Veteran jam band Widespread Panic on the bill at Rothbury Festival

by Erin Podolsky

Detroit Free Press (MCT)

2 July 2008

Photo: Eden Batki 

Now this is the band you expect to see at a dusty, holiday weekend festival with a green tint: Widespread Panic, the long-running, long-touring group that carries a jam band torch for post-Grateful Dead generations.

The band recently closed out the massive Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee with a 25-song set, which you can already purchase on their Web site. There you also could pre-order Widespread’s July 4 headlining set at the inaugural Rothbury fest, the four-day event taking place this weekend just north of Muskegon, Mich. From its efforts to reach out to fans via the Internet, you’d never know the band was made up of music veterans well into middle age.

The six-piece group took a hit in 2002 when founding member Michael (Panic) Houser fell victim to cancer, but John (JB) Bell was able to pick up the pieces.

Bell was shocked when told that Rothbury was in its rookie season: “Is it really?!” he said.

Reassured of that fact, he was all the more impressed and excited. “That blew my mind because I just looked on the Web site to check out the lineup and stuff, and I was like, ‘This is great, and how come I didn’t know about this before?’ But now you just gave me the answer. My impression is that somebody behind this knows what they’re doing.”

We talked to Bell about Rothbury’s green goals, the big festivals and more.

What have you heard about Rothbury?
Rothbury’s actually a different kind of festival with its focus on taking action and living green and leaving the planet a better place.

It’s going one step further in promoting healthy environmental thinking. They’ve definitely started out right, it looks like. From my modest experience with festivals, it looks like everything’s ready to go right out of the chute.

Is that unique?
Most of the places try to do a good job. We just did Bonnaroo and they supply you as you come through the door with different kinds of bags for recyclables and for trash, but it’s really up to the individual. But hopefully there’s a 100th monkey kind of mindset in there, where if you see other people do it you’ll follow suit.

What’s the difference between a festival show and a single-band show?
With the economy tightening up the way it is ... people can really get a lot out of one weekend setting as opposed to packing up the car and going to a concert every weekend or something like that.

Are there too many festivals out there now, spreading fans too thin?
I think there are a lot, for good reason. They can be successful and they can be a lot of fun and offer that variety that brings people with different likes and dislikes together and get to know each other. And as long as the festivals are run properly and safely with folks that have experience, then I think you should have as many as the market will bear.

There are times people get into, they want to do something and make a lot of money and they don’t have a lot of experience and they’re not familiar with the way the industry works; they usually don’t last too long.

Is there anything that Rothbury could do that would make it stand out?
Here it looks like it’s profoundly based in a fairly high-profile lineup with Dave Matthews Band and John Mayer and all that. And then to go the extra mile with the environmental aspect ... and if you do it in a fun-loving, guilt-free way, you’re going to come out with folks really having an experience that hopefully lasts way beyond the concert. Maybe it will really affect the way folks view their environment and maybe modify some of their own behaviors.

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