Long awaited, much anticipated and now with so much excitement that you could see was bestowed upon the Georgia Theater. Warmed by the welcome of happy smiling people, it was clearly a house full of Good People.
Set 1 Dangfly
Set 2 Romper Stompers- Airplane, Smoke and Burn, Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses, Blight, She Drives Me To Drink*, Bull Run*
*with Sam Holt
Set 3 The HEAP- Sensible Shoes, Low Country, It’s Your Own Kinda Thing, The Future, Express Yourself, My Automobile, The Hipster’s Lament
Set 4 Outformation- Happy Child, Steve Lopez Raffle, Valley Blue, 90, Into My Arms, West Virginia, Game On > Edgewater > Time Is Free, Can’t Change The Past*, Southern Angels*, Sandbox*
*with John Bell and John Keane [Sunny on percussion]
Set 5 John Bell, John Keane and Friends- Wish You Were Here, No Matter What,, I’m Not Alone*, May Your Glass Be Filled, Travelin’ Man*
*with Randall Bramblett on sax
Lines quickly formed in front of the merchandise table where staff got quite the workout slinging Mikey stuff and t shirts, and the immensely popular event posters created by Jeff Woods and JT Lucchesi. Upstairs the silent auction was going on with donations from many folks from many different genres. From paintings to photographs, handmade pottery from Tammy Nance, many local people and businesses donated to the cause. There was a buffet of food, live local music starting the VIP party and already quite the showing of people in the theater for preshow activities. A fan based slideshow was shown which was there to bring back many memories of Mikey, for this night was to celebrate his life, and for me and many folks I chatted with, this celebration was in a way coming full circle, from the day he passed to 10 years later. It really felt like this night was about having a good time! Upstairs on the roof top bar, in and out came our biggest heroes to check out the scene and grab a drink. Many people got to mingle with the musicians, and the musicians, got to hear the out pouring of love by the fans. People all around were talking of finally getting to meet some of Athens finest musicians. They got to meet Mikey’s friends.
As the opening band finished its set, Romper Stompers featuring Todd Nance, Sunny Ortiz, Danny Hutchins and Jon Mills and William Tonks took the main stage. Opening their set with AIRPLANE, the crowd showed its approval and love with enormous applause. High energy music.. then that oh so familiar sound of Mikey’s guitar and amp. The fans knew what they were hearing. Sam Holt, Mikey’s last guitar tech and friend was gifted one of his amps and one of his signature guitars. Sam’s ties with Mike were very strong and his words helped motivate Sam to get his own band on stage, which became the group OUTFORMATION, who became very popular after Mike passed away. Sam even graced the stage with Widespread Panic to finish off the last shows of what I would safely guess as one of the hardest tours to complete due to losing a member mid tour. Mikey’s vision was to keep the train moving, for the band to replace his spot on stage and continue touring.
After Sunny’s band the Heap finished their set, Sam hit the stage again with his original band members playing a few songs Mikey wrote and shared with Sam, and a few songs written by Outformation. The stage was getting very crowded stage as John Bell and John Keane came on stage to join in on the fun. JB graced us with little stories of how he and Mikey used to get on stage, get some other local musicians to come play, and then get enough people to come thru the door to pay for their bartab, and that became a group name when they did that. JB’s little snippets of info were a brief history of pre panic times, and as he laughed into the mic, you could see how happy JB was to be here now, remembering his friend, sharing his stories of their relationship and showing the Houser family, including his daughter and son, his wife, his parents, his band mates and so many musicians that JB and Mike were just really good friends in their early years before forming Widespread Panic. JB seems to be so comfortable on stage. His relaxed presence is so true and comforting. And this evening was about the FUN side. Leaving so many sad emotions behind, being in the front row watching JB take control of this train with John Keane along his side.
WISH YOU WERE HERE has been covered a few times, but tonight, I didn’t cry. It felt good to miss Mikey and celebrate the era that was his. Remembering the sounds and songs, but watching JB smile, along with everyone on stage was very heartwarming. For years I cried at WP concerts missing Mikey and his sound, feeling sad and missing those good times. Missing the fun times I got to share with him.. and seeing this 10 years later, his presence is still around. His family made a very strong statement this night, and everyone in the theater knew and were very grateful for Mikey’s immediate family, for sharing not only in his passion, but for sharing his time away from home to be with his fans. Barbette made a few comments, which many fans had never seen or met before, and then brought out their children. The son and daughter were applauded and graciously honored, and for the fans, we got to see another intimate side of Widespread Panic, and family.
John Bell took control again with a few more stories of how things became and grew, and explained the toughest of things he had to deal with, one of which was trying to finish a bunch of songs together while Mikey was succumbing to the many disabling parts of pancreatic cancer. Those verses, and the times writing them were incredible moments that JB clearly remembered and shared with the crowd, who actually kept quiet to hear what was being said. This was yet one more episode of Widespread Panic history, sharing intimate times and stories with their fans, and allowing us to feel this energy of love together. This love has allowed fans to feel connected to these people on stage, our friends, Widespread Panic and Family. Loyal fans and even more loyal friends got to witness and play a part in a massive reunion over 26 years in the making. From the fans whose efforts scored them tickets, the many folks that tuned into the live stream, to all the folks involved in this production, to everyone that was there, this celebration of Mikey’s life was an honor to be a part of. To see JB enjoying his storytelling brought smiles to everyone’s faces. For the musicians, it was again a most wonderful lifetime experience. As the evening grew late, more musicians gathered in front of their gear on stage, and we had a cluster of instruments and bodies moving around, all smiling proud, and remembering and sharing some special moments that many fans never got to be a part of. David Blackmon, Bloodkin and Romper Stompers, the Heap, Dangfly, and John Keane and friends, John Bell, Jimmy Herring, and Sam Holt and Outformation finished this night of with a huge tribute jam.
Set 6 Tribute Jam (everyone)- She’s Not There, End of the Show, Porch Song, Makes Sense To Me, Sympathy for the Devil
Encore: I’m A Man
With all the jams and guitar solos, and sharing mics during harmonies, and singing thru some extremely proud smiles brought the lights back on as this show has ended. The Georgia Theater brought together some of Athens biggest local artists together for the best celebration of a man, father husband and friend. Outside was packed full of smiling people. Finding friends from all over the country with smiles plastered on their faces, hugs and heartful goodbyes filled the air. From the back door of the theater, the musicians were greeted once again by fans as they loaded their personal cars with their own gear and drove themselves home. We gathered ourslves and did the same.
WE MISS YOU MIKEY- It was a night of smiles and happiness- with Mikey Houser tunes filling the air.
“I’m feeling a little bit easier, knowing that you’re all here”… MH