The hard-working, down-to-earth jam band Widespread Panic came out of the Athens music scene's second wave of talent, which began forming in the mid-1980s. With its fusion of southern rock, jazz, and blues, Widespread Panic has earned renown as one of America's best live bands. They have often appeared in Pollstar's "Concert Pulse" chart of the top fifty bands on the road, and they have performed more than 150 live dates a year. The band's first seven albums have sold more than 1.5 million copies. For all its success, Widespread Panic has emphasized excellent musicianship, touring, and accessibility to fans, making it a highly respected and popular Georgia band.
The band got its start in 1982 when University of Georgia students John Bell and Mike Houser began collaborating on music. Vocalist Bell and guitarist Houser soon added bassist Dave Schools to their ranks, forming the band's name from Houser's nickname, "Panic."
In the mid-1980s the band began weekly jam sessions at Athens's Uptown Lounge and became known for putting in more time on stage than most bands, sometimes up to four hours at once. The band performed as a trio for a time, recording their debut single "Coconut Image" in 1986. Drummer Todd Nance, percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz, and keyboardist John "JoJo" Hermann joined the band, and the line-up stayed the same until Houser's death from cancer in August 2002.
Widespread Panic released its debut album Space Wrangler in 1988 and took to the road, beginning the grueling process of touring for which the band is known. The group's second album, Widespread Panic, was issued in 1991 by Capricorn Records. They expanded their fan base by appearing in the rock tour H.O.R.D.E. in 1992 and 1993. The band released Everyday in 1993 and Ain't Life Grand in 1994, which produced the hits "Airplane" and "Can't Get High." After the release of the latter album, the group took a three-year reprieve, during which time they worked and toured with fellow Athens musician Vic Chesnutt.
Next, they issued Bombs and Butterflies (1997), a double live album, Light Fuse, Get Away (1998), and 'Til the Medicine Takes (1999). For the Light Fuse, Get Away CD release party, at least 60,000 fans flooded Athens, setting a record. The band also set a record for attendance at the New Orleans Jazz Festival in 1999, drawing 63,000 fans. Since then the band has released Another Joyous Occasion (2000), Don't Tell the Band (2001), Live in the Classic City (2002), and Ball (2003).
Widespread Panic was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2008.