By James Calemine
On April 3, 1996, Widespread Panic performed at the Von Braun Civic Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Panic Archivist Horace Moore wrote in these liner notes: “So, what is it about this Huntsville, Alabama, show back in 1996 that takes on so much meaning? What really happened there that night? Whatever it was it moved more than 2,582 in attendance…that’s for sure. And for much longer than the three and a half hours the band was onstage. Whether 4/3/96 was someone’s 1st or 250th show, or even if they didn’t see the band for the first time until a few years later, this show continues to hit the note.”
Liner notes also contain 8 emails from fans proclaiming this show contends as one of the band’s strongest. Bassist Dave Schools told me about this show, “The second set is widely circulated. A lot of people think it’s one of the best shows we ever did. The first set has never really been available.” Until now…
“Better Off” is the opening track and it’s obvious from the get go the band is operating at an apex. “Pigeons” always seems to convey an uplifting emotion to the crowd. Schools’ thick bass provides a funky accompaniment to Nance’s solid beat and Ortiz’s polyrhythmic colors. Vic Chesnutt’s “Let’s Get Down To Business” comes next, then “Radio Child” and stellar “Pilgrims”. Houser’s guitar in “Pilgrims” evokes bittersweet memories of a by-gone era…a great recording.
Hermann’s New Orleans saloon-ragtime piano provides a diverse sonic texture on “Solace”. A killer version of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” verifies to John Bell and Mike Houser’s musical telepathy. Daniel Hutchens’ “Can’t Get High” is rendered with soulful grit that injects a dirty rock and roll song into the melodic gumbo set list.
This show was the first time Houser’s “Sandbox” was played as well as Van Morrison’s “Satisfied”. “Diner”, “Porch Song”, “Pleas” and “I’m Not Alone” prove quite a powerful sequence that truly preserves the band at a zenith on this night. Dr. John’s “Walk On Gilded Splinters” and Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” serve as the cover songs on disc three. “Blackout Blues” never disappoints and “Love Tractor” evokes a brilliant musical snapshot of the past. Huntsville 1996 allows the medicine to take…
Read my vintage interview with Todd Nance in Insured Beyond The Grave Volume 2.