North Coast Music Festival Artist Highlight: Widespread Panic

Photo courtesy of Beach Carolina Magazine
Photo courtesy of Beach Carolina Magazine

Although Widespread Panic has headlined almost every major festival in the U.S. (Bonnaroo, Rothbury, Lollapalooza and Summer Camp Music Festival, to name a few), this will be their first time performing at Chicago’s North Coast Music Festival. Widespread Panic is an Athens, GA, based group that, for almost 30 years, have created an extensive fan-base, a glorious amount of record sales and an irrefutable model for what it means to be a successful live jam band. With all of these things ringing true, here’s a look at a few things you probably didn’t know about Widespread Panic, just in time to get you pumped for their Friday performance at NCMF 2015.

The Origin Of Their Name

Original lead guitarist Michael Houser used to be nicknamed “Panic” for having frequent panic attacks, and this is how the band originally got their name. Later, guitarist John Bell recalled Houser seeing a poster for the Widespread Depression Jazz Orchestra and said to him:

I don’t want to just be ‘Panic.’ I want to be ‘Widespread Panic.’ (Athens Banner-Herald, 2011)


Houser and Bell together circa 1992 (Photo courtesy of panicstream.com)
Houser and Bell together circa 1992 (Photo courtesy of panicstream.com)

How They Choose Their Setlist

Said to never play the same show twice, Widespread Panic has a very specific, unique process for choosing what songs they’re going to play for each show.

In The Earth Will Follow You—a film detailing the band’s summer 2000 Athens tour—late equipment chief Garrie Vereen explained that at the beginning of a tour, a member of the band’s road crew will create a list of all the songs the band plays, and then laminates the list. Each night before a show, this crew member posts the sets from the past three days in different colors, so the band members can see what songs they have played recently. They then use these lists to determine what to play next. The band will return to these lists after the first set of a show—eliminate the songs they just played—and choose the songs for the second set.

An example of one of the band's set list (Photo courtesy of Glide Magazine)
An example of one of the band’s set list (Photo courtesy of Glide Magazine)

Their Attendance Records

One thing Widespread Panic is known for is selling out their shows, and subsequently having record breaking attendance numbers. In 1998, the band held a free live concert in Athens for the release of their album “Light Fuse, Get Away.” Attendance was estimated at 100,000, beating the previous record by Metallica for “Largest Record Release Party.” In 2003, the band sold out two nights at Madison Square Garden in NYC. Later in 2005, they sold out three nights at Radio City Music Hall. They hold the record for most sold out shows of any band at Red Rocks Amphitheatre throughout the venue’s history, for a total of almost 50 sold out concerts. They broke a record at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1999 for a single one-day attendance record of 63,000 people. They had three nights sell out in seven minutes at Philips Arena in Atlanta, GA, and in 2006, they had their 15th sold out show here. A permanent banner was later hung in lieu of this accomplishment, naming Widespread Panic as the arena’s house band. They’ve also sold out 17 shows at Oak Mountain Amphitheater in Pelham, AL.

They Have Their Own Day

There are actually two days in two different states that have been dedicated entirely to Widespread Panic. Mayor John Hickenlooper proclaimed Friday, June 27th, 2008 as “Widespread Panic Day” in the City and County of Denver after the band played their 32nd sold out show on this day at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

Similarly, Mayor C. Ray Nagin of New Orleans, LA, gave Oct. 31st, 2002 the same name.

Their Volunteer Efforts 

Widespread Panic began its own volunteer organization called “Feed People Through Music” that hosts food drives at various concerts. This all began when a prior, fan-based organization called “Panic Fans For Food” hosted food drives at different Widespread Panic shows from 1999 to 2007. On the FPTM website, it says the goal of this original group was to “feed people through music,” helping the band choose the title for their own volunteer organization. “Panic Fans For Food” was handed off to the band in 2008 and since then, has collected over $100,000 in donations and over 16 tons of food in 30 different cities.

Get your North Coast Music Festival tickets to see Widespread Panic here
Wondering who else to see at North Coast? Here’s 5 Sets You Can’t Miss at North Coast Music Festival
Not pumped for NCMF? You should be! 5 Reasons To Be Pumped For North Coast Music Festival


Alexandra Mahoney

Chicago native living in Madrid, Spain. Recent graduate from Indiana University with a degree in journalism and a double minor in music and Spanish. Lover of music, dance, hooping, piano and travel.

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