Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 7:30 p.m.
Mobile Civic Center Theater, 401 Civic Center Drive, www.mobilecivicctr.com
Tickets: Sold out
After years of frequenting Orange Beach, Widespread Panic is returning to the Azalea City to play a sold-out show before a multitude of local Spreadheads. Most people have experienced Widespread in a large festival or arena setting. For this leg of the tour, Widespread will be playing several shows in what could be considered intimate venues.
When Lagniappe spoke with keyboardist JoJo Hermann, he was fresh from a gig with his JoJo’s Mardi Gras Band project and preparing for another lengthy tour with Widespread.
STEPHEN CENTANNI: JoJo’s Mardi Gras Band has been busy. After doing all the Widespread stuff, how does it feel to get out on stage and concentrate on your own project?
JOJO HERMANN: Well, we just did one show, so I don’t know if we’ve been “busy.” We did one show in here in Nashville and had a great time, but I think my next hundred gigs will be with Widespread Panic.
C: You’ve brought your band to Mobile before.
H: Yeah! We played at the Soul Kitchen!
C: Any plans to bring it back here?
H: The only plan right now is Widespread Panic. That’s my only plan. After that, I can’t even think about doing anything else. It’s gonna be a busy year.
C: After playing all these arenas and outdoor festivals, it seems like Widespread is doing a series of theater shows. Relatively speaking, these are intimate performances for the band. What made you guys want to play in these settings?
H: It was definitely a conscious decision to go back to smaller venues. It’s a woodshedding thing, where we get reacquainted with old material. So it’s definitely a woodshedding thing where we want to go back into smaller places and concentrate on originals. We did New Year’s and Halloween. You do all the big covers with horn sections and all that stuff. Right now, we want to woodshed a little bit.
C: As far as the people who have only seen you in a large-venue setting, what do you think those folks are going to get out of these intimate shows that might be different from what they’re used to?
H: Well, the great thing about this band is that you never know. I have no idea. I don’t know what we’re going to do yet. Whatever it is, it’s going to be good.
C: Even though Widespread is no stranger to Mobile, y’all have made The Wharf in Orange Beach a regular stop over the past few years. The last couple of times Widespread played Orange Beach, some locals and city officials have gotten up in arms, as far as Spreadheads are concerned. They seem horrified that Spreadheads are descending upon the area. One city official (Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Silvers) described Spreadheads’ “floppiness.”
H: He said what?
C: A city official talked about the “floppiness” of the Spreadhead lifestyle.
H: I didn’t know that. Floppy? That’s a good word, I guess.
C: What do you think about that reaction to Widespread’s fan base? To me, y’all have one of the more chilled out crowds, compared to others.
H: Yeah, the crowds are always very nice to me. Frankly, every time we go to Alabama, all the people are very nice to me. I don’t really read the press, so I can’t really comment on anything that’s written about (the band). You know, writers are going to write what they’re going to write. A lot of writers write whatever it takes, so it will be read. But I just don’t know.
C: “Street Dogs” is your latest album. Honestly, Widespread pack the house each and every time. Most bands go into the studio for a new album to bring the fans back to the live shows and make some money. Y’all don’t appear to have a problem with any of that. So what made you decide to go back into the studio?
H: It was just a great experience to go into the studio and do “Street Dogs.” We had such a good time making the album, and it shows on the record. We basically did it live and recorded as if we were in a live situation. So it was just so much fun to make. What I love is that we didn’t spend a lot of time on it. I think I was in the studio for seven days out of the whole process. I’m a big fan of just laying it down and putting it out. With this album, the material just seemed to fall into that. So, that was great.
C: You mentioned you recorded live in studio. What made you want to change it up like that?
H: We’ve actually kind of recorded live for most of our albums. So it wasn’t really that different. We just did fewer overdubs on this one.
C: For a band that is known for jamming and improv, how do you keep that aspect of your music from creating days of studio sessions? Is it a conscious effort?
H: The key to this one was that we recorded at a studio in Asheville, North Carolina, called Echo Mountain. It was just a wonderful studio. We were all able to sit in the same room and record together. I think that really made it. I think the studio was just a big part of it.
C: Producer John Keane has been with y’all since the beginning, and he was with you once again for “Street Dogs.” What’s it like working with him?
H: John is a member of our family, and we’ve recorded with him for many, many years. He also adds his guitar tracks to it. We’ve been with him so long, and he actually played guitar with us for a little bit. We just love John. He’s just knows how to listen to us, and he knows where we’re coming from.
C: You know, spring and summer is coming, and that’s the festival season. I have to know which festival you’re looking forward to playing the most.
H: I just love Wanee. Every time the word “Wanee” comes up, I’m like, “Yes! Let’s do it!” I just think it’s the best festival out there and maybe New Orleans Jazz Fest along with it. The Wanee Festival is just so great. People talk about the word “family,” you know. At Wanee it’s literally like family. You just know everybody so well. You’ve played with everybody. When you go to Wanee and you’re backstage and onstage, you feel like you’re playing around a fireplace at the family home. It really takes on that feeling. I just love Wanee.