Chattanooga's Riverbend Festival finally lands monster jam-band Widespread Panic (with video)

Chattanooga's Riverbend Festival finally lands monster jam-band Widespread Panic (with video)

January 17th, 2014 by Barry Courter in Chattnow Music

Widespread Panic

John Bell: guitars, vocals

John "JoJo" Hermann: keyboards, vocals

Jimmy Herring: guitars

Todd Nance: drums, vocals

Domingo S. Ortiz: percussion, vocals

Dave Schools: bass, vocals

Sometimes getting an act for Riverbend can be like winning the lottery and, just as the odds of buying a winning Powerball ticket are stacked against you, there is no chance of winning if you don't buy one at all.

Every year for the past 13, Friends of the Festival Talent and Production Coordinator Joe "Dixie" Fuller has put in a bid to book jam band Widespread Panic, and every year scheduling or routing conflicts have prevented it from happening.

Until this year.

The hugely popular band, featuring hometown boy Todd Nance, has agreed to headline the Coca-Cola Stage on June 7, the first Saturday of the festival, Fuller says.

"The first thing I do every year is put in bids for Widespread and [Steve] Winwood," Fuller says. "I just do it hoping one day it will happen."

Booking a band like Widespread Panic on the main stage is a bit of a departure for Riverbend, which has traditionally signed radio-friendly acts with a catalog of hits and a lot of name recognition as its nightly headliner. Panic has the latter with jam-band fans, but has only had one Top 40 hit: "Dirty Side Down," which spent two weeks at No. 27 on Billboard's Hot 200 chart.

The band was formed in Athens, Ga., in 1986 and has earned the reputation of being a great live act, with legions of loyal fans following them from show to show a la The Grateful Dead, Phish and The Allman Brothers Band.

Widespread Panic, featuring John Bell and Domingo Ortiz, front from left, David Schools, back left, John Herrmann, Jimmy Herring and Todd Nance, will perform June 7 at Riverbend, it was announced today.

Photo by Contributed Photo from Widespreadpanic.com

The group's origins trace back to a 1981 meeting of John Bell and the late Michael Houser, also a Chattanooga native, in a dorm at the University of Georgia at Athens. Nance was asked to sit in on drums in 1986 and has remained since. The group adopted the name Widespread Panic in reference to panic attacks Houser used to suffer.

In the past, the band's schedule has conflicted with Riverbend's June date, but this year, timing and a couple of key meetings conspired to make it happen. Riverbend has often run up against the band's semi-annual shows at Red Rocks Amphitheater outside Denver, a venue they've sold out a record 42 times.

This year, key Riverbend people, including Executive Director Chip Baker, met in October with members of the agency that books Widespread Panic and again in early December.

Baker believes those meetings, along with Fuller, helped land the band.

"It was the relationship we've developed and Dixie's constant pursuit," Baker said.

Widespread Panic is a much-in-demand act whose members are particular about where they play and what happens around them while they are playing. The band takes its philanthropy seriously and likes to partner with a local charity; the Riverbend show will serve as a fundraiser for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, according to publicity coordinator Amy Morrow.

Riverbend officials are still hammering out the details, Baker said.

Fuller said signing a band with Widespread Panic's reputation is good for Riverbend in the short and long terms.

"We are gearing up for probably our biggest walk-up night ever. They sell out everywhere they go, and everyone who books them can't wait to have them back," he says. "It is difficult to get a play from them. They just want to play music and they want to present it their way."

Fuller says just dropping the name Widespread Panic can help woo other acts in the future.

"I think it helps for sure. When I can tell people we've had the Allman Brothers and now Widespread, it helps."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.