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MUSIC | ROCKTALK

Spreading Panic

The band, which has found a following among Deadheads, comes to Ventura.

March 27, 1997|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Deadheads A.J. (After Jerry) did not die--in fact, they seem to be more numerous than ever. This tie-dyed explosion began in the days when the Dead lived yet played darn little. This forced Deadheads to expand their horizons to include other jam and fun-oriented dance bands. One such outfit, Widespread Panic, will incite widespread dancing Tuesday night at the Ventura Theatre.

According to Panic-stricken percussionist Domingo Ortiz, it's great to have fans, even Jerry's Kids.

"We get a lot of Deadheads at our shows--they have to go somewhere since that great band stopped playing. Bands like Blues Traveler or Phish, hey they're fun if you have about five days to spend--two days to party and three days to rejuvenate."

Just as every musician that ever sang a song or played a note seems destined to stage a comeback, seemingly every musical genre lingers on--be it metal, folk, pop, punk, grunge, even swing music and the dreaded polka. And, according to Ortiz, Deadhead-friendly jam bands such as Widespread Panic have their own niche.

"We're called a neo-hippie band along with Blues Traveler, the Dave Matthews Band and Phish. Since we're from the South, some people say we have that Allman Brothers or Little Feat sound. If people continue to come to our shows and buy our product, it doesn't matter what they call us. Neo-hippie isn't so bad, I guess."

The Panic band, which usually averages over 200 dates per year, has been part of HORDE (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere), a traveling festival with a Woodstock vibe for old and new hippies seeking that eternal groove. Many of the Deadhead-friendly bands have been on the HORDE tour over the years, with Neil Young reportedly headlining this year.

"The HORDE festival was great," said Ortiz. "We were part of it for two years and got to meet a lot of great people--Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Blues Traveler and Spin Doctors. It was great bonding with those guys because we'd always cross paths with them but we were never on the same bill."

And Widespread Panic provides widespread music as well. Usually "An Evening With Widespread Panic" is the rule these days, which translates into no opening act. And in good Deadhead form, they play a long time.

"We feel we owe it to the fans to give them a good three-hour show. We can't really do our thing in just 60 minutes. We actually started writing out set lists a few years ago, and we were surprised to find that we have enough material to play for five days without repeating a song."

The band started a decade or five albums ago after meeting at the University of Georgia in Athens. The latest release is "Bombs & Butterflies"; all their albums are on Capricorn Records.

"Every album for us is a little different. On the last one, we had a little more control--we got to choose the artwork, stuff like that. It took about two years, which is slow for us because we'd like to put out an album every year. In that two years, we did have a lot of free time, so we're actually one up on albums now. We could go into the studio right now--we have the songs."

They also have the team, those Atlanta Braves, who made it to the World Series again last year. "We'll be pulling for 'em. That's for sure. I grew up a Dodger fan, then I moved to Georgia and became a Braves fan. We've heard our songs played between innings at Fulton County Stadium a few times, and that was cool. We want to fly back to Atlanta for opening day, but I think we have a gig that day."

The Widespread Panic show will commence at 8 p.m.

Call the venue at 648-1888 to find out more, and don't forget that tie-dyed T-shirt.

*

The old regime at the Ventura Theatre is going out with a rush. The Gary Folger operation will cease in mid-April with a show by guitar whiz Eric Johnson on April 13 as the official party-ender.

There will be 10 shows at the theater in the first two weeks of April alone, including Black Uhuru on the 4th, the Rev. Horton Heat on the 5th and the Presidents of the United States and Redd Kross on the 7th.

After all that, the new guy in charge, Dan Catullo, will close the venue until April 24, when it will reopen with an event to be named later. In the meantime, Catullo and his partner Glenis Gross intend to sink a million bucks into the venue, which first opened in 1928. Part of the cash will be used to refurbish the sound system. Hiring a soundman wouldn't be a bad idea, either. Any venue that can mess up the sound of John Wesley Harding, an acoustic folk singer, needs help.

And of importance to local musicians, Catullo insists there will be no pay-to-play policy at the theater. In other words, local bands will no longer have to sell tickets in order to play the big stage. Furthermore, Bill Benson, guitar player for Raging Arb & the Redheads, will henceforth be booking the local bands.

Raging Arb & Black Uhuru? Raging Arb & the Rev. Horton Heat? Raging Arb & the Presidents? All Arb all the time? Stay tuned.

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