Don’t Panic, They’ll Play 

Widespread Panic juggles venues, drummer Todd Nance speaks

Patriots Point seemed like a great place for Widespread Panic. Aside from their hometown of Athens, Ga., if a town was ever a "Panic town" it would have to be Charleston. They've faithfully visited us for more than two decades, even stretching their stay to consecutive nights the last two years. We respond by covering their songs with our local bar bands, plastering our cars with love tractors and '"Satisfied" stickers (full disclosure: guilty), and providing a perpetual stream of concert attendees. After all, Panic has arguably been the most popular band among CofC students for quite a while.

When organizers announced this summer that they'd erect a special stage to host the band at Patriots Point, the buzz was loud. But soon after tickets went on sale, the show was moved to the fairgrounds in Ladson — a bit more of a drive for downtown drinkers, but still a new and exciting outdoor venue. With Yonder Mountain String Band sharing the bill, along with rock/reggae group the Movement, electronic duo Boombox, and Southern rockers Dead Confederate, the show promised to be a festival-like full-day affair.

You can't blame them for trying. The show goes on, with all of the scheduled acts, but it's finally settled on Panic's regular stomping grounds, the North Charleston Coliseum. Concerns about traffic overflow with a ceremony for the Congressional Medal of Honor Society at Patriots Point, along with a soccer tournament, prompted the first move. With deputies already committed to the Medal of Honor convention, the Charleston County Sheriff's Office couldn't handle a once-off event in Ladson as well, hence the move to North Charleston. The new plan calls for a stage outside during the day, moving inside the Coliseum at dusk for Panic.

Whether all the confusion hurts turnout remains to be seen, but judging by Widespread Panic's track record in town, we'd venture to say they'll have a vocal and appreciative crowd. City Paper spoke with Panic drummer Todd Nance from a tour stop in Cincinnati last week to catch up on their affinity for Charleston, old phone numbers, and their most exciting new album in years, Dirty Side Down.

City Paper: There have been rumors that the band has wanted to play outdoors in Charleston for a while. What are your thoughts on the venue shifting twice? The band has said good things about the North Charleston Coliseum in the past.
Todd Nance: I actually just heard about it last week, and I guess we're back to where we started from. That was a lot of wasted effort, I guess. It's not a Red Rocks, but it's a place to play. We'll do the best show we can no matter where we play.

CP: How has your drumming improved since those early days, and how has that affected the band's growth and sound?
TN: Hopefully, I've improved. I'm probably a little more disciplined. The main thing is you lose a little speed as you get older, but that's not the biggest issue. It's more about quality than quantity.

CP: When you were a teenager, did you specifically listen to the drummers in your favorite music?
TN: Richie Hayward from Little Feat and John Bonham [from Led Zeppelin] were two of my favorites. But when I listen to music I really just listen to the whole thing. I don't break it down and analyze it. I think that takes the enjoyment out of it, unless it's something that we're working on.

CP: Phish’s first show in Charleston was opening for Widespread in 1990 at Myskyn’s. They haven’t been back since 1996. If you had to label Charleston a “Panic town” or a “Phish town” amongst jam band fans, I think it’d definitely go Panic.
TN:
We used to take turns. They’d come down to the South and open for us, and then we’d go up north and open for them. We used to call it the band exchange program. We’d do that with Blues Traveler, too.

CP: John "JB" Bell has talked about the places his mind travels to during his improvised raps. When the band leaves you and [percussionist] Sonny Ortiz on stage for "Drums," does your mind ever wander?
TN: It does wander. I remember one night I was trying to remember my childhood phone number. I have no earthly idea why I was trying to remember that. I was like, "Good God, Todd, what the hell are you doing?" When you're playing with someone, sometimes you get really into what they're doing, where you just want to stop and watch. So you've got to watch that every now and again.

CP: The days of transition between Michael Hauser's passing and Jimmy Herring as the "new guitarist" are definitely over. With Dirty Side Down, Panic's sound is well-established with Herring. If you ever broke your arm and had to sit out a tour, who might best fill in for Todd Nance?
TN: Wally Ingram [of Timbuk 3, Stockholm Syndrome, David Lindley].

CP: With Yonder Mountain String Band on the bill, can fans expect any collaborations?
TN: We played with them not last New Year's Eve, but the one before. They've got a good spirit. I like what they do.

Local trio Leslie and Philly-based reggae/funk band The Movement will perform an outdoor concert in Lot A of the North Charleston Coliseum from 2:30-4:30 p.m. The Coliseum doors open at 5 p.m. for additional sets from Dead Confederate, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Widespread Panic, who headline at 9 p.m.

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