right into “Expiration Day,” then “Flat Foot Flewzy” (rocked as usual, and we have not heard it this year), and then encored with “Porch Song.” You can play that song as much as you want, especially after you give us gems of gold like the one they did.


Sunday saw “Let’s Get” openers for first and second set. “Let’s Get the Show on the Road” kicked it off to everyone’s delight. The first set featured “Weak Brain, Narrow Mind” as the rarest jewel. “Diner” featured ‘Highway to Heaven’ (done many times before) and ‘In the Garden’ (done once before in ’03 in “Stop-Go”) side bits by our favorite rapper, John Bell.


"Let’s Get Down to Business” had not been played this year, but we stomped our way into the second set with it. JoJo Hermann was then heard to bring back the original “I’ll be ya best friend if ya get me high!” in “Visiting Day.” How many of you saw a rainbow during “Surprise Valley?” And now it is an inside thing in your crew? “Goin’ Out West” wasn’t a surprising tune for Red Rocks, but did you know it debuted the same day as “Climb to Safety” in Boulder ’96? They just keep bringing it back to the same shows, and I wonder if they were reminiscing about these debuts while compiling the set list.

A very special moment for everyone, onsite and at home on couch, was when they broke into only the second-ever “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Sure, we all love Bill Withers and just about any song he touched. However, how can you not get excited about these bluesy gentlemen swaying through this amazing number? The band went right from “ANS” into “Four Cornered Room,” which has only been played three dozen times in their 32 official years and has been chased by soooo many people we all know. You probably thought they were going into “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” didn’t you? A lot of people did. And as much as I love that WAR song, we will take a “FCR” anytime we can get it. The encore was all about YOU: “You Should Be Glad” and “You Wreck Me” (only played once before, last October).


One thing we can all share, all jokes aside, is the standing ovation the crew received. They leave their mark on tour year after year, and it was amazing to get a chance to thank them a little.


Extra credit goes to Sweet Melissa for pointing out that we had a Brute-heavy weekend, which is a good thing. “PD/SM,” “Puppy Sleeps,” and “Let’s Get Down to Business” were all songs that they would play on that “side gig” of theirs.

This weekend, for me, was just full of so many kickass references and memories. Now we’ve all created so many more. How many of you are already making your next show plans right now, no matter how far away they are? That is why we all work so hard to get everything taken care of at home. So you can send your mind. Just for a weekend. And enjoy another night you will never remember with the people you will never forget.

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Photo: Jeff Fernandez


March 20, 2018

We kicked-off this last Panic weekend in DC in the best possible way, with a cozy little JoJo show at The Pearl Street Warehouse. This family reunion environment set the tone for the rest of the weekend. Big shout out to the sound guy for hooking me up with the setlist. Though certainly bigger than Pearl Street, the MGM Grand at National Harbor only seats 3,000 people. Everyone dedicated enough to head into town got a ticket (as far as I know) and we all got to settle into a weekend of running into your favorite people and your favorite songs. The location within the harbor also kept us bumping into each other all weekend and I, personally, really enjoyed the proximity. We were all united in solidarity.

Thursday, March 15, featured 6 songs they’ve played less than 100 times. For a band on the run for 32 years, those are fun songs to catch. “Hope in a Hopeless World” was especially fitting during this time and place. We were all treated to “Travelin’ Man”, which hasn’t been played in almost four years and was a FTP for Duane. He killed it, of course. Set 1 closed with two songs from The Band, so I was grinning pretty wildly, considering Levon Helm is my historical man crush. First we got “The Shape I’m In”, which they’ve only played about 28 times and then we got good ole “Ophelia” right before we closed the set with “Porch Song”.


The second set was highlighted by “Come Together”, which they’ve only played 7 times before and they haven’t played since ‘05, so clearly Jimmy and Duane hadn’t had a chance to showcase this for us yet. And the song was amazing. I almost gave myself a cardiac arrest running to and dancing at the rail. (Note to self: stop that.) Night 1 closed with “For What It’s Worth”. Interestingly enough, this was a part of their very first show ever at the A-Frame house in ‘85 and they didn’t play it for almost 23 years (‘88-’11). They’ve only played “FWIW” two dozen times before and I’ve been fortunate enough to see 1⁄4 of those performances out of sheer luck. Music gods be praised.

Friday, March 16, rocked it straight outta the gate with “Chainsaw City”. This song will always remind me (and many, many people on tour) of our beloved Richard Todd and I was thrilled that his memory was a part of our weekend. We were also treated to “Travelin’ Light”. Fun fact: did you know that it’s been played exactly 1013 times before? Little “Arleen” magic for ya.... Many people found “Gradle” to be a big high point for them, considering we hadn’t gotten that song in over a year and it’s just a beautiful song. “Sleepy Monkey” was another popular favorite because, well, it’s “Sleepy Monkey”. The boys came out strong at Set 2 by opening with WAR’s “Slippin’ into Darkness” featuring tour manager, Steve Lopez, on percussion. The song and the manager are fan favorites and when Lopez joins them occasionally onstage for this, it’s a huge treat for everyone involved. A HUGE surprise for me was hearing them break out Robert Johnson’s blues classic “Love in Vain” for the first time ever. But, then again, how many Robert Johnson songs do you NOT like?

Saturday, March 17, was quite a St. Panic’s Day for all of us. Of course they had to play “Bust it Big”. How can you not play “beware of the man, who builds monuments to himself” in DC right now? A rare song they pulled out for us was “One Kind Favor”. This is a beautiful song and if you don’t know the lyrics, you should go check them out right now. Saturday saw the second ever “Sundown Betty” and it’s nice to see that join the rotation. The most Irish moment of all came in the middle of the encore, sandwiched between “Saint Ex” and “Love Tractor”. JB busted out  “Toura Loura Loura”, the Irish lullaby, with all the heart and soul of Dublin’s finest.

The weekend accomplished exactly what I’d think the band would  want. We all came together, whether it was pulling last minute tickets for your friends, sharing lodging, or phoning a friend to come spring you out of the hotel basement that you got locked into (long story). I left town with my heart full and my spirit content. I actually spent almost the entire ride home chatting with my new tour bestie (thanks, Jimmy!) and planning my next shows. Let’s carry that love and unity into the year with us. I can’t wait to see all of your smiling faces in Charleston for my Cinco de Birthday show, but I trust you’ll represent the Home Team well in Wanee without this ole girl. It was cold and windy in DC, but I think we’re all feeling the warm fuzzies after this weekend. “Tell me, brother, can you see the sun; From where you’re standing now?”

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Photo: Jeff Fernandez


March 21, 2018

This weekend saw some amazing classic throwbacks and brand new offerings when Widespread Panic hit the Capital at The Theatre at MGM National Harbor (technically in Oxon Hill, Maryland).  Whether it was the songs you haven’t heard in years, such as “Come Together” and “Travelin’ Man,” or the songs you’ve never heard them break out before (“Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral,” anybody?), the boys managed to impressed everyone. Even the seasoned cynics amongst us had some really special moments this weekend.


Thursday’s highlights included that “Travelin’ Man,” which was a FTP (first time played) for Duane Trucks. We also had a nice dual offering from The Band’s repertoire in “The Shape I’m In” and “Ophelia.” The showstopper of the evening was unanimously “Come Together.” They hadn’t broken it out since 11/04/05, and this was only the song’s eighth appearance, and it’s a FTP for Duane AND Jimmy Herring. The last time they played it, George (McConnell) was the lead guitarist. My, how time flies!


Friday featured a much-loved “Gradle,”, not heard since NYE ’16. We also got to enjoy Steve Lopez on percussion for “Slippin’ Into Darkness”. What other band pulls their tour manager out onstage? It reminds me of promoter Bill Graham joining Grateful Dead at NYE or The Band at The Fillmore. Another gem not heard live since NYE ’16 was “This Part of Town,” which is always beautiful to me. If you didn’t know what song you were hearing after “Heroes,” that’s because it was the FTP for “Love in Vain,” a blues classic from the almighty Robert Johnson, popularized by The Rolling Stones.


The stars of Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day, were the second-ever “Sundown Betty” and a FTP of “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ral” wedged right in between “Saint Ex” and “Love Tractor” in the encore. This night also featured an awesome “Fishwater > Red Hot Mama > Fishwater” sandwich to close second set. I don’t know about y’all, but I needed the break before the encore after that. Whew.

