Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools is a Virginia native. When reached for a recent phone interview he sounded genuinely enthusiastic about his old home state hosting the Lockn’ Festival, a high-profile jam band bash taking place at Oak Ridge Estate in Arrington this Thursday through Sunday and featuring Grateful Dead offshoot Furthur, Trey Anastasio Band, the Black Crowes and the String Cheese Incident, among many others.
On Saturday, Panic is slotted to play one of the festival’s most highly anticipated sets, a collaboration with John Fogerty that will predominantly feature tunes from the rock legend’s Creedence Clearwater Revival catalog. The festival also begins a hearty fall tour for Panic, the Southern jam titans known for purveying an original brand of experimental Southern groove rock. The band emerged from Athens, Georgia’s storied music scene in the late 1980s, and as stalwart road warriors it’s maintained a loyal following.
After a mostly dormant 2012, the group returned this year with a big slate of shows across the country, including four nights at Colorado’s venerable Red Rocks Amphitheater where the band holds a record of 42 consecutive sold out shows.
Ahead of Lockn’, Schools chatted with C-VILLE Weekly by phone about the festival and rebooting after a year off.
C-VILLE Weekly: Panic returned this year after taking nearly a full year off. How did the band’s playing evolve following the extended break?
Dave Schools: We had to blow some dust off, but we eventually caught our groove and started to dive deeper into the catalog. By the summer tour I felt we were bettering the high points we had achieved before we took the time off. Some of us brought some new ideas back that weren’t necessarily musical—philosophical approach ideas. We’re starting to break in some new material. It’s always a reinvention that we allow to happen.
Since Panic plays many festivals, what’s your take on Lockn’?
I’m really happy that it’s in Virginia. Panic did plenty of time playing all of the colleges along I-81 and I-64, so we know this is a beautiful area.
It feels like the way Bonnaroo started over 10 years ago. They carved out a target demographic. I think it’s smart to keep all of the bands in the same wheelhouse with the emphasis on a lot of music from a few bands and some interesting collaborations. I’m also glad I’ll be able to see some music, since I won’t be missing most sets due to staggered start times. I’ll get to walk off stage and go see Phil (Lesh) and Bobby (Weir) play. That’s pretty cool.
Speaking of the Grateful Dead…when Panic was off the road you toured with drummer Mickey Hart and you frequently visit Bob Weir’s TRI Studios. Is it safe to say you’ll be sitting in with Furthur?
When bands like this get together, you never know what will definitely happen. I love playing the Grateful Dead catalog. For me as a bass player, I get taken to school by Phil, transported to a place beyond technique. There’s nothing that gives me greater pleasure than to watch his mind work.
How did the Fogerty set get organized?
Management presented the idea and all I could say was, “let me pinch myself.” It seemed too good to be true. From a personal standpoint, my parents bought me Creedence 45s when I was 5 years old. Getting to back up Fogerty will give me the chance to play some of the first songs I ever heard. I won’t believe this wasn’t a dream until we walk out on stage together and play some music.
How much preparation goes into a collaboration like this?
We’ve gone back and forth. John has made some suggestions and we’ve made some suggestions. There will be a rehearsal, but in the world of Widespread Panic anything can change between rehearsal and when you’re on stage playing in front of people. The idea is to be prepared for anything.
Panic released its last album, Dirty Side Down, on ATO records. Are there plans for a follow up?
Not yet. With the way the music business is now, I don’t see any reason to spend a bunch of money writing in the studio. I’m enamored with the idea of breaking out ideas on stage. People don’t buy music like they used to. They do buy tickets and love shows. They want to feel like they have a stake in the creation of new music, so I like to let it grow in front of them.
After nearly 30 years together, can you pinpoint a pinnacle moment for Widespread Panic?
There are several. As a band, it has to be playing in the streets of Athens and bringing nearly 100,000 people into town for an album release party rather than a Georgia football game. For me, personally, it was probably realizing I could actually pay the rent playing music. Also, performing in venues where I saw shows as a kid, like Hampton Coliseum. I remember seeing Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same when I was 12, and then standing on stage at Madison Square Garden years later realizing I was probably standing on the same spot Jimmy Page did in that movie. That’s rock ‘n’ roll dream stuff.
What’s been the key to keeping the band vital for so long?
It’s about adapting to change. Even though we decided we would only do this as long as it’s fun, we’ve grown to embrace the responsibility that this is a business with employees involved who need a paycheck and insurance. That’s a big part of it. There’s also something we learned from R.E.M.—don’t get caught up in who wrote what. We credit everything—lyrics and music—to Widespread Panic. It’s all for one, and one for all.
Check the Lockn’ Festival schedule for Widespread Panic’s set times