Widespread Panic: Panic In the Streets

By James Calemine


On April 18, 1998, Widespread Panic’s Light Fuse Get Awayalbum release performance in downtown Athens, Georgia, set the attendance record for a CD release party. The band’s hometown concert bash was preserved on this fine DVD, Panic In The Streets.

In all my years of living in and visiting Athens, I’d never seen so many people in the streets as that day. I may not see it again. I luckily hid out in the 40 Watt Club, next to the outdoor stage, with Bloodkin and Government Mule, who were playing the After-Panic party show. TV cables snaked through the 40 Watt, with dozens of monitors set up in one of the anterooms for all the cameras outside, which showed the crowd at 100,000 strong.

The DVD track list includes the evening’s performance of “Disco”, “Tall Boy”, “Love Tractor”, Vic Chesnutt’s “Aunt Avis”, “Chilly Water”, “Porch Song”, “Pilgrims”, “Fishwater”, “Space Wrangler”, “Ain’t Life Grand” and various montages including downtown Athens that day.

This DVD also contains Panic singer/guitarist John Bell singing the National Anthem at a University of Georgia baseball game hours before he went onstage to set an attendance record. I must say his solo vocal rendition of our country’s National Anthem proves outstanding.

Bonus material on this DVD includes Billy Bob Thornton’s Live From The Georgia Theatre. Thornton directed this live performance in 1991 before anyone knew who he was, including Widespread Panic, but Thornton’s cognizance shined by him interviewing band members, Johnny Sandlin, Colonel Bruce Hampton, some interesting locals and a scene at one of the group’s favorite Athens eateries in those days—Mom’s Kitchen—which many came to call the band’s second album.

This film is a revealing snapshot of a by-gone era…not only for Widespread Panic, but even the venerable Georgia Theatre. At that point, Panic was beginning to pick up real momentum. Their grassroots ethos seems even more evident now than in 1991.

A magical quality resonates on Live From The Georgia Theatre, not only because it serves as the talented Billy Bob Thornton’s directorial debut, ties to historic Capricorn Records, but because even back then Widespread Panic played with the heavies…

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