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Widespread Panic Gets Ready to Party

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When Widespread Panic steps onto the stage the crowd erupts. Though this may happen at other shows with other bands, not every group carries with it a sense of community; a shared camaraderie. Personally, I have friends that I will see just a few times a year; most of those being at Panic shows. Widespread Panic created the music that draws people in, but it is their fans that help them deliver the magic.

“It’s a 2 way street,” says WSP percussionist Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz. “We wouldn’t be out there if you guys weren’t out there. It’s a family of sorts. The whole thing about it is, you gain new acquaintances, meet a lot of people and have a really good time. It’s a positive thing.”

Sunny talked about the fans, music, touring and discussed the rumor that Widespread Panic is taking 2012 off. Before there will be any talks of a hiatus, John Bell, John “JoJo” Hermann, Jimmy Herring, Todd Nance and Dave Schools are moving full steam ahead to celebrate Panics 25 year mark. Already they are confirmed for festivals such as Wanee and Hangout. They have also released spring tour dates and are expected to travel around this summer.

“All year we are celebrating our 25 year extravaganza party,” Sonny said happily. “Every show is a big party. Every show we expect to see all of our friends, old and new. It’s going to be an exciting year – I’m excited.”

The party kicks off this week in Athens, GA at the Classic Center on February 10 and 11. Athens is the hometown of Widespread Panic. Every Monday the band performed at Uptown Lounge on Washington Street. It would be at one of these shows that Ortiz would get his first taste and first chance to play with the boys of Panic.

Ortiz had been living in Austin, TX playing with various groups when he decided to pack everything he owned in a little Honda, and visit his old friend Kyle Pilgrim, owner of Uptown Lounge. Ortiz and Pilgrim attended high school together. When Pilgrim moved to Athens, GA from Waco, TX the two stayed in touch.

When he arrived in Athens in 1986, it just so happened to be a Monday and Pilgrim knew just where to take the percussionist - the Uptown Lounge to see Widespread Panic. After driving 20 hours, Ortiz says he was more in the mood for sleep than music, but decided to go.

After some encouragement from Pilgrim, Ortiz took his place on stage and sat in with the band for a few songs. From that show on Ortiz was a member of Widespread Panic.

“When I first got up on stage with the boys that night there was a magic moment; an understanding that’s kind of universal amongst musicians just like there is in marriage. Something that happens, something that clicks, no words can be spoken; it’s just a feeling that overcomes you.

“You experience it a couple of times – when you find that special person, your companion. And you experience it where you’re in a position to where you can let yourself go.

“And so you kind of get that magic feeling, and it’s a special feeling. It’s kind of hard to explain, kind of hard to define, but it’s a magical moment that always happens every time that we get together on stage.”

Whether there will be enough longevity in that magic to stretch WSP 25 more years remains to be seen. Ortiz says he hopes the music of Panic will but believes a new generation of WSP will take over.

Not having a Widespread Panic tour may be more of a near future concern for fans. Rumors have been circulating that after this celebration tour, Panic is going to hang up their gear for at least a year.

“I can’t confirm a year off,” Sunny says plainly. “Personally, I don’t want to give up a whole year. There’s a lot of skepticism about playing too much. The reason why people say that is because it’s obvious with the economy a lot of things have changed.

“It’s a lot tougher to get to venue to venue for the fans. The business angle of it is ticket sales…but we have to realize that the economy is not like the way it was 10 or 15 years ago. A lot more people have ‘real’ jobs, families they are concerned about, so there’s a lot of things involved now that weren’t involved 15 to 20 years ago. That’s just the way it goes.

Certainly it helps next year’s tour plans if fans come out in strong attendance to this year’s concerts, especially at the first half of the year. However, Sunny says some of the concern needs to be on the band keeping things fresh.

“We also have to take into consideration that people are getting tired of our music, maybe getting used to us,” he says. “And we have to realize if people don’t come out to the shows there is a reason. Maybe we are getting too predictable and people are figuring us out. So if that’s the case we can always lay back a year, write more music, and come back with killer songs, killer music people aren’t used to hearing. Be unpredictable like we were in the 80s.”

The importance of the 25 year celebration tour continues to grow. You can check the tour dates here and purchase tickets for any WSP show here. Tickets for both shows in Athens are sold out, as is the Atlanta, February 14 show at the Fox Theatre. Live streaming of all three concerts will be available at LiveWidespreadPanic.com.

Keep the conversation going by following me on Twitter @djsarahspin.

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