Although they have been one of the most traveled and most popular jam bands for the past 25 years, surprisingly, Widespread Panic has never before played at Wolf Trap. That’s about to change when the Athens, Ga.-based sextet heads to the Filene Stage on Wednesday.
“We’re looking forward to a beautiful summer evening at Wolf Trap. It’s a long show, so people will definitely be getting their money’s worth,” said bassist Dave Schools. “I feel like at any time, someone can let go on stage, and something great will happen. As soon as I hear the first note, the band locks in, and it’s almost like a jazz ensemble.”
Along with Schools, the band consists of singer John Bell, drummer Todd Nance, percussionist Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz, keyboardist John “JoJo” Hermann and guitarist Jimmy Herring.
“We got together in college (at the University of Georgia), and our intent was to have fun playing music together. We weren’t thinking of writing a big hit record or having a long career. We just wanted to see how long we could stretch out this having fun idea,” Schools said. “There were some things we did in the early days that worked — sort of a nod to REM — we wrote songs together and gave credit equally. We collaborate a lot, and it’s like a team. It seems to really work for us.”
Widespread Panic cut its teeth on the southern bar circuit in 1986 and became known for their incredible live shows and jamming songs. By the late 1990s, the band was a regular at the HORDE Tour, Bonnaroo Fest and other major festivals around the country.
The band went through some hardship with the death of guitarist and co-founder Michael Houser in 2002 from pancreatic cancer, but it has continued to pay tribute to his vision and evolve its sound.
“In the past 11 years, we have had three different guitar players, and bringing in Jimmy seven years ago has been a massive evolution for us,” Schools said. “If you haven’t seen the band in 15 years, you might get a glimpse of the old things, but you’ll experience the new, and bam, get on your feet again and have fun.”