Widespread Panic: "You Either Like Us or Hate Us"
By his own admission, Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz has a great gig. While most working Americans are quick to grouse about their jobs, Ortiz, the percussionist for Atlanta-based band Widespread Panic, exudes a level of enthusiasm that would likely make most people bitter with envy.
"I can't think of anything better," Ortiz insists. "It's a big adventure. It's like going on a camping trip and sitting around the campfire playing your music. Hanging out, singing, having a good time."
That freewheeling style is exactly what's made Widespread Panic a jam scene and music fest favorite for the past 27 years, ever since the group first formed in its original hometown of Athens, Georgia.
These days, Ortiz and the rest of the band -- vocalist/guitarist John Bell, vocalist/keyboardist John "JoJo" Hermann, guitarist Jimmy Herring, drummer Todd Nance, and bassist/vocalist Dave Schools -- spend roughly half their year on the road, extolling a populist vibe at countless festivals and prestigious venues before legions of rabid devotees.
"Widespread Panic isn't the kind of band that gets lots of radio play, at least on the Triple-A stations," Ortiz points out. "College stations, yeah. We get some play there, but we're pretty much a touring band. That's how we sustain ourselves, year after year, through the great support of our fans who come out to hear us play.
"That's been our existence," the percussionist adds. "In this business, you either like us or you hate us, or you're clueless as to who we are. But we're still plucking away at it slowly, but surely. And we're still having the best time ever, just like we were in our late 20s and early 30s."