Photo by Josh Timmermans
The Widespread Panic Fanbase: Who Are We?
by Andy Roo Mowery
Earlier in the week, I was asked by someone a simple question that I’ve been meditating on since: “What is it about a band that creates a ‘cult following’ scene and causes people to be attracted and follow?
I’m sure those of you who think about this stuff could recite a dozen or more things that we’ve all heard before. And, inevitably, it would be the music/lyrics, the kind people, the type of partying (or sobriety), and then an endless stream of stories about panic pulled us in. We’ve had these discussions ad infinitum for 30 years now, literally.
I even recall one morning in line for Red Rocks a long time ago when we were discussing whether or not it was possible to marry someone who wasn’t into panic, or worse, hated panic. Not that we are exclusive or anything, but that it simply causes challenges when planning vacations, travel, or even what to do when there’s couch-tour and your significant other would prefer something else.
So, when the word ‘cult’ is used to describe us by others, it feels wrong. Cults invoke the concept that you are someplace you shouldn’t be if you were just wise enough to wake up from your trance. I don’t feel like any of us have been fooled into this – it’s a true passion, and for some of us, arguably a life focus.
Then what is it?
Every time I’ve thought of something this week, I find it might apply to some of us, but not all of us. Finding the universal thing that attracts us to the band, the music, the shows, the travel, and each other is really quite difficult to articulate simply. You end up speaking or writing a novel, as some like to call it, in an effort to state clearly, without offending anyone.
So, part of this has taken me to a place where I’m considering the depth of feelings we have for one another, and whether or not it’s “real” – because many of our relationships are at a distance – supplemented by communication online, email, phone, video, whatever. But, face to face contact is actually a smaller part of our lives than many of us would prefer.
Here’s what I discovered this week with the passing of some in our community that were known to many on a very deep level: Our online relationships are very real, and arguably a core part of what makes us a community.
After reading dozens of tributes to people I’ve really only known online, but feel as real as many relationships that are more in person. In fact, sometimes even more-so. I’ve got friends online that I’ve bared my soul to – far more than even most of my actual blood family. That’s not nothing.
So, when someone you really only know online passes, and many more have more “real” relationships, it’s hard to be public about your own feelings. It’s not a contest, but it sure feels intimidating when others know someone so much better. And, even more so when we have so many wordsmiths who say such beautiful things.
This, in turn, took me to thoughts about weddings. Yeah, kind of weird connection. I’ve had a common piece of advice I give to people who are about to get married about their wedding day – it all goes by so quick. Therefore, if you have something important to say to someone, say it the first time you see them. Telling yourself you’ll get back to them later at the wedding to say what you really want most often leads to missed opportunities. So, say what you mean the first time, and you’ll have far less regrets when the party is over.
Well, I think that same logic applies in our community. We chat for days, weeks, months, and then we go to a show, and the whole night just flies by. We think all these beautiful things about the people we’ve met, how they’ve inspired us, how they make us laugh, and how they just bring light, joy, and love into our lives.
But, what do most of us do – we wait till the tragedy to say it out loud. We wait till the moment has passed, and then we say it in their honor. Nothing wrong with that, per se.
I’m simply one person who has been on the receiving end of so many kind words from people. I know how it can make me feel, and how it can take a shitty day and turn it completely around. I know the power of words. And, even more so, the power of words spoken eye to eye with a hug.
And, that’s what I’m hoping to share here: As it’s the last night of Playa, I know there are so many people that have made new connections, as well as seen friends from long ago. The week passes quickly, and while we know we love being with one another, we can all work on making sure we let those we love know it while we have the opportunity to look into their eyes and give them a hug. If I had one wish for everyone down there, it would be that everyone makes a huge effort to do this at least once tonight.
For the rest of us typing this out on our phones, ipad, and computers, well, it’s just a commitment to make the most of our next time out at the show.
So, what does this have to do with the original question from my friend?
Well, I think it boils down to this: We are a community of independent individuals who are inspired by words, music, food, and art to travel around the world to expand our circles by sharing what we love. We can be pretty much any size, shape, or color, and we can pretty much hold just about any opinion. Yet, our diversity is a strength that allows us to find a common bond. And, that bond originates with some boys who became men who became our heroes for so many reasons.
But, let’s not forget that for each person on stage, there are dozens more who contribute in so many ways. We have so many professionals who simply give, give, give – right down to their hearts and souls. Often without sufficient credit. We often have no idea how many people do things to make things better and easier – because once you’ve been a fan who has had even one moment that has been life-changing, and you realize a debt to the community, you look for any way possible to give back and help the next person find their moment.
I can tell you that over my years following this band, I’ve witnessed some pretty incredible acts of love, generosity, and awesomeness. I mean, if I could be half the person of many I admire in this community, I’d be such a better person than I am today. I am humbled often, and inspired always.
So, not sure what the ultimate answer to this question is, but that’s my best stab at it after a week.
Please make the time to tell someone in our community today how much you love them and appreciate them being around. Because tomorrow may never come.