33 years ago tonight, John Bell, Michael Houser, Dave Schools, and Todd Nance played their first show under the moniker of Widespread Panic at The Mad Hatter Ballroom in their hometown of Athens, GA. The performance—which saw the group opening for Strawberry Flats during a Benefit for Africa—marked Todd Nance’s first show with the band, and it’s widely considered the first “official” Widespread Panic show.
After releasing their first album, Space Wrangler, in 1988, Panic would officially add to their arsenal with percussionist Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz and keyboard player JoJo Hermann in subsequent years, building up a following in the South by taking the approach of the great road bands before them: play as many shows as you can.
For the next decade, Widespread Panic would play with some of the biggest names in the jam band community of the 1990s including Aquarium Rescue Unit, Phish, and Blues Traveler, all participants in the short-lived H.O.R.D.E. tours. In 1998, at the release party of their first live album, Light Fuse, Get Away, some 80,000 to 100,000 Panic fans crushed the city of Athens for some “Panic in the Streets,” making it one of the biggest release parties in history.
In early 2002, the band was dealt a heavy blow when beloved guitarist Michael Houser was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Houser’s final show with the band would come in early July of that year. Houser died in August of 2002. In his stead, former JoJo Hermann, bandmate George McConnell was pegged to replace Houser. Despite several more album releases in the early 2000’s—Night of Joy, Über Cobra, Earth To America—McConnell left the band in 2006, leaving producer and former guitar tech John Keane to finish out the final two weeks of the tour.
Panic’s guitar search ended in late 2006 with the addition of Jimmy Herring, who played his first shows with the band at the famed Radio City Music Hall in New York City during WSP’s Fall Tour. Since then, the remaining original members of WSP and Herring have been nothing short of prolific, playing to some of the largest crowds at some of the biggest festivals and venues across the country. It has been a working man’s career, and no one is more deserving of the accolades they receive than the guys in Widespread Panic. In honor of today’s momentous occasion, you can listen to Widespread Panic’s first show at the Mad Hatter Ballroom in Athens, GA via PanicStream.
Setlist: Widespread Panic | The Mad Hatter Ballroom | Athens, GA | 2/6/1986
Set One: For What It’s Worth, Sleepy Monkey, Chilly Water, No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature, Heathen, The Other One, Dear Mr. Fantasy, Iko Iko, Werewolves of London, Fire on the Mountain
Encore: Space Wrangler
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