It was an un-labeled tape being passed around my community of friends while going to school in Eugene. No one knew the name of the band and we listened to it for months before discovering their name. It was the infectious layering of rhythms, the smooth rock groove of one song tripping into the next that got us hooked. When the band with no name sang, “I like coconuts. You can break them open and they smell like ladies lyin’ in the sun,” I momentarily forgot that for months I hadn’t seen the sun break through the thick, gray Oregon sky.
That was 1989, and the mystery tape was Space Wrangler, Widespread Panic’s first release. It’s still cloudy in Oregon, and Widespread Panic is still out there providing solace and a smile to more and more people. Widespread Panic blends that southern rock thang with Mardi Gras funk, a touch of some Caribbean voodoo and a smidgen of jazzed up neo-psychadeliciousness. It is this sound, this powerful sound, that is created and evolves at every show, which thousands of attentive followers want to experience. Members of the band alternately step up for what vocalist/guitarist John Bell calls “extra-special soaring.” This soaring provides the crux of Widespread Panic’s appeal, the idea of weightlessness, a secular ascension, tinted with an air of spontaneity that every corporate-recording-type drools about selling but can’t package.
Relying on touring and the devoted fans it produces, Widespread Panic pulls huge crowds, drawing about 100,000 of the faithful to a recent CD release party in Athens, Ga. Despite this they get little air time on the big-market radio scene, due to having no three-minute songs to fit in with all the other nice three-minute songs that advertisers love. This Saturday provides the perfect opportunity to see a band of the people, for the people, but wait, there’s more.
Saturday, Nov. 11 is St. Martin’s Day. A saint most famous for turning the devil into a donkey and riding the demon ass all the way to Rome to visit the Pope. The celebration of St. Martin, known as Martinmas, replaced the people’s more earthy and tasty harvest celebration honoring Bacchus, the god of wine. The medieval Roman Catholic Church didn’t approve of the pagan festivals of wine and the harvest, so the Church gave the people Martinmas—all the reverence and offerings with a lot less wine, a little incense, some symbolic sacrificing and definitely no dancing. So folks, this years Martinmas is a chance for all you near pagans, neo-pagans and anarchistically minded types to embrace the spirit of Bacchus while defying the statisticians of the corporate market all in one night. Thanks to UM Productions, Widespread Panic will be glad to escort you on a trip to your mind’s pagan altar while you twirl the bad energy off your aura. Mmmmm. Bacchanalia.
Widespread Panic rides the demon ass through the Adams Center, Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25.50.