Several Athens, GA musicians and members of the extended Widespread Panic community celebrated the life of Widespread Panic lead guitarist and namesake Michael Houser at Athens, GA’s Georgia Theater on Friday night. The evening marked the 10th anniversary of Houser’s passing. Billed as We Miss You Mikey, the show’s lineup included Dangfly Acoustic, Romper Stompers featuring Widespread Panic drummer and Widespread Panic percussionist Sunny Ortiz, The HEAP featuring Ortiz, and Outformation, the project led by onetime Houser guitar tech and onetime touring Panic guitarist Sam Holt. The show also boasted a collaborative set by Widespread Panic frontman John Bell, Panic producer John Keane and Friends as well as an official Tribute Jam.
As expected, the evening featured numerous collaborations and a hefty number of Houser originals. Romper Stompers opened their set with the Houser classic “Airplane” and also offered Panic’s “Smoke and Burn” and the Panic/Vic Chesnutt collaboration “Blight,” among others. At the end of their segment, the group invited out Holt to play guitar on both Houser’s “She Drives Me To Drink” and “Bull Run.”
Later in the night, Outformation opened their set with Panic’s “Happy Child” and dotted their setlist with Panic originals like “West Virginia” and regular Panic covers like “Time Is Free.” At the end of their set, the group invited out Bell and Keane for Houser’s “Can’t Change The Past,” the Houser tribute “Southern Angels” and Houser’s “Sandbox.” Ortiz also played percussionist during the set.
Then, John Bell, John Keane & Friends took the stage.In addition to Keane and Bell, the combo featured Ortiz and surprise guests like current Widespread Panic guitarist Jimmy Herring, and organ player Ike Stubblefield, among others. They opened their performance with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Where Here” and then moved into “No Matter What.” Later, they invited out saxophonist Randall Bramblett for Panic’s “I’m Not Alone,” before moving into “May Your Glass Be Filled.” They closed their performance with one of the last Houser originals Panic recorded, “Travelin’ Man.”
The night came to a close with an all-star, cover-heavy set. The round-robin jam session featured Bell, Ortiz, Nance, Keane, Holt, Herring, Hutchens, Bramblett, Stubblefield, Bloodkin guitarist Daniel Hutchens, piano player Tim White and bassist David Horowitz, who is married to Houser’s widow Barbette. The loose jam session’s setlist featured The Zombies’ She’s Not There, Bloodkin’s “End of the Show,” Panic’s “Porch Song,” Bloodkin’s “Makes Sense To Me” and The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” The long encore of Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man” closed the show.
Before the show, Barbette Houser also issued a statement, which included the following thoughts:
Thank you for being part of this evening’s tribute to my late husband, Michael Houser. It is a great comfort to me and to the rest of my family to know that even now, ten years after his passing, his music is alive and well and still bringing pleasure to so many people. I used to feel so unbelievably lucky…others had to pay and travel to see him, but I got to enjoy the sweet sound of his guitar emanating from the sofa, or wafting through his studio door – a beautiful soundtrack to the simple, domestic days that we shared in our home. Now I know that Michael was the luckiest of all…his life was cut short, but he had the wisdom to appreciate every day that he had with family, his band, his friends, and his beloved audience. A couple of weeks before Michael’s diagnosis, he, Waker, Eva, and I went out to dinner at the old Hunan Chinese restaurant on Baxter Street. His fortune that night read “God will give you everything you want.” Michael simply said, “He already has.”
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