“I’m gonna chat with a daffodil
I’ve got a little time to kill…”
–”Happy Daffodils”

A Supernova Rainbow of Fun exists as a collector’s item for any Widespread Panic, Bloodkin or Athens, Georgia, music fan. Daniel Hutchens and Todd Nance–two founding members of the group–died before this stellar collection was released. Original Widespread Panic drummer Todd Nance passed away in August 2020, and Bloodkin’s Daniel Hutchens died in May of 2021. A Supernova Rainbow of Fun ranks as an ageless recording in music’s eternal wheel of time travel…

I heard about the recordings for years from Danny and Todd. Guitarist William Tonks mailed Supernova to me in September. Tonks recently performed in Atlanta with R.E.M’s Mike Mills in the “Concerto for Violin, Rock Band and String Orchestra”. He’s played with the Hot Burritos, Jack Logan, Bloodkin, Barbara Cue, Randall Bramblett and Chuck Leavell to name only a few over the last 30 years.

This project began in 2009. Tonks explained to me the band’s origin: “Todd started it. He tried selling it to me and I was on board. Danny and Kristy didn’t have kids yet. When they started having kids–Todd and I knew we had him (laughs). Danny was the missing piece. Jon Mills was onboard from the very beginning. Todd said we should do a kids record. I already had two songs. When Danny and Kristy had babies–all of a sudden Danny had songs. We got Mills involved because he’s so good.” 

I asked Tonks to name the first songs the band composed. “We wrote “Dreaming”. “Sweet Pea Vine” I wrote about 15 years before. That was kid-tested. Danny had “Happy Daffodils”–that was his first one. He wrote 5 of the songs. Danny was in such good shape at the time. He was at the top of his game–pre-stroke, pre-sick. He was a new dad. It was a gateway back to happy Danny. Bloodkin was playing and those songs were happening at the same time. It was right around the time of the Bloodkin/Bobby Keys show (“Exile On Lumpkin Street”). Ninety percent of what you hear was recorded in 2012. We were well-rehearsed.”

R.E.M’s Bill Berry co-wrote “Bicycle Song”. Every tune emits a melodic, country-sounding style. Seasoned professionals Eric Carter (guitar), John Neff (pedal steel guitar), Sunny Ortiz (percussion), Jason Nesmith (synthesizer), Ansley Stewart (harmony vocals), Adam Poulin (fiddle) and Jojo Glidewell (keyboard) contribute to this positive batch of songs. Sound guru David Barbe engineered A Supernova Rainbow of Fun at his Chase Park Studio in Athens.

Jon Mills (Dodd Ferrell, David Barbe & the Quickhooks, Redneck Greece) told me this week: “It was Todd’s idea to make a kids record. We kicked it around for years. I’m real happy with the way it turned out–all the songs are real catchy. Everybody contributed to it except me as far as writing. It’s just a shame half of the band is not around anymore. I was in Athens last week to rehearse because William still wants to do a couple of shows with Tommy Jordan who will play guitar and sing. Matt Lane is going to play drums. We’ll do a couple of shows probably in December. It was real hard losing two of my best friends and guys that I collaborated with. It hit pretty hard. It’s one of the reasons I left Athens.” 

David Barbe revealed this to me about A Supernova Rainbow of Fun on Tuesday October 25, 2022: “It’s such a nice concept. It started as ‘let’s make a kids record’. Of course, William has been a dad for a long time, but a lot of aspects of Danny’s personality came out when he had kids. He was such a sweet, kind soul that when he had children they brought out the best side of his personality.

“I loved the concept when they told me they’d been writing these songs. At the same time, it’s songs by 3 great songwriters and a bunch of great people playing on it. Whatever they were going to do I was sure it was going to be great. As it turned out, it was nice to produce Danny and Todd one last time…”

“Happy Daffodils” kicks off the record and captures the group’s dynamic and then you hear the soulful voice and lyrics of the dearly departed Daniel Hutchens. Tonks’s deft country licks lace this gem. Sorely missed Todd Nance sings lead vocal on “Dreaming”, which harkens back to the day when he and Tonks played in Barbara Cue. The lighthearted, upbeat Tonks-penned ditty “Sweet Pea Vine” should be a current country music hit.

“How Many Books” reiterates the universal glory of kids discovering reading, and the power of imagination. “Bicycle Song” evokes an early 80s Athens, Georgia, quality. “You’re An Artist” inspires every listener’s individuality as well as containing the album’s title in the lyrics. “Treehouse (To The Sky)” emits a danceable, yet rebellious quality. “Broccoli Wars” juxtaposes kid-friendly lyrics, while the music leans towards a grittier, rock & roll sentiment. 

Bloodkin guitarist and Hutchens’ songwriting partner Eric Carter flexes some guitar muscle on “Snow Day”, a rollicking anthem for kids allowed to miss school due to inclement weather. Tonks told me “Danny helped me out on a couple of songs. I’m not the wordsmith. He’d finish them. He wrote over half of “Snow Day” and some of “Bicycle Song” as well. You can look at the words and tell which one’s are Danny’s and which one’s are mine. Talk about your ace in the hole if you’re having trouble with lyrics…”

The last song, “Counting On You”, a pretty composition showcases John Neff’s first rate pedal steel skills that weaves a silver thread through the song constructed by serious players who performed together for decades.  As this final number fades, the listener realizes a song, like everything else, eventually lingers but disappears like smoke rings. A Supernova Rainbow of Fun resonates as a bittersweet musical statement from half of a band that is no longer with us. Yet, Hutchens and Nance understood so well how music lives on forever. I guarantee you they’re getting a kick out of being in the room with the listener when ‘play’ is pressed on the stereo…

A Supernova Rainbow of Fun can be found on cdbaby, in record stores or various streaming outlets. Seek it out.

(Photograph by David Barbe)