I talked to people at the show who have been going to see Widespread for even more than my 23 years,  and I met someone at their first show. And we all had a blast. We all had our own personal highlights and moments of unbelievable joy and gratitude. And that’s why we keep on finding ways to come back.

“I got my ways, You got yours…”

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Photo: Clay Carroll


February 20, 2018

This past weekend at the BJCC in Birmingham, AL, was a time of reflection and a time of healing. Widespread Panic’s songs and face-melting jams provided some much needed therapy. This is a time of violence and culture clashes. We've seen it in the form of mass shootings nationally and the nitrous mafia scene right on Shakedown. But tour time also includes the greatest examples of people helping each other out. I watched the kindest vendor take time to sit and talk with a guy who’d had a little too much, too fast. He kept this tall fella from falling to his feet and from wandering into trouble. I saw my friends rallying to find those last minute tickets for everyone seeking a night of solace. I stopped by Avondale Common House, owned by fans and packed by other happy fans. I got to take part in a big carpool since my poor engine is struggling and we all threw in on a hotel room together. Again. It’s this family spirit that keeps us coming back to the shows. It’s the therapy of listening to JB pour his heart and soul out into the mic. It’s the chance of getting to see the people that you love from all over the country, even if just for a quick hug in the hallway. (Lookin’ at you, Sweet Melissa…)


Night 1, Set 1 opened with “Pleas > Makes Sense to Me” followed by “Little Kin”. And then, did we get to catch a breath? Nope. Straight into “Action Man”. I don’t think anyone had a breather until JoJo slowed it down with “Street Dogs”. And THEN, we got a “Red Beans Cookin’”. And I mean, COOKIN’. We haven’t sampled that tasty dish since 9/24/16. Yum. “Red Beans” went into “All Time Low” and I asked a friend if they, too, always sing the Dottie Peoples part during this song. They agreed that they did, pretty much every time.


Set 2 was full of currently relevant references. “Greta’s got a gun, this ain’t no flower child…”. My personal favorite political commentary of the night came during “Flicker”. “Talking it to death, Just because you mean it, Doesn’t mean we’ve seen it…”. That’s a beautiful way to sum up the feelings of the country right now and our frustration with inaction. But, “I’m Not Alone” says, “And then I turn a little bit scared, Well I feel a little bit easier, Knowing that you’re all here…”. Don’t you always feel better when you’re surrounded by a crowd full of your friends and people like you? And bonus points to me for having carried my custom “This clearly isn’t me” clear vinyl bag to follow the new BJCC bag policy. Which they later retracted. Sigh.


The three-song encore kicked off with “Gimme”, not heard since 5/4/17. Everything seems like a news commentary to me right now, so “Throw myself at the ground, Look away before I hit…” feels especially timely. We closed the night with the staples of “Red Hot Mama” and “Chilly Water” (and where in hell did y’all find water at the end of the night, people?!?).


Night 2, Set 1 started with a “Ribs & Whiskey” opener, which will never get old to me. Of course, I was wearing a Jack Daniels tank top at the time, so I may be a wee bit biased. We got to revel in “B of D” and if you can’t get down to that, man, lemme refer you to a dance therapist. My favorite delight of the set was the “Lawyers, Guns, & Money”. Not only is this the theme song of our badass friend, Rayner, but it’s also one we haven’t heard since 8/12/17. And hasn’t the shit hit the proverbial fan? Hmm?


The second set jumped right off with a “Let’s Get This Show on the Road”, which I like for the final night’s final set. According to Panic Stream and Everyday Companion, we haven’t gotten this show on the road since 10/26/16? What?!? About time. After a tear-jerker of a “Mercy”, we had a hot “Stop-Go” that hasn’t been around in almost six months. And did anyone else hear a “Fire on the Mountain” tease in there?


The final encore began with “Trouble”. Whew. Let me sing you the song of my people, I tell ya. Next up was a beautiful “Honey Bee” that’s only the third ever. This began as a touching tribute to Tom Petty at Halloween ‘17 and again at NYE.


The boys wrapped it all up with a “Rockin’ in the Free World”. Panic has only covered this Neil Young classic four times before, the last of which was 10/25/15. The entire crowd was screaming along to “There’s one more kid that will never go to school, Never get to fall in love, Never get to be cool”. But isn’t that all you can do now? Keep on rockin’ and bein’ the good people? The ones your mama warned you about?

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January 8, 2018

By Daniel Hutchens

Featuring Dave Schools 

Introduction by Erika Rasmussen

Erika Rasmussen: Danny and I share many mutual friends and came to know each other as an Athens certainty. We’ve gone back and forth for a while on ways to combine our love of writing in a collaborative project. We cooked up the idea of a series of writings, each featuring a different song and a different musician. When I got a chance to work on this project, of all the songs in Danny's amazing library, this was the first song I jumped on. And I’m so glad to know the backstory and appreciate the song even more now. No story of the South is complete without some of our seniors appearing as old growth trees in this ever-changing landscape. And getting the input of my beloved Dave Schools about this amazing song? Well, that’s the ice cube in my drink.


Sometimes the opening line to a song makes you do a double take and take stock of the band all over again. Try this one on for size: “The ghost of Mr. Johnny Cash dumped out my cocaine, At least my Mama told me he did…” I was enjoying another raucous night in the Classic City, watching Bloodkin do what they do best. This was at their annual “Bloodkin & Friends” show, this year burning down the house at The 40 Watt Club. I thought I knew Bloodkin's songs and their style by this point. I wasn't the only one who did a double take at the opening line of this song, either. It’s an attention-grabber. This song has a different twang to me that is irresistible. It doesn’t hurt that Danny sprinkled some of my musical heroes throughout the song’s lyrics. “Waylon Jennings says I’ll go to hell, if I don’t change my evil ways…Waylon Jennings ought to know mighty well.” I may lean towards this song because “American Country Ghosts” has the driving heartbreak sound of some of my favorite bittersweet ballads. Danny's poetic imagery and authentic Southern angst are reminiscent of a Patterson Hood rant or a Sarah Shook tale of woe. This is the kind of song that you find yourself walking around singing and, more importantly, contemplating, for days afterward.


So pull up a chair. Pour a finger (or two) of whiskey. And sit back for the story behind the song.

Daniel Hutchens: Toward the end of her life, my mother, Frankie Irene, developed dementia and was no longer able to live on her own. In previous years she seemed to anticipate what was coming, and was fearful about the idea of being placed in a “nursing home.” (Modern and politically correct terminology is “assisted living”, “senior living”, etc., but Mom called these places “nursing homes.”) Mom and I had a deep bond, always emotionally close, though we disagreed about plenty and could certainly do our share of bickering. I think I inherited some of her pure Appalachian stubborn. But anyway, some years back, she and I came to an agreement: she told me, “Danny, when the time comes, I want to live with you. Keep me out of those places as long as you can.”

So I did. Mom moved down from West Virginia to live with me in Athens, Georgia in 2011, and stayed with me for 3 ½ years. Until finally my siblings and a small army of doctors convinced me her condition had deteriorated to the point where I couldn’t provide the kind of 24 hour care she needed. That was a judgment call I just couldn’t bring myself to make, and Mom fiercely protested the idea too, when I’d try to.

Mom developed “sundowning” (a condition where moods are extreme and strongly influenced by changing light), and some days she would alternate between bleak depression and fits of rage. And her overall condition intensified; eventually she had zero short term memory, would eat a meal then stand up from the table and ask when we were going to eat, etc. She was also delusional and often asked when we were going to be leaving on some imagined journey, or insistently tried to find a person who had been dead many years. She sometimes woke me by leaning over my bed and asking where one of her long-dead husbands had wandered off to, saying, “I was just talking to him a few minutes ago.” It was a chilling jolt, waking up that way.

But during that sorrowful chaos of Mom’s last year in my house, I really didn’t get much sleep anyway. I stayed up with her all hours, trying to calm her fears. She was often worried and downright scared of something nameless, and wouldn’t drift off to sleep til sunrise. So I sat there in her room and talked with her through many a long night.

Songwriting has always been, among many other things, my form of therapy. And some pretty dark songs worked their way out of me during those distressing days, watching Mom’s decline. One day she walked into the living room in tears and told me, “Danny, I can’t find myself!” That phrase shook me, and I wound up writing a song with Todd Nance called “Can’t Find Myself” (still unreleased).


