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Widespread Panic film opens doors of perception

Kimberly Nicoletti

FRISCO – “The Earth Will Swallow You” opens doors – not only to dressing rooms, but also to perception – peering into the creative life of Widespread Panic.

The documentary film, made by Geoff and Chris Hanson, recreates the band’s 2000 summer tour with shots of close to 20 concerts from 13 of 29 locations throughout the nation, beginning at Red Rocks Amphitheatre and traveling through Las Vegas, Vermont, New York City, Alabama and Keystone.

“We use each scene in the movie like the band might use a song,” Chris Hanson said, “and the middle of the movie is broken up by a setbreak (showing) what the band members do during their break. The second set goes into drums.”

In addition to simulating what it’s like to be on tour with Widespread Panic, the Hansons portray the process of creating music, both live and in the studio.

“Many of the fans don’t know what it’s like to collaborate with other musicians, so the focus of the film became the process of making the music,” he said.

The film mixes anecdotes from the band’s friends and fans with commentary from band members, with concert footage. It explains how the musicians create setlists for multiple concerts, playing more than 60 songs without repeating any while jamming in the same city. It also documents collaborations with other musicians such as Taj Mahal, Jorma Kaukonen, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, David Blackmon and Jerry Joseph.

The Hansons peppered the film with subconscious metaphors and meanings, using doors and mirrors (in an “Alice in Wonderland” theme) as cues to delve into wider perceptions.

“We were in the recording studio, and the percussionist, Sonny, was in his own sound booth, and he said “you can leave the door open if you want,'” Chris Hanson said. “Every time a band member talked to a cameraman, we used it as a symbolic opportunity that they were talking to the audience.

“The same way fans go to see Widespread Panic multiple times, we tried to make a movie that would be interesting on multiple viewings. We were very aware we were making kind of a cult movie that people would watch multiple times. There’s so much information given to you that you can’t process it upon one viewing. We layer the movie with themes like doors and mirrors that you may not pick up on until you watch it three or four times. There are quotes in the movie that are interesting, and it might take you two or three viewings to pick up on all the messages that are presented.”

Though the film specifically aims to remain true to the likes and dislikes of fans, anyone interested in the jam-band phenomenon or the artistic treatment of a band would find “The Earth Will Swallow You” intriguing, Chris Hanson said.

“I think we pretty much realistically portrayed each of the band members and (didn’t) paint them with rose-colored glasses by any means,” