Riverbend Friday, June 6Chattanooga local band Paul Hadfield and the McCoys play on the Volkswagen stage during the first night of the Riverbend Music Festival on Friday, June 6.
Saturday, June 7
Widespread Panic — 8:45 p.m.
Bud Light Stage
Playing on the Planet — 5:30 p.m.
Bernie Worrell Orchestra — 7 p.m.
Silent Disco — 9:15 p.m.
Shark Week — 5:45 p.m.
Rokaholix — 7:15 p.m.
The Loop — 6 p.m.
Dan+Shay — 7:30 p.m.
Jennifer Daniels — 9 p.m.
Willie Ziavino & C.O.T. Band — 5:30 p.m.
Annie Selleck & The Uptown Big Band — 7:45 p.m.
IF YOU GO
* What: Widespread Panic
* When: 9 P.M. tonight
* Where: Coca-Cola Stage.
* Admission: Riverbend 9-day wristband ($50); one-day wristband ($26).
In each city where they perform, the members of Widespread Panic like to partner with local charities, usually with a music-in-school or feeding-the-needy component. Here that organization is the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, which launched a Text-to-Give number to allow concertgoers to donate to the food bank. Donors can text FEED40 to 80888 to give $10.
One day back in 1986, Todd Nance was about to head out the front door of his Atlanta apartment, on his way to his night school drafting class. During the day, he was a handyman helper, working for an old girlfriend’s father, replacing light bulbs or fixing a toilet for elderly clients.
Twenty-four at the time, he’d already worked as a carpet cleaner, Olan Mills photographer and in the insurance industry.
Before he could get out the door, however, the phone rang; it was his old friend from his hometown Chattanooga, guitarist Michael Houser. Living in Athens, Ga., Houser said his current band needed a drummer and asked Nance if he’d be interested in trying out.
“I wasn’t playing in a band at the time,” Nance says. “I hadn’t played with anybody for 2-1/2 years.”
He hadn’t seen Houser, whom he met through mutual friends a decade or so earlier, in several years, either.
“He called my mom and got my number,” Nance says. “The famous phone call, the phone call that saved my life, basically.”
A couple of days later, Nance drove to Athens with drums in tow. He sat in with Houser, bassist David Schools and singer/guitarist John Bell; things clicked, and they’ve been clicking ever since.
Houser, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2002, was known to his friends as “Panic” because he struggled with anxiety issues, and soon after that first rehearsal, the group picked the name Widespread Panic.
Today, they are one of the most successful jam bands in the world, with a legion of fans similar in their loyalty and devotion to those of the Grateful Dead or Phish. They will descend on the Riverbend Festival tonight.
“I’m expecting the biggest crowd we’v ever seen,” says talent and production coordinator Joe “Dixie” Fuller. “They sold out Red Rocks for three shows in like 20 minutes [this year].”
The band holds the record for the most consecutive sold out shows (45) at the Denver, Colo., amphitheater.
Fuller says Widespread will also be live streaming the Riverbend show on its website.
Nance, who left Chattanooga in 1981, is looking forward to playing for his hometown, and for the family members — mother Evelyn McKay, brother Rodney and an uncle — that live here.
Nance was born here and spent his early years in the North Shore area before his family moved to a cabin on Lake Chickamauga. Houser moved to Nance’s old neighborhood, and they met through mutual friends there. Nance attended a private school in Sweetwater, Tenn., in seventh grade, then went to Brown Middle School and Central High School.
Houser, meanwhile, went to Hixson High School. But they kept in touch and the two teenagers ended up in a band called Just Us.
“It was me, Michael, Peter Fitzgerald who played in 37 Targetz later, Tommy Hearn and a one-armed bassist we called Hawk [Ralph Vasquez]. He was older than we were and booked us in the Wooden Nickel on a Sunday. The guy told us we were too young and kicked us out.
“[Vasquez] booked us in a used car lot once.”
This will be Nance’s and the band’s first visit to Riverbend, but they are no stranger to festivals, having played just about all of them around the world over the years. One of those festival gigs was at the inaugural Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in 2002. Though very sick and nearing the end, Houser still managed to perform in that show.
Nance says the group has been trying to play Riverbend for years, but the logistics haven’t lined up. It works out this year because the group is beginning their summer tour at Riverbend.
“I’m looking forward to it. Chattanooga has changed so much since I left town. It’s such a different city with the aquarium and Riverbend. I’m glad to be associated with it.”
When it comes to booking bands that are playing the growing festival circuit, Fuller says booking a band like Widespread Panic not only helps this year but in future years as well. Other bands and managers look at a festival’s resume when considering new places to play.
“We really worked hard to make this happen,” he says. “We’d gotten close several times. For us it’s such a big, big thing. The phone has not stopped ringing since we made the announcement.”
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or 423-757-6354.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...