Jam band Widespread Panic back on road after break

Jimmy Herring looks forward to taking out the trash.

Sort of.

After touring for weeks, and sometimes months, at a time as lead guitarist in free-range jam band Widespread Panic, Herring longs to get home and do all the things that most of us avoid.

“It’s really great to just do some of the things that a husband and father is supposed to do, cut the grass or help your wife in the garden,” Herring says from a tour stop in Colorado. “Just the normal things that seem mundane if you have to do it all the time. But for us, it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s great, man,’ to go out in the garden. It’s therapeutic, you know?”

Therapy through chores?

Works for Herring, who must have a particularly clear mind these days, as Widespread Panic is coming off the longest break of their 27-year career.

The band took all of 2012 off, indulging in some rare downtime for a group that once played upward of 300 gigs a year back in the day.

“I think it just gave some sanity to people who were doing important things like seeing family members or moving or getting their lives together in whatever way it might be,” Herring says. “It’s healthy. It gives you a chance to reflect on something else. You have to have experiences to channel your music through. The fewer experiences you have, the shallower your music will be, probably.”

Still, getting used to sleeping in the same bed every night was an adjustment for Herring.

“It takes some acclimating time to get used to being home,” he says. “I could be home for two weeks and not unpack my suitcase, just live out of my suitcase the same way that I would when I’m on the road.

“Of course, my wife will give me a bunch of crap about it until I do it,” he chuckles. “It’s all in good fun, but you do get used to a certain way of life. Sometimes you forget that you’re not in a hotel. It’s like, ‘You’ve got to clean that up. You don’t have housekeeping coming.’ ”

Herring didn’t take a complete break from touring in 2012, as he did make the rounds with his own band.

But now he’s back on the road with what has become the jam band community’s most stalwart act.

Herring joined Widespread Panic in 2006 after distinguishing himself with his playing in groups such as The Allman Brothers Band, The Dead, Phil Lesh and Friends, Aquarium Rescue Unit and others.

He’d known the band since the late ’80s, was friends with them, and so it was a comfortable transition becoming a part of the group.

He was just jamming with his buddies.

“With Panic, I could be myself more,” Herring says, “but I still had to listen to the music and try and get in there and find where it was they were coming from. With some bands, you’ve just got to learn their stuff and go right to it, play it that way every night. But this band is very flexible. It doesn’t have to be the same thing all the time. You’ve got a very big playground to try things in. Nobody’s ever saying, ‘Oh, no, no, do it this way.’ ”

Widespread Panic’s broad musical palette, which ranges from folk to blues to hard rock to funk, has resulted in an equally broad fan base.

They’ve become elder statesmen of the jam band scene.

Yeah, times have changed.

But these dudes?

Not so much.

“I remember meeting a guy, he was as young as my son, he might have been 19 years old,” Herring recalls. “I was like, ‘Man, we’re old enough to be your dad, what keeps you coming back?’ He said, ‘Well, you guys play your own instruments.’

“I said, ‘What do you mean? You mean other people don’t play their own instruments,’ ” he adds with a laugh. “He said, ‘No, man.’ A lot of the music that people his age are listening to are playing with backing tracks, there’s machines that are playing the music that are programmed. I’m old, but I swear, there’s something to be said for actually playing your instruments.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.