Another time, I was asleep and dreamt a cinematic version of what later became “American Country Ghosts.” I saw the story in that dream first, and it played out like I was watching a spooky old movie: a dream version of Mom’s old house in West Virginia, and I was living there with her again, but she was still lost in her dementia and slowly dying. And she was relaying messages to me which she said she’d received from the ghosts of great Country Music stars passed: Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Waylon Jennings. It was a rotten, sad dream emotionally, but the imagery was so strong I had to write it down as soon as I woke up. 

At the same time Mom was struggling, my marriage was fraying, finally leading to a divorce. These events plus the deaths of some dear friends took their toll on me, and I think contributed to some physical ailments. I finally had a minor stroke in 2016, but a few years before that I wound up in an emergency room in San Francisco due to extreme high blood pressure, which ended a Bloodkin acoustic tour of the West Coast. I flew back to Athens to recuperate, and that’s when Dave Schools came to town.

Dave was camped out in John Keane’s studio, mixing the first Hard Working Americans album, and he had invited me to drop by. So one afternoon I meandered over to say hello, and sat with Dave and John awhile and listened to a few mixes. Which were sounding great, and prompted my offhand remark, “Man, this makes me want to make another record.” To which Dave replied, “Well…let’s make one.”

It was that simple. That’s what started the ball rolling for what became my third solo album, The Beautiful Vicious Cycle of Life. I already had a good crop of songs ready to go, which were my stories and confessions about the rough patch I was living through. A few of the songs directly referenced the situation with Mom, including the title song, and most specifically, “American Country Ghosts”.


It was a country song, probably alt-country would be the working category, and I already heard it pretty full-formed in my mind before we began recording over at David Barbe’s Chase Park Transduction studios. Dave Schools produced, Barbe engineered, and we found some great musicians to bring it all to life:

Duane Trucks brought a great sense of vitality and fun to the sessions, and his drumming was rock solid. (This was right before he got the call to step in as Widespread Panic’s drummer; to my knowledge, “Wings and A Walking Cane” is the only recorded track both Duane and Todd Nance play on.) Schools had told me, “Duane’s 24, but don’t worry. He doesn’t play like he’s 24.” Schools himself, as always, brought raw power and creativity with his bass playing. Then we were lucky enough to get finishing touches from brilliant players like Jesse Aycock (a Tulsa native turned Nashville multi-instrumentalist who has played with the likes of Hard Working Americans and Elizabeth Cook), Frank MacDonnell (guitarist for the iconic Athens band The Glands), Coley Duane Dennis (guitarist for the extraordinary instrumental band Maserati), William Tonks (Mike Mills Rock Concerto, Barbara Cue and many others), and Eric Carter (my longtime partner in Bloodkin). Plus Thayer Sarrano layered her keyboards, pedal steel and beautifully ethereal vocals (besides her solo work, she has collaborated with Hope For Agoldensummer, of Montreal, T. Hardy Morris, Cracker and many others).

We wanted to catch a whiff of that original dream essence on the take for “American Country Ghosts”, and I think we did. Jesse’s pedal steel and Thayer’s keyboards provided some of that elusive midnight mood, while Dave and Duane laid down a groove that left me wide open to drop my vocal in the pocket.

These are the people who made Beautiful Vicious happen. (Along with some dear friends at Havin’ A Ball Productions out in Houston, who came through with the financing.) When it comes to songwriting, after all the life experiences and philosophical meandering and dreams, none of it matters if you don’t bring the blueprints to the studio or stage and finally turn on the juice. And these folks cranked it up. Their talents blended into the soulfully haunted “Southern Gothic” rock that Schools and I were looking for. It’s a record I’m particularly proud of, but it was shortchanged in terms of its release and promotion, and I’m currently looking to add bonus digital tracks and rerelease the whole project in the future. Hey, that’s the music business.


“American Country Ghosts” has become one of the most-requested songs I’ve ever written. People always ask for it at live shows, and I get a lot of questions about it on social media. I’m glad it’s turned into such a positive; it came from such a dark place, but that’s the alchemy of music. Just like the Blues. Hearing songs about bad luck and depression can become powerfully uplifting, because you think to yourself, “Hey…someone else out there felt the way I’m feeling. I’m not the only one.”

I like to think of the song as a kind of collaboration with my Mom. A last little gift she was able to give me despite the obstacle of her dementia, her pain and terror and confusion. Like a cool radio station breaking through the static. She was a grand example of unconditional love and put-your- money-where-your-mouth-is country Christianity; she really did think about the welfare of others, always. She’d tell you in no uncertain terms when she thought you were sinning or acting the fool. But then she’d take you in and feed you and help you along your path, any way she could.

“American Country Ghosts” is her song, alright. Same with “Can’t Find Myself”. The sad stories of her last days. But then I also think of a song I wrote back in 2008 that wound up on the Bloodkin record “Baby, They Told Us We Would Rise Again”. That song is called “Rhododendron”, and Patterson Hood honored me by writing, “As a lover of fine Southern literature I can put the [lines of the song] alongside the finest writing I’ve ever seen.”

“Rhododendron” is more a celebration of Frankie Irene’s life overall, and that’s probably what Mom would have preferred. Focusing on the positive. Which I’ve certainly been trying to do this last year, and I happily report that I’m on the mend, and receive encouraging reports from my doctor. Maybe I learned a couple lessons while I was down there in the trenches. Again, the credit goes to Mom. “God’s own little wildflower. My wild Rhododendron.”


Dave Schools: It was quite an honor when Daniel Hutchens tapped me to produce a solo album for him. I was well aware of the power of his writing as Widespread Panic has recorded many of his tunes and I have witnessed the palpable responses of audiences far and wide when we perform Danny’s music. The impact of his songwriting is undeniable.

One of the bullet points that Danny and I discussed before recording was the idea of creating a core backing band that was of Athens yet unlike anything that listeners had ever heard before complementing his songs. As producer I wanted to be able to sonically represent the emotional impact of these highly personal and often biographical songs and I felt that the disparate backgrounds of the players would help us achieve the goal.

It was a stylistic roll of the dice but it paid off immediately because all of the players understood and adhered to my favorite studio mantra: SERVE THE SONG. And what songs we had to serve.

“American Country Ghosts” was one of the lynchpin tracks in a stack of excellent songs that Danny and I had selected to record and I was further excited by the fact that we had assembled a crackerjack band to back him up: David Barbe (who was also engineering the recording at Chase Park), Duane Trucks, Thayer Sarrano, and myself. Featured on this track is also Tulsa native Jesse Aycock on pedal steel. Danny himself was the constant rock solid foundation of all the tracks as he patiently held the rudder while the band learned the arrangements on the fly. His steady rhythm playing on acoustic perfectly matched the sometimes snarling and always spot on vocal performances. More often than not Danny’s performances are one take masterstrokes.


Having known Danny personally for decades and knowing the struggles he has weathered I felt it was important to insure that the music the group created was an emotional compliment to these highly personal lyrics and that it would in no way cloud the impact of the story told. In this respect the band soared, waiting for the right moments to unleash their personal best on the tracks.

“American Country Ghosts” was also one of the first tunes we cut and was the first time I heard Thayer Sarrano perform. Watching her leave her body while consumed by the gravitas of the song during her piano outro remains one of my favorite studio moments. The restraint of the band until the emotional build at the end of the track is a great example of how we served the contemplative nature of the lyrical content. 

More importantly, “American Country Ghosts” is a unique slice of personal songwriting in the canon of Americana music. Written from the perspective of a man who is dealing with the impending mortality of his mother and the onset of her dementia, he questions the choices he has made in his life as his mother is visited by spirits of country music greats, like Johnny Cash who dumps out his bag of cocaine, and Patsy Cline who reminds him that his mother is a saint. A perspective that seems more and more rare in today’s world of phony sentimentality and self-aggrandizing music.

Here is a songwriter who isn’t simply willing to let his own blood for the listener. Here is a songwriter that has no choice but to pour his inner demons as well as his personal victories out through his art for all to hear and feel. This is something we could use a lot more of in this crazy world.

-Dave Schools: January 6, 2018


Photo: Jeff Fernandez


January 6, 2018

“The best thing about New Year’s is the Christmas lights…” At least, that’s what JB tells us. For Spreadheads across the land, the best thing about New Year’s is reuniting with your Panic family and getting down for a few nights with your favorite band. And this year was no exception.


