Can you believe it has been ten years since Mike Houser died? What began thirty years ago as a pair of guys who liked to play music together – John Bell and Mike Houser – has grown exponentially into one of modern Southern culture’s musical mainstays. Sadly, Houser succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2002, but he’s still with us in a lot of ways— from his brilliant playing on Widespread Panic’s albums and in concerts to those stickers with his sitting-down-to-play silhouette that I see on the back of a car every now and then.
I first saw Widespread Panic live back in the early 1990s at an outdoor venue in southern Montgomery County called Sandy Creek, which was basically an open field down a one-lane dirt road, and at the time I had no idea who they were. I had seen this bright orange poster on a phone pole for a band that was playing out there and decided to go. Shows at Sandy Creek always made for a good time. Bringing your own cooler was easy enough, and the crowds contained an unpredictably eclectic mix of rednecks, stoners, college students, bikers, undercover cops and other sundry characters. But Sandy Creek is closed now, and I don’t remember much about that show at all . . .