Widespread Panic returns with gusto

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Jam band fans rejoice: Widespread Panic is back from its yearlong hiatus with a new tour hitting both large and small venues around the country.

Although the band has been on a break, it did play a sold-out New Year's Eve show in Charlotte, N.C., and also a benefit the night before.

"Taking time off is a good thing," said founding member John Bell, also putting to rest rumors that the band had disintegrated. "When we go and do that and then come back to the game with some other experiences, we take a fresh approach to things. But no, we were never about breaking up. We are Widespread Panic, that's what we are."

Bell and bandmate Michael Houser had spent almost five years writing and playing by the time the band played its first show in 1986. The band built its reputation on the southern bar circuit, releasing its first full-length record, "Space Wrangler," in 1987. The band's style has always been to take its tightly crafted songs and expand them, pushing all the musical borders.

Onstage
Widespread Panic
» Where: Wolf Trap's Filene Center, 1551 Wolf Trap Road, Vienna
» When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
» Info: $35 to $100; 877-WOLFTRAP (965-3872); wolftrap.org

And that excitement about experimentation hasn't changed even as the band pushes its 30th anniversary. In 2012, the band set out on its first fully acoustic tour. The tour was in support of its release "Wood," a special edition, three-LP boxed set and double live CD.

Almost as soon as the Athens, Ga., band debuted in 1986, the band has been hailed as a jam band of importance. Its masterful mix of southern rock, blues-rock, funk and hard rock sound has put it in the same league as the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead and even Phish.

The balance to achieve the sound in the studio that will play well on the road isn't always easy to achieve. Band members maintain that while they're a touring band, they have found great joy and comfort in recording, especially when they do so near to their Georgia homes.

"It's almost like planting a seed," said Bell. "We can do the same thing but in a different format, [such as acoustic]. Not to get too freaky or mushy here, but it's like seeing a whole plant grow through a season, one that started as just a little seed."

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Nancy Dunham

Examiner Correspondent
The Washington Examiner