Night 1 kicked off on Friday, 12/29. The night seemed to have a special Colonel Bruce Hampton theme to me. The Colonel’s photo was taped to the front of Duane Trucks’ kick drum. The evening opened with “Happy everything to you, good people” and then right into “Heaven”. The peaceful, soothing tone of the number seemed respectful of the loss of the Colonel and so many others that were special to us in 2017. After that reverential piece, the energy then picked right up with the second song, good ole “Climb to Safety”.


The first set saw only the 26th performance of “Jaded Tourist” and a “Ride Me High” that featured a distinctly Colonel-esque jam, in my humble opinion. The second set included a Colonel Bruce Jam between “Barstools” and “Impossible”. This jam was as spacey and uninhibited as the Colonel himself. He is famously quoted as saying “I can name a hundred bands that are better, but I don’t want to see them as much as I want to see Widespread Panic.” The Colonel and Panic always had a special relationship. The closer was “North”, but the encore opener was “Dream Song”. The line “Wake up in your dream, you can do anything there…” could be the unofficial Zambiland motto, I’d say.


Night 2 on Saturday, 12/30, was dubbed the “Gentlemen’s Night”. The band jumped right into “One-Armed Steve” and ran through the list of the usual suspects all night. From Henry Parsons to Papa Johnny Road to Jack, no man was left behind. Our beloved “Pusherman” featured a “Day Tripper” tease. (Sidenote: I wrote a remix to “Pusherman” entitled “Pizzaman” during an Oakland run in 2014 while waiting for pizza delivery at the hotel. Remind me to sing it for you at a show sometime.) They wrapped-up the evening with three of everyone’s favorite dudes: “Blue Indian”, “Sleepin’ Man”, and “Action Man”.


Night 3 on Sunday, 12/31, is what we wait for all year. With a little “Good evenin’, everybody...” the boys proposed “Let’s Get Down to Business, Shall We?”. This opener never gets old to me. I personally enjoyed during “Can’t Get High” when JB said “Some more of our Athens roots right there” as a nod to the Bloodkin songwriters, Daniel Hutchens and Eric Carter. During the first set we heard “Time Waits”, which hasn’t been played in 206 shows. The first set also featured JB seated and playing an acoustic guitar.


The third set featured three Colonel Bruce songs: “Basically Frightened”, which has only ever been played once before in 2011; “Yield Not to Temptation”, a FTP; and “I’m So Glad”, which has only ever been played twice before. This set also featured Tom Petty’s “Honey Bee”, which was a huge hit when they debuted it in Vegas at Halloween this year. These were wonderful tributes to two of our favorite musical heroes lost in 2017.


However you rang in your New Year, whether it was swaying on the balcony of the Fabulous Fox or couch touring at home on your sofa with your loved ones, there was no better way to bring in the new year than with greatest act on the jam band scene right now. Who else but JB can make “Be cool with the bubbles, man…” sound so cool? We’ll see y’all for another round in twelve months.


Photo: Jeff Fernandez


November 11, 2017

Life on tour embodies the essence of the American dream. Loading up with your "family", hitting the road, and handling everything that comes your way while discovering what it means to be an American. Hunter S. Thompson redefined that American dream in "Fear and Loathing", as had the counterculture movement of the prior decade. Today's gypsies still trek across this great country, even if they're now aided by frequent flier miles and smartphones with GPS. And it's on these migrations that we discover new miracles and fall in love with our hallmark traditions all over again.

When Panic descended upon Vegas for Halloween weekend, it was a Gonzo-style celebration of all that is old and new and American and Vegas and awesome.

It all kicked off on Friday with only the third ever Bowie "Heroes". Continuing in the theme of recently departed badasses, they closed with "Ace of Spades", only played four times before.

Saturday was basically "Honeybee" night. When the boys finally covered Petty's classic, there was a collective explosion of minds, both at the Park Theater and by everyone couch touring at home. It's still a hot topic of conversation. In typical Panic style, they refrained from covering the song in Milwaukee because that'd be just too damn predictable if the city's mentioned in the lyric. That probably added to the joy of getting the breakout in Sin City.

Saturday, as you may have heard, was also Ladies Night. The greatest ladies night ever. Think of a Panic song about a woman. Boom. They played it. All the chicks were there. Greta, Arleen, Lilly, Sharon, that ole Flat Foot Flewzy (bless her), Avis, Ophelia, and of course our favorite diner waitress, Miss Lee. That's a gang of gals I could party with.

The band waited til Sunday to BLOW SOME MINDS. They played their only ever covers of "Alright Now" (JB vocals only), "Home On The Range" (3 freakin' versions), "Magic Carpet Ride", and "Rumble". And just when you thought it was safe to have feelings again, they bust into "Don't Tell The Band". Y'ALL. This hasn't been played since '02. When Mikey was still with us for a little longer. If you know the song's meaning, then you'll understand how big a deal it is to have someone OTHER than Mikey sing it. It was actually a little overwhelming for some fans. The only song that would affect me more, personally, is "Waker". "DTTB" is one of THOSE songs that you just don't think you'll ever catch live again.

But that's what happens in Vegas, right? Roll the dice, take it as far as you can, and see what happens. Just like on these epic cross country trips that we all love so much. In Hunter S. Thompson's immortal words, blasted for the crowd before Set 1, "The tendency is to push it as far as you can."


Photo: Jeff Fernandez


November 10, 2017

Widespread Panic opened Friday night in Milwaukee with a Tom Petty-sized bang. For the first time ever, they covered “You Wreck Me” and basically blew the lid off the joint from the get go. JB was really stretching his legs with a “Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again” in “Barstools” and a little mandolin pickin’ on the “Ain’t Life Grand” closer.

On Saturday, everyone was treated to the rare tune of JoJo’s “Smoking Factory”, not played since ’09. Another unusual entertainment of the evening was the addition of tour manager Steve Lopez on percussion in “Slippin’”, a little touch I love and that harkens back to the days of Bill Graham’s annual on-stage involvement at New Year’s Eve. Nice to see back of house step out on stage every now and then.

As always, “never miss a Sunday show”. While Panic opened the weekend with “You Wreck Me”, the emotion of hearing “Wish You Were Here” (not played since ’15) was made even greater by the use of Mikey logo on backdrop during the song. If you didn’t get choked up during that, then there’s not enough Pabst in Milwaukee to fix your problems, my friend.


Photo: Jerry Friend


October 19, 2017

It's amazing what happens when you add percussion, electricity, and a dash of Cajun flavor to Bluegrass. The Triangle, home of the IBMA's, has no shortage of great Bluegrass. I heard a girl comment last night "EVERYONE here plays banjo...". And yet, we were blown away by Leftover Salmon at the Haw River Ballroom.

The openers, Hank, Pattie & The Current, not only kicked off the night, but stepped in later to jam. Salmon's banjo player, Andy Thorn, hails from Durham.  And this is the Triangle. SO OF COURSE, they all know each other.  That's what makes this wee community of ours so great.

Hank, Pattie & The Current jumped right in with their consistently impressive Bluegrass, both new and old. After being treated to some Motown-Bluegrass ("Mograss") that included some super funky Stevie Wonder, we all squeezed in a little tighter upfront in preparation of the Salmon.

And, boom, we kick it right off with the zesty tune "Liza". Feels like my recent New Orleans vacation is still continuing. Yeah, you right. Of course, they have to cover "Carolina Song" while they're here. And it doesn't disappoint. I can only find a few references to the band playing this and it's always in Carolina, so that's a special treat.

I happen to love "Tu N'as Pas Aller" and when they launched into it, you'd swear you're in a second line and not on the Haw River. The title translates to "you don't need to go there" and I agree. If you can't live in New Orleans, let a little bit of New Orleans live in you. NOLA was alive and well in Saxapahaw this night.

They go into my beloved "Two Highways" and as the line goes, "guess I'll just settle in for the ride...". When we leave for the evening and our drunken vocals float away down the Haw River, I reflect on how lucky we are. It takes music of this level and a venue this beautiful to drag us all out of our cozy enclaves on a school night. But I would gladly schlep out to Saxy any night for this Glory in the Territory.


