Panic! at the Arena

By Gus Bode

Widespread Panic will be playing Friday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $22.50 for students. Lower bowl seats are $27.50 and floor seats (standing room only) are $30.00. Student tickets must be purchased at the Arena box office. Tickets can also be ordered through Ticketmaster via www.ticketmaster.com or by calling (866) 646-8849.

After nearly a seven-year hiatus, jam band mainstay Widespread Panic returns to the SIU Arena as part of the group’s spring 2007 tour.

The band, which follows in the grand traditions of artists such as The Grateful Dead, Phish and a host of others, combines elements of rock, blues, folk and a penchant for on-stage improvisation into a potent combination that has sustained the group for more than two decades.

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Formed by guitarist/vocalist John Bell in the early 1980s with the help of original member Michael Houser, Widespread Panic has endured lineup changes and a relentless touring regimen to become one of the preeminent live acts in the country.

Widespread Panic’s sound is often dominated by the interplay between Bell and fellow guitarist Jimmy Herring. The group’s loose but layered compositions are augmented by the percussive backbone of Todd Nance and Domingo Ortiz, with the thumping bass of Dave Schools and the keyboard arrangements of John Hermann complementing the band’s predilection for catchy melodies. The band hones this diverse sound with more than 200 tour dates annually.

While it would be easy to simply slap on the ubiquitous label of “jam band,” Widespread Panic eschews many conventions of the genre while integrating a host of sounds and influences. Throughout the band’s career, Widespread Panic has showcased its diversity on albums such as “Earth to America,” “Space Wrangler” and “‘Til the Medicine Takes,” among others.

The band previously performed in Carbondale in 1997 and 2000, and tonight’s show marks Widespread Panic’s return to the area. According to Arena publicist Pat Jones, the band has historically done incredibly well on campus and remains a prime draw throughout the nation.

“Widespread Panic always does well when they’re played here. We’re the only place to play down here within a few hundred miles, and a show like this is the best opportunity for people around here to see a band this popular,” Jones said.

The group’s stop in Carbondale comes between dates in Kansas City, Mo. and Cleveland, Ohio. Widespread Panic’s tour continues throughout the spring and summer, with additional appearances at Bonnaroo and Wakarusa.

“Ever since the demise of the Grateful Dead, and with Phish on hiatus, Widespread Panic has consistently been one of the most popular and prominent jam bands in the country,” Jones said. “They (Widespread Panic) have this great appeal that attracts people of all ages and backgrounds and persuasions.”

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That broad appeal, he said, is only part of what has contributed to the band’s success. With a rabid following that, like Grate Dead fans, follows the group around the country, Widespread Panic aficionados are renowned for their commitment to the group.

Like the shows in 1997 and 2000, Jones said he expects a large walk-up crowd despite existing ticket sales of approximately 3,000. Jones said tickets are still available at all levels within the venue, and he expects to sell the bulk of the show’s tickets throughout the day and evening before the performance.

“We’re expecting a full swarm of hippies for the show- both the real ones and the trust-fund ones. They come out of the woodwork from all over for a show like this,” Jones said. “Widespread Panic shows are always a good time for fans and tonight should be no exception.”

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