Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sweet Georgia Jams Widespread Panic Has Been One of the Steadiest Bands from the H.O.R.D.E

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Sweet Georgia Jams Widespread Panic Has Been One of the Steadiest Bands from the H.O.R.D.E

Article excerpt

Back in the early '90s, the H.O.R.D.E. Festival sprung up as the jam-band answer to Lollapalooza.

Surprisingly enough, most of the bands involved are still around in one form or another. Some became huge (Dave Matthews Band, Phish), some had big popularity swings both ways (Blues Traveler, Spin Doctors), and a few just kept trucking somewhere in the middle.

That's where you can find Widespread Panic, which plays its first Pittsburgh show in eight years and its first Stage AE show Sunday night.

Widespread Panic, which formed in 1986 in Athens, Ga., and made its major-label debut in 1991, brought a bluesy Southern-rock accent to the scene, but percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz understands how it's been labeled as a jam band.

"The bottom line, to me," he says, "is it's just rock 'n' roll. A lot of people have pegged us as a jam band, Grateful Dead thing. I say there's a lot more to it than that. But we do like to stretch out the songs and turn the 3:45 song into an 8:45 song. The whole experimental, jazz-jamming thing always intrigued. When I started playing in this band, that is what intrigued me the most. ... Jazz guys take off but always click back to where they need to be. John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra was a huge influence to me. So was the Beatles."

Whereas the DMB and Blues Traveler were able to break on radio with Top 20 singles, Widespread Panic kept the focus on its niche audience.

"I don't think we ever had a single," Mr. Ortiz says. "When we did H.O.R.D.E., nobody knew who Dave Matthews, Spin Doctors, Melissa Etheridge and Big Head Todd and the Monsters were. Something happened along the line, whether it was the booking agent, the manager, the record company, something made those bands that are successful what they are because of the commerciality, the pop sound they may have had or grew into.

"If we were to have a downfall, it's that we only conform to what Widespread wants to conform to. We never had record people in the studio telling us what to do, what songs to embellish on, to make radio-friendly. We never did care about being a radio-friendly band. …

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