Photo: Jeff Fernandez


September 25, 2017

Once upon a time, there was a band. They’d been on the scene for a while already and had acquired two drummers, three guitarists, and a keyboardist. Their traveling circus of musicians, roadies, and “family” was as big as their sound. It all got to be too much. “That’s it,” they said. “We’re gonna take a break.” And take a break, they did. The Grateful Dead went on a 20-month hiatus in 1974 (save a few unannounced shows and the recording of “Blues for Allah” at Bobby’s place.) When the Dead came back out, it was to a select list of intimate venues, attended by a diehard, knowledgeable crowd. The smaller venues were chosen to decrease the overwhelming crowd size, but the change in locations also prompted a change in the outrageous amounts of sound equipment they could lug around with them. This was a welcome relief, even to a band that cared about their audience’s sound experience like no other performers at the time. They also scaled down their sound. Instead of going “way out there”, they relied more on subtle chord changes and lyrics to tell their tale. To the fan who was truly there for the music, and not the “scene” that it had become, this was nirvana.


When jam band alumni Widespread Panic announced in 2016 that they were going to take their own breather from their backbreaking tour schedule, there was quite the wailing and gnashing of teeth. “What will we do? Who will we listen to? Where will I throw my overpriced concert water?!?” Since that announcement, we’ve all hunkered down. Tour plans are agonized and strategized over like the defense of Dragonstone (#teamdaenerys). The limited amount of funds and time off from work that one has is sparingly spread out over the tours with the utmost of care. We get to share our love of Panic and “family” in intimate venues like Atlanta’s Fox Theatre and Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. We’re even selling out the amphitheater in St Augustine on a three-night run after a hurricane in oppressive heat! “They say it takes hardship, boy; To let you love the rest. Sometimes underneath the load, is where I show my best.” We’re showing up and appreciating the magic of Widespread Panic all over again. And it is glorious.


Just like the veteran Deadheads of 1976, we’re all slinging grilled cheeses or t-shirts or  even websites on the side; whatever side hustle is necessary to get back on tour. People are bringing their kids, or even their parents, to their first show before there’s no more chances to experience a first show. Those who are “chasing” a song seem to be pursuing it with a little more fervor, and celebrating the catch with that much more elation and gratitude. When the band recently went into “Four Cornered Room” in Florida, countless people skipped past me cheering “I’ve been chasing this song for ____ years!”. I was lucky enough to have caught it last year in Norfolk (man, what a heater!), but you can feel the palpable relief as many people realized the tune wouldn’t elude them forever. I, myself, have made sacrifices and called in favors in order to check off some bucket list venues.


One of those venues I’m most looking forward to finally taking in is the Riverside Theatre in Milwaukee, WI. The historic Riverside Theater is Panic’s 4th most often played venue (behind Uptown Lounge, Red Rocks, and Georgia Theater). I find this especially interesting for a jam band that found its roots in the South. While Panic typically hugs the two coasts for their tours (East Coast due its Georgia roots and the West Coast due to Dave Schools relocating to CA), the Riverside Theater is always a beacon in the Midwest for jam fans.  The Riverside Theater remains standing on shaky ground. In an era of giant, modern, multipurpose venues, the Riverside is the only remaining Milwaukee structure designed by Kirchoff & Rose, vaudeville-theater specialists of the 20’s. Panic has almost fallen apart twice due to the tragic loss of the lead guitarist and a change in one of their percussionists. The old Riverside has almost been lost twice: once to fire and once to a date with the wrecking ball. Much like the millionaire owner of the Theater, who at that time who turned things around and renovated the theater, Panic has reinvented itself. While we miss Todd Nance as a part of the band, the energy that Duane Trucks has recently brought to drumming has reinvigorated not only their sound, but the energy of their famous “Drums” interlude. Just like in the days of Billy and Mickey taking the Dead into “Drums>Space”, Sunny and Duane transport us to another space and time when we can focus on their percussionist arts. Mickey Hart always says, “I’m in the transportation business…”. It all makes sense if you let yourself go and become a part of the music. And that’s always a little easier in a venue as storied, famous, and beautiful as the Riverside.


In the words of “Cream Puff War”, a song covered by both bands, “Wait a minute, watch what you're doin' with your time…”. Plan your travel smartly and find a way to take in the glory that is Widespread Panic in Milwaukee. Go rub the Bronze Fonz statue, drink some beer, and enjoy some midwestern hospitality. “All the endless ruins of the past must stay behind…”


Photo: Jeff Fernandez


September 20, 2017

On Friday, we blew into St. Augustine like a friendlier, headier version of that hateful Hurricane Irma that had just come through. Unlike Irma, we were there to spread love in the form of cash donations, canned food drives, local spending, and lots of gettin’ down. Making the most of a storm’s aftermath is a Southern tradition. You can turn wooden bowls from fallen trees and weave baskets from the palm fronds that the trees have shed. This spirit of making the most out of what you have is also what inspired musicians to turn feedback into its own musical instrument instead of just an annoyance.

That audio feedback was a highlight of Friday night (September 15th) for me. Lots of heavy, edgy tunes and tons of distortion and speaker cabinet manipulation took me back to my earlier days of Panic. All that guitar energy is reminiscent of a hurricane’s chaos. The storm theme was so abundant, it seemed that JB was having a conversation with me about the experience of living through it. While the “Climb to Safety” opener was no surprise, we all sang along to “I can hear the water rise…” I appreciated the “sling a little mud, girl…” line a bit more than usual during “Tall Boy.” The highlight of the evening for many of us was “Stop-Go” (last played 10/2016) with an amazing “Three Little Birds” rap in the middle. “Every little ting really is gonna be alright, y’all.”

Saturday’s show treated us like a graceful eye of the storm. The “Disco” opener went right into “Heroes,” and “everybody turns hero” reminded me of the hard-working crews of Florida during this song. In addition to the songs not played since last year (“Weak Brain, Narrow Mind,” “Sharon,” “Street Dogs” and “Happy”), the gem of the evening for me was “Vacation.” Not only does this tune always calm and refresh the crowd, but they snuck in a “Mountain Jam” tease that warmed my heart and cooled my skin at the same time. I’m sure Duane Allman himself would’ve smiled to have witnessed Jimmy Herring painting this masterpiece in the Brothers’ home state.


The wall of pressure that comes through after the eye of the hurricane is called The Right Punch. And that’d be a good name for Sunday night’s show. We all showed up tired but ready, and Panic worked us over like the last big storm surge. The line “I cut a hole in my roof the shape of a heart” (“Goin’ Out West”) has a new meaning for me now after walking around and watching all the roof workers sweating it out on a sea of devastated asphalt shingles. This evening also included a few songs we haven’t enjoyed since last 2016: “Angels Don’t Sing the Blues” and the ever-popular “Four-Cornered Room” AND “Coconut.”



Not only was “Four-Cornered Room” exciting due to its rarity, but the line “thinking, talking, we’ve worked out our problems” really resonated. Florida has once again methodically worked through a natural disaster that isn’t for the faint of heart. We closed the weekend with “Blackout Blues,” and, like the Sunshine State, I will “pick my head up off the ground” and see you on the lot at the next go-round.


Photo: Jerry Friend


August 14, 2017

As I sat in my seat at Umphrey's McGee at Red Hat Amphitheatre on Friday night, I had an epiphany. We were in the very back of the seats, where that section comes to a point against the lawn. I watched all the fans walking around us to make the turn at the point. There were young fans who looked like they just finished guarding the rail before a Bassnectar show (stop doing that please, y'all), middle-aged rockers like myself who clearly just got off work and met the babysitter in time to make it to the show, and older hippies who were intently comparing this amazing light show to that of Candace Brightman's work with the Grateful Dead. During my observations, the soundtrack grew to increase the noises of a passing train who blew their horn for us, much to the crowd's delight, and rumbling traffic and motorcycle engines. It occurred to me that I sat in a whirlpool of music genre fans and urban noises and this all really represented Umphrey's McGee perfectly: the convergence point of so many rhythms and grooves and fans within the jam band scene.


But, can you even define UM as a jam band? With random covers such as "Black Water" in the first set and a heavy lean towards metal in the second set, UM continues to defy stereotypes and genres. Not ordinarily much of a headbanger myself, I was cursing Umphrey's on Saturday when my neck was aching. Pretty sure I can attribute this pain to the Mantis>Mulche's Odyssey>Mantis sandwich, which was actually part of a larger Dagwood sandwich that basically engulfed the second set in awesomeness. I might've been hurting the day after but rocking out to music like this, that's harder and different than the downhome-banjo-feelgood tunes I usually crank, is worth it.


