Spreadheads, get ready for a double dose of jamming from your cult favorite Athens band. Widespread Panic is headlining two nights of a brand-new music festival coming to North Charleston's Riverfront Park just two weekends after the High Water Festival.
The Trondossa Music Festival on May 5-6 will feature a double-header of Widespread Panic and Sturgill Simpson, along with artists Margo Price and Big Something on Saturday and Moon Taxi and Hiss Golden Messenger on Sunday.
"Usually, we attend festivals and play, but this was a chance to have more of a hand in it," says John Bell, singer and rhythm guitarist of decades-famous Widespread Panic.
He helped approve some of the creatives for the Trondossa Festival, like the logo. In addition to music, the festival will also include food trucks, art exhibits and other vendors.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how it comes off and seeing the other bands, too," says Bell. "It's a more eclectic group than say a jam band — though I hate that term — kind of format. It's a melting pot of genres. I don't get to see that much new stuff either, so I'm ready for it."
Widespread Panic has often been dubbed a "jam band," that term that Bell hates, but really, the act that has similarities to Phish and The Grateful Dead blends Southern rock, jazz fusion, blues and psychedelia amid often extended instrumentation.
More than 30 years into his career with Widespread Panic, Bell has ridden the sound waves, weathered the comings and goings of band members and, most recently, stopped extensively touring to focus more on a few bigger shows throughout the year.
"We started that mode of operation last year, and obviously I have a lot more free time now," says Bell. "Me personally, I don’t have any other musical projects other than sitting around playing guitar by myself.
"I have to keep my callouses on my fingers and remember the songs," he adds with a laugh.
And there are more than 300 of those in the Widespread lineup. The band, which never repeats the same set twice, now refers to that lengthy song list when planning a show. Bell says they'll wait four to five nights before repeating any given song, and it's always in a different order.
Reminiscing on early days in Athens, long before selling out Red Rocks almost 50 times and headlining fests across the globe, Bell recalls playing a weekly gig on Monday nights at a local club.
"It was the black sheep day that nobody wanted," says Bell. "We were spread really thin as far as making rent; a couple of us painted houses, a few worked in restaurants and local nightclubs. We were making like $68 a week for two years. When we made over 100 bucks, we felt like fat cats."
Back in those days, R.E.M. was an Athens band starting to become a household name. Bell recalls hanging out with drummer Bill Berry and bassist, keyboard player and backing vocalist Mike Mills.
"They would come over to our band's house," recalls Bell. "It wasn't necessarily a party scene, but they always knew we could start one. They would pop in and just hang out; they were some down-to-earth cats. I don't think we asked them a lot of questions but observed how they did things. One of the greatest things we noticed was that they were a band that shared things equally and really stuck together. We remembered that."
He also remembers hanging out at R.E.M.'s hangout spot, dubbed "The Church," for after parties. At the same time as Widespread and R.E.M. were coming up, there were the B-52s, who Bell remembers along with "rules need not apply" performance art bands and acts ranging from disco to punk rock.
Now, Bell likes to spend time with his acoustic guitar or meditation tapes and an empty headspace in his very own "energy room" at his Clarksville house.
"My wife and I found out about these in L.A.," says Bell. "Different colored computer monitors are set up in a specific way and precisely measured geometrically to create a bioactive magnetic field. It resonates and rejuvenates your body on many levels, and if you're a believer, in many dimensions."
"You're in it with me right now," he adds over the phone.