Where Tobacco is King: Widespread Panic visits Durham Performing Arts Center
Tobacco graphic by Erika Rasmussen, with Dpanic graphic by Ernie Bibus
"Before the beginning, you know something already started. Oh, in the summer, smoking palace welcoming all the full hearted." These are the words that comprise the poetic beginning of Widespread Panic's "When Cotton Was King". On February 9-11, however, that song could be rewritten as Panic comes to the land where tobacco was King, and that is my hometown of Durham, NC. My uncle DJ'ed at one of the first country stations in the state, which was Durham's own WTIK, and that actually stood for "Where Tobacco Is King". As Panic returns to the Bull City next week, let's consider how much the band and the city have in common.
History: Durham has always had a rich, if sometimes troublesome, history, featuring numerous historically significant sites like the Duke Homestead State Historic Site, Black Wall Street, the Bennett Place State Historic Site. Widespread Panic has a rich history of road tours, festivals, compilations, and destination shows as one of the three OG jam bands still touring.
Cultural diversity: Durham now features a great cultural diversity and is alive with a thriving arts scene, gourmet food, and a killer music and entertainment culture. Widespread is made up of diverse musicians ranging from their 30's to their 70's and they represent a mix of musical genres and backgrounds. Their native styles include blues, rock, jazz, and other genres, which adds great variety to their discography.
Higher Education: Durham is celebrated for its prestigious higher education institutions, such as my beloved Duke University and the revered North Carolina Central University, as well as the universities in neighboring towns whom we won't mention here (*side eye*). Widespread is known for originally coming together at an institution of higher education, University of Georgia, while Schools, Bell, and Houser were attending.
Natural beauty: Durham's surroundings are also known for their natural splendor, offering parks, lakes, hiking trails, and the gorgeous Eno River. Widespread Panic's lyrics often focus on the natural world such as in "Ain't Life Grand" ("Sun came out the other day, through those dusty clouds. And in my mind, I was a child, and it felt good."), "Surprise Valley" ("Fires dance the shadows, winds whisper the trees. Mother talkin' the water's, spirit moves, it moves through all things."), and many more.
Heartbreak and controversy: Durham has a sad and controversial history of civil injustice, tobacco culture, and scandal (e.g., Michael Peterson's staircase, the Duke Lacrosse case, etc.). Panic, too, has unfortunately had their share of losses including Houser, Nance, and Vereen, and its members are always subject to the hot gossip of the tour scene. It is from these dark days that the spirit of creativity was born in the city and in the band.
Innovation: Durham is situated within the Research Triangle, a hub of innovation and technology and hosts a thriving startup community and numerous established tech and biotech companies. Panic is innovative for their improvisational style, their eclectic sound that comes from the members' different genres, their collaborative approach, their dedicated fan base, and their long-lasting success.
So, whether you're a Durham native or one of the many who are making the long haul to get here by February 9, we welcome the band, the crew, and all the fans. The Durham Performing Arts Center has some of the best acoustics you'll hear on tour and is a beautiful spot to catch Widespread Panic live. I hope you love our city as much as I do. Remember to watch out for your friends and Spread the Love to the venue and the downtown.
To read more of Erika Rasmussen's work follow this link https://erikasrasmussen.wixsite.com/rasmusic