Widespread Panic will perform October 31-November 2 at the UNO Lakefront Arena.
When illness forces both the Rolling Stones and their last-minute replacement, Fleetwood Mac, to cancel their appearances at the 50th anniversary New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, who you gonna call?
Such high-profile holes in the Jazz Fest schedule would understandably inspire panic among the festival organizers. Fortunately, they have a loyal friend in Widespread Panic, the veteran jam-rock band from Athens, Georgia.
“We treat Jazz Fest right because they’ve always done us right,” Widespread Panic bassist and vocalist Dave Schools said recently from a recording studio in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia. “We weren’t planning on being on tour, but it was pretty easy for us to come and play at Jazz Fest. It’s almost like second nature. They called and said, ‘Can you help us out?’ The answer, of course, was ‘Yes.’”
Widespread Panic’s May 2 appearance at Jazz Fest was the band’s twelfth appearance at the Fair Grounds Race Course and sixth non-racetrack nighttime performance for the event. “We’ve done Jazz Fest pretty much every other year,” Schools said. “We were babies the first time we did it [in 1997].”
Widespread Panic’s affection for Jazz Fest extends to New Orleans in general. “Even before we could afford to stay in New Orleans,” Schools said, “we’d play there and then go back to a cheap hotel room somewhere between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. But does anyone actually sleep when they’re young and performing in New Orleans? I didn’t.”
Widespread Panic is returning to New Orleans for a three-night Halloween-weekend stand, October 31 through November 2 at the UNO Lakefront Arena. They know the venue well, having previously played multi-night engagements there. “It is a second home for us and they’ve always been cool with our fans,” Schools said. “Our fans come for the music and then they get released into the town and everybody has a great time. It’s New Orleans, so there’s a party no matter what.”
As arenas goes, the Lakefront Arena is small, something Widespread Panic prefers. “Not that there’s anything wrong with playing the Monster Dome and any huge outdoor festival, but the intimate thing is great,” Schools said. “At our age, we enjoy places like the Fox Theatre [in Atlanta]. We play a venue in Milwaukee called the Riverside that’s just an old proscenium theater, but something about the sound, the closeness of everyone; it creates an energy bubble that’s exactly right.”
True to form, Widespread Panic will play a different set at UNO every night. “Plus, all bets are off because one of the shows is Halloween night. Tricks? Treats? Knock on our door and see what happens.”