Just as we were finally catching our breath and I had convinced myself that maaaaybe I wouldn't suffer a heat stroke due to the oppressive humidity of the rainy evening, Umphrey's broke into an encore of "In the Kitchen". I may dance myself into a heart attack one day, but if it happens after a night like this one, it will be worth it. What better Friday night than boogieing your heart out with all the various and sundry freaks of the Triangle, while the Cree Shimmer Wall glitters its giant oak limbs above you and a silver train darts through downtown? Things may get weird, but like the UM album says, there's "Safety in Numbers".



May 25-27, 2017

Tucked away in a corner of the Triangle filled with rolling green hills, Lil John’s Mountain Music Festival is a little bluegrass heaven. Situated at the beautiful Cane Creek Campground, the festival is full of top notch musical entertainment this Memorial Day Weekend.


Whether you’re listening to Sideline at the kick-off potluck dinner, competing in the cornhole tournament, catching Seldom Scene on the wooden stage, bumping into the Flatt Lonesome twins by the pond, or taking your kid to the musical workshop, you’ll always be surrounded by natural beauty and melodic greatness.


The entire event begins with a Battle of the Bands, which is a great way to introduce you to new acts that you’ll able to say you saw way back when. Come get settled in early in your camper or tent. There’s 70 wooded acres on site, all studded with rustic farm equipment, barns, windmills, and even a bluegrass museum. Other acts include James King Tribute Band, Dudley Connell, Ron Stuart, Steve Dilling, Chris Hill, Jason Moore, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Boxcars, Dave Adkins, Feller & Hill, David Parmley & The Cardinal Tradition, Hammertowne, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road, Three Jack Jenny, and Salt & Light.


The festival has been a regional tradition for years and as one attendee commented, it’s just a “special place to hear bluegrass”. Grab your pick and your ticket and head on down.



April 13, 2017

I grew up in Durham listening to Bruce Hornsby. But not the heady Hornsby that you might hear blasting out of a Volkswagen on lot. I grew up listening to “Mandolin Rain” and the like on VH1, my parents’ entertainment of choice in the 80’s. I always found his voice soothing, but it was years before I ever realized his incomparable pedigree in the field of music.


As I slowly got into the jam band scene during my high school years in the 90’s, I became more and more aware of the impact that Bruce had on some of my very favorite musicians and songs. I finally got to witness his mastery live at LOCKN Festival in 2014. As blown away as I was, I couldn’t fully appreciate Bruce’s skill until I caught him this month at the Carolina Theatre and was close enough to see his magic hands at work and catch all the laughs and jokes he shares with the band onstage.


Watching Bruce jam with the Noisemakers is like getting to watch your friend’s cool band practicing in the garage, jamming and laughing and trying out new combinations. That is if you have world-renowned musicians for friends. (And if so, please invite me over…)

A sure sign of the quality of this tour was the audience itself. Even in their oxford shirts and good shoes, old Grateful Dead tour veterans just can’t hide their true identities. One of my very favorite crowd experiences at any show is watching folks slowly relax and get into the music and forget to worry if anyone’s watching. This crowd was no exception and I loved watching so many Triangle professionals return to what’s clearly their true passion. It’s not just SAS programming and NCAA basketball that gets us excited around here.


Another clear indication that you’re in for some top shelf jamming? When Bruce announces that there’s no set list. He waves a big stack of requests and the night is also peppered with lots of shout-outs from the audience, many of which he manages to incorporate into the show or at least laugh about.


The first piece that had me sitting up and taking notes was “The Way It Is” with the most beautiful classical piano solo leading into it. The kind of lead in that reminds you of the hours of traditional piano practice a young Bruce must have endured. This haunting beginning had me wondering why every version of this song doesn’t include such an intro.


After Bruce has sufficiently reminded of us his pianist prowess, he hops up on the dulcimer while two of his bandmates grab the washboard and mandolin for a rendition of “Border Town”. Again, my VH1 pop music childhood is reinterpreted for me in such a clever way that I’m wishing I could start over, appreciating all this talent from a younger age.


Oh, and that’s not all. Bruce casually picks up the squeezebox to perform “Big Stick”, his Cajun-esque melody written for the Tin Cup movie. It’s so different from his other compositions and is another reminder of how well rounded this gentleman is.

Bruce had an old friend and former guest guitarist for the Grateful Dead step out and perform “Cumberland Blues” with him. This is pretty much the point at which the sitting audience became a standing and dancing audience. I’d be happy to see his “Bruce Sings Jerry” set at any time after this rocking rendition.


The final highlight of the evening for me was “Rainbow Cadillac”. I think I was well in my 20’s before I realized that this was a Hornsby song. To me, the tune encompasses everything great about Bruce. It’s fun and laid back and jammy and a song that anyone can tap their toes to and any musician can put their spin on. And those are the same reasons that Grade A artists around the world continue to collaborate with Bruce, decades into his career. And the same reasons that will keep me coming back for more for years to come.

wood bros.jpg

Photo: Jerry Friend



There’s a unique spell cast on you by the Carolina Theatre.


I first experienced it when I was young and they reopened this Durham landmark. I got to be a part of the activities and it was an enchanting experience that I'll never forget. Twenty-five years later, I got to re-visit the wonder of my first brush with this storied hall. All thanks to The Wood Brothers and the voodoo that they do so well.


When you enter the Theatre, you're greeted with an abundance of architectural details. Unlike the concrete convention centers we're shuffled through so often now, this locale has carpeted stairs leading in all directions, small bars around each corner, comfy tables and chairs, and the kindest volunteer staff to guide you through your night. We arrive in our balcony seats just in time to see the opening act, The T Sisters, kick off the show. The T Sisters offer a warm, melodic intro to the evening. The crowd warms up and it's the start to a great night. After a break, The Wood Brothers take the stage. And then, just like the interesting construction of the Carolina Theatre, you don't know what to expect. They lead us through a night of enchanting songs, trick percussion skills, and some rubber leg dance moves that are showmanship at its highest form.


Just when you think that thirty years of concerts has shown you everything there is to see, Chris Wood and Jano Rix begin "Keep Me Around". Chris is employing his stand-up bass as masterfully as a wizard and his wand. Meanwhile, Jano no longer needs his drum set (or his keyboard, or his melodica, or most of the bevy of instruments he plays) to perform for this piece. He's knocking on an acoustic guitar in a rhythm that seems the only way to perform this song as it's meant to be performed. His simple percussion piece blows me away more than all the epic drum solos I've seen in this last year. And that's a lot of drum solos.


What's interesting about Chris Wood isn't just his superhuman skills on the bass, but his moves! If you haven't seen Chris and his legs of rubber boogie across the stage, both with and without his instrument, then you haven't truly experienced The Wood Brothers yet.


The fairy tale continues and "The Touch of Your Hand" has the charmed ability to make even the most die-hard good ole boys on our row hug their dates wistfully. This is perhaps the sweetest magic of the whole night.



The tender beginning of "Postcards from Hell" bounces gorgeously off the ceiling of the Theatre, colored so subtly by the understated lights of the show. In true Wood Brothers style, the song turns on a dime and catches you off-guard with the building crescendo of the chorus. I raise my arms to the ceiling, trying to gather in all the beauty and magic swirling around the balcony.


As if they haven't impressed us with their bag of tricks enough, the lights go down to one amber light underlighting the band, and they huddle around a vintage microphone. Oliver Wood informs us that this is the "O, Wood Brother, Where Art Thou?" portion of the evening and that the microphone is a time machine.  He says we're all about to be taken back to a time before cell phones and modern craziness. Sign me up. The Brothers bring out The T Sisters and we're treated to the most eerily beautiful version of "Sing About It" that you can imagine. The Sisters really do remind you of the Sirens in the "O, Brother" movie, just as Oliver had predicted.


We finally get the song that all the ladies have been waiting for, "The Luckiest Man". It never fails to fairly hypnotize the female half of the crowd. And tonight is no exception.


What could possibly raise us out of our stupor after that? Only another selection from their recent "Live at the Barn" recording at Levon Helm's homestead. When the band busts into "Ophelia", my heart nearly implodes. I'd had "Ophelia", both Levon's version and the Grateful Dead song, on my mind earlier in the day and it was as if the band was performing their last trick just to show me exactly how powerful they really are. And it worked. I left the show in a complete trance. Wondering who this band is that I'd underappreciated until now and when I'd next get to see them pull a musical rabbit out of a hat.

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Photo: Jerry Friend



Sometimes you have those days that are amazing out of nowhere. I was having one of those days, and then I found out that I was going to see Shovels & Rope again that night. Unexpected happiness is the best. I’d last seen Carrie Ann & Michael perform in Charlotte on the night they’d announced they were expecting a tiny little addition to the line-up. I couldn’t wait to hear the album and if they had a new sound after such a major life change.


Upon strolling into The Ritz Raleigh, I realized that a lot of people around were as pumped for the opener, John Moreland, as they were for Shovels & Rope. That fact had already piqued my interest, and I certainly sat up and took note when John took the stage. His is a very commanding presence. My pleasant surprises of the day continued as I increasingly became a John Moreland fan with every song. My favorites were probably “Julia” and “Nobody Gives a Damn”. Be sure to check out this musical giant, both figuratively and literally, at your first chance.


While killing time during the set-up for our headliners, I was checking out the wooden pallet backdrop when I realized we were being treated to Tom Waits for the house music (“Hoist That Rag”). The night just keeps getting better, and I haven’t even seen Carrie Ann’s grinning face yet.

When our beloved husband & wife duo takes the stage, the crowd erupts. With the first song, the pallet backdrop becomes a screen for videos and images that entertain all night (but don’t distract, thankfully. We’ve all gotten perhaps a little too in love with our light shows at these things…)


The night is such a thriller for everyone, including the die-hard couple in front of me who are recounting when they’ve seen each song played before and the young ladies beside me who keep asking “WHERE are they from? Why haven’t we seen them yet?!?” We've even been gifted the joy of a Tom Waits cover (“Bad as Me”, guess the house music was a precursor to what was to come). Another memorable cover is Bruce Springsteen's “Johnny 99” and Carrie Ann & Michael seem to enjoy performing this song as we enjoy listening. It’s the gusto with which they play that first drew me to them. It appears that parenthood has only sharpened that zeal for the beautiful things in life.


As much as I love the new album, I can’t help but enjoy their classics the most. I’m not the only one and they thank their fans for their loyalty and dedicate “Birmingham” to us late in the show. In a closer that I couldn’t have scripted better myself, they played “Hail Hail” right before taking a break. It was such a good version, that I needed a breather, myself. After returning with “Buffalo Nickel”, they ended the evening with a raucous, rousing version of “Cavalier”. You know the night is good when you walk away singing and humming that closer for hours. Just as I did. I went to bed thinking that I never could’ve dreamt up such a pleasant Thursday upon waking that morning if I’d tried.

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Photo: Jerry Friend



It'd be hard to go over all the highlights of the weekend, both big and small. It's the subtleties that make this such a unique experience. Just walking from the main stage to the showcase stage involves the treat of passing first floor balcony patios filled with attendees who've broken out in impromptu jam sessions, surrounded by tailgating observers. In this Bluegrass inception, the audience members become performers, and their fellow conference goers are now watching them.


Upon arriving at the showcase stage, we have the pleasure of enjoying the most gorgeous "side venue" I've ever seen. Tall walls of stone create a corner nook that's made for this high level of Bluegrass.

The main stage takes this resort to another place. The painted mountain backdrop offers the most beautiful framing for the most beautiful music I've heard in a long time.

One of the more memorable main stage performances for me was Flatt Lonesome. The twins entertain the audience with their unique brand of humor. And that's in between their songs which leave me tapping my boot and grinning. My favorite is probably their cover of Don Williams' "Lay Down Beside Me". This classic only becomes more hauntingly enchanting in this serene setting.


Another cover highlight of the weekend, for me, is Seldom Scene's version of "Sitting On Top of the World". This is one my favorite blues songs and I'm always happy to hear a Bluegrass twist on it. Seldom Scene does not disappoint. I always enjoy how hearing other bands and genres cover songs I love expands my music appreciation overall. I'm tapping my boot again and picking up lyrics and chord changes and little nuances I hadn't noticed before.


Dailey & Vincent closed Saturday night with "The Hills of Caroline", a song that was made for Asheville if ever there was one. You get so wrapped up in the song and the mountain backdrop, you forget that the mountains aren't real.


After the weekend is over, I head back to the real world and the usual shows I attend with their boisterous crowds and dirty floors. But I know that if I behave, I'll get invited back to these classy events at the grown-ups' table again.


Photo: Jerry Friend



Can you recall the days of running to join your friends on the playground? It looked so fun you just jumped right in until you were dragged out of there, practically kicking and screaming by some adult? Welcome to Karl Denson’s Tiny Playground. The fun’s just begun.


Driving up Alexander Street to park my car near the Neighborhood Theatre last Friday night felt like being back in the old neighborhood again. I haven’t been to a show there in a while, but I love those venues where you already know the good parking spots and back entrances. However, this night the street was much more crowded than it usually is. Looks like the same old rowdy crowd (and then some) is back again for Karl Denson and our beloved Jimmy Herring. The Widespread Panic stickers are plentiful on the street.


After Groove 8 got the crowd pleasantly warmed up and thoroughly pumped for an evening of jamming, the crowd thickened up front. Folks who had made the mistake of stepping outside for a smoke mentioned that it was like stepping back into a different venue because it seemed that every inch of space in the Theatre was taken. Everyone assumed their places as the venue started to heat up, in a foreshadowing of the steamy night we were in for.

I was pumped to get the “Power Soul” opener, even if they opened with that in two nights before in Athens. It’s such a commanding song, everyone just jumped right in with both feet. It got pretty hot in there quickly, and Karl D had to remove his suit jacket. Can we just take a second to say that we should nickname him Karl Bench-son? Because dude has some huge arms and has clearly been putting in some time at the gym. No wonder he can slay that saxophone so well.  
In the middle of “Just Got Paid”, trumpeter Chris Littlefield offered Karl a different shaker instrument to use, rather than the tambourine Karl was holding. Karl laughed, tried the instrument, shook his head, and went back to his tambourine. Without missing a beat. Who does that? How many musicians on his level are willing to joke around mid-set like that, AND have the professionalism to keep the show going seamlessly? I was glad to be front and center on the rail to witness their back and forth.

It’d be cliché at this point to say that it was like watching a musical conversation between the musicians throughout the evening. BUT. It was. Except that it was like watching a conversation between people who spoke perfectly and concisely and with such skill, that you just want to listen to them go on all night. All of us Widespread Panic fans had been warned that this wasn’t a “Jimmy show” and don’t expect to feel like you’re at a Panic concert. Well, of course, we kept hearing Widespread tunes in our heads and another girl and I both shouted out “Ribs n’ Whiskey!” when I’m CONVINCED they teased a few notes, just to toy with us.


However, it was AMAZING to see Jimmy play with this ensemble. As a die-hard Panic fan of 20+ years, you come to expect every nuance and note. Even in an improvised jam, you know where the melody is going. But this night was like watching “the White Wizard” reincarnated as a totally different musical genius. He was so happy and the funk environment was perfectly attuned to showcase his skills without turning it into a round of Guitar Hero. Just like when you get to see Jimmy perform with Aquarium Rescue Unit, you’re reminded that this quiet, gentle soul possesses some of the hottest fingers to ever grace a fretboard.

By “Some Skunk Funk”, I was near heatstroke and had to step outside. Even on the curb, though, the music was infectious and you’d catch yourself bustin’ a move on 36th Street. Unfortunately for my poor tired legs, the funk didn’t stop and you just can’t seem to sit still when KDTU is grooving. The final song before the encore was “Satisfied”, and they could’ve just finished then as they did in Athens, so perfect was the evening. I danced my heart out to both that song and then “NYC” before the staff finally turned on the house lights and ejected all of our reluctant souls out the door. We made a quick stop to talk to Jimmy behind the venue and then I wearily dragged myself to my car.


And when you go home from a show like this, sweaty and happy, you realize just how tired you are. How hard you’ve played and how many bumps and bruises you unknowingly took along the way. And just like in elementary school, you smile at the memory of so joyfully wearing yourself out in the boisterous company of your favorite friends and strangers. I can’t wait for my next opportunity to enter the Tiny Universe.

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Photo: Jerry Friend



Do you remember the holidays of your childhood, dreaming of getting EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED? Well, you must have been good this year, kiddies, because you’re getting it all! Here’s a chance to make your musical dreams come true, and fulfill the wishes of some lucky Asheville Habitat for Humanity recipients. Warren Haynes Presents the 28th Annual Christmas Jam on December 10, 2016, at the US Cellular Center, and your stocking will be overflowing with an impressive array of artists.

With a non-stop tour schedule that embraces multiple music genres and every state in the nation, Warren Haynes is like that hard-working favorite band shirt that you keep wearing out and replacing because there's no other like it. Boasting a band roster of talent like very few groups can claim, Gov’t Mule is like the complete action playset that's on every holiday list, from the youngest of kids to the most mature adults. With a legendary career rooted in the Grateful Dead and steeped in the height of coolness, Bob Weir is the almost mythical guitar from the west coast that you need to make you look like the musical genius you are inside. Through a smile and a voice that can soften the most hardened of music fans, Alison Krauss is that well-established mountain company's super comfy sweater that somehow looks good on you, too. Possessing a jazz pedigree that is unrivaled on the current scene, Branford Marsalis is that book that makes you look smarter and more sophisticated, but you actually enjoy reading, in fact. Bringing his resume of gigs, tour stops, and collaborations straight out of a Rock Scully tale, Steve Kimock is the rugged pack that is the only thing standing between you & a happy life on the road, following musicians tied to the good ole' Grateful Dead. Having already accrued a loyal following and impressive recording portfolio, young Marcus King is the brand new hot gadget that already has crowds lining up and orders and investors well into its future. We’ll be dashing to the show, and we’ll see you there!





I’m driving from Raleigh to Charlotte, a drive I make all too often and for which I have run out of ways to entertain myself. Audiobooks, my beloved Rasmusic channel on my music app, the random stations I’ll pick up clearly in the Trinity-Lexington areas of my journey; they’ve all lost the ability to keep me from yawning on this pilgrimage. A lot.


This time I’ve put together a Karl Denson playlist to prepare for the upcoming show in Charlotte on December 2nd. This oughtta be good. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe is not only featuring Jimmy Herring of my beloved Widespread Panic, but the Tiny Universe was getting ready to expand some horizons here in the Queen City.

I start my personal jukebox rolling down the highway to “Groove On” from the ‘02 Album “The Bridge” by KDTU. A favorite line of mine is “You see I got my own thing, I’m coming up hard and fast”. Hmm. Now, that line rings true for many of us, but did you know that Karl left Lenny Kravitz’s Band when it was “too restrictive” and they were no longer “stretching” as Karl prefers to do? That’s a big leap to leave such a commercially successful outfit. And thank goodness for us that he did. Mr. Denson has been described as “hard to pin down”. And that’s what makes him so attractive, both in records and in person, year after year. This mesmerizing and tranquil tune puts me in a fabulous mood to start my trip. I love that I wouldn’t necessarily have pulled up something at this beats per minute or genre on a road trip, for fear of it being too mellow, but it makes me so happy that I am totally into it and excited to kick off this drive.

Here comes “Paul Revere” from the ’12 "Karl Denson's Tiny Universe (performing a Beastie Boys Tribute with members of Slightly Stoopid)". Oh, my. It’s a good thing that I’ve perfected the art of throwing down and getting your groove on safely while driving. The Beasties are hip-hop that everyone can relate to, even a pale Southern girl like myself and hearing them interpreted by a musical genius such as Karl just warms my heart. “I think you know what time it is, it’s time to get ill.” (Yass, Karl, yass.) *Side note, I can recite this word for word. Let’s all hope y’all get the pleasure of hearing that in person in Charlotte. I’ll try to keep my recitation to a noise level which is unobtrusive to my fellow concert patrons. Try. I want any younger music lovers in attendance to enjoy this song as much as I did in the ‘80’s, even if they’re not familiar with it prior to the show.

Whew. Okay. Time to cool down. Ah, perfect. I get “Let Love Rule” from the ’89 debut studio album of Lenny Kravitz. So, apparently, Kravitz called Denson and asked him to play the solo. I hear ya, Karl, go on with ya bad self. “It’s time to take a stand. Brothers and sisters join hands.” Oh, wow. Yeah. Still applies. More than ever. Karl and Lenny and others of their skill level can combine this peace-love-yoga sound with a rock vibe that makes it appealing to men, women, young, old, everyone. I haven’t heard this song in a hot minute and I love it all over again, just like in junior high.

Now I’m past that long string of eighteen wheelers and on deck: I’m treated to “Won’t Somebody” outta the ’07 Album “Lunar Orbit” from the Karl Denson Trio. This was when Karl sought out to reinvigorate classic jazz sound with an organ trio including only himself, a keyboardist, and a drummer. You really can’t stop yourself from bobbing your head to this song. Too bad I just injured my neck recently. It’s totally worth it. Again, I don’t think I’d have pulled up jazz on my commute (though I do tune in to the Shaw University station jazz sometimes, just because their programming is so damn good), but I’m totally in my musical element here.

I’m literally wallowing in my aural pleasure when I realize how much more amazing this will be, somehow, when it’s all being performed live with Jimmy Herring. JIMMY HERRING. You know, of Aquarium Rescue Unit and Widespread Panic fame. Jimmy Herring that is surely a white wizard under that button down and jeans and will undoubtedly create some true magic on stage with the musical likes of Karl Denson. It’s almost too much for a fan girl such as myself to take.

A-bup-bup. My favorite exit is coming up, the one with the cheap gas and the Biscuitville. Time to pull over and pause this musical education. I’m only four songs into this trip and I’m already mentally calculating how many days until the show.

Be sure to snag your spot now for Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe featuring Special Guest Jimmy Herring on Friday, December 2 at the Neighborhood Theatre.

Getcha tickets and be ready to getcha horizons enlarged a bit.

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Keb Mo
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These are trying times, no matter where you look. Yet there is one universal language that we all speak, one balm that heals all wounds: the blues. Just when we could all use it the most, award-winning artist Keb' Mo' is coming to North Carolina, bringing his own sunny blues. Join us for a night of positivity and interaction performed in a style that harkens back to earlier days of unrest.

Keb' Mo' has all the credentials a modern blues artist could wish for. His accomplishments include Grammy wins and nominations, Blues Music Award, Blues Artist of the Year, and others. This industry icon recognizes that the blues are often a part of our common experience, "If you are a young person and having fun musically, at some point you are going to hear the blues. You may hear it before you 'hear' it, but at some point, you are going to hear it and go 'Holy crap!' Life is going to make you hear it." Anyone else feeling like life is making them hear it right about now? And when the blues do occur, they are equal opportunity, "Now the Blues is diversified. Color doesn't matter." We all laugh, we all cry, we all love good music that speaks to us on a deeper level. Keb's songs such as "Muddy Water" exemplify the gritty greatness that is the best of blues: "Cause I love muddy water, it's dirty but it feels alright. I love muddy water, and I'm ready for the blues tonight."

Yet despite Keb's bona fide blues street cred, he continues to reinvent the genre with his spirit of love, hope, and community. Keb' stated it best himself, "I love the blues, but I don't like to be depressing." Keb' delivers a buoyant message in his discography. Over the years, he has recorded the children's album "Big Wide Grin", a compilation album of covers and original work titled "Peace…Back by Popular Demand", and the elevating tracks "Life Is Beautiful", "A Brand New America", and "We Don't Need It" among others. Listen to any one of these and you can't help but smile and have a fresher take on life. Keb's infectious exuberance has attracted collaborations and gigs with the likes of Lyle Lovett, Vince Gill, Bonnie Raitt, Natalie Cole, Jackson Browne, "The West Wing", "Mike & Molly", and "Sesame Street", and perhaps most flatteringly, music legends such as Joe Cocker, B.B. King, Zac Brown Band, and Buddy Guy have recorded his songs. Keb' remains a bright beacon in a world of media aimed to reinvent negativity. Per "Life is Beautiful", "Life is beautiful, on a stormy night. Somewhere in the world, the sun is shining bright." On the 14th, you should swing round to McGregor Hall, and catch a glimpse of this sun shining in the Henderson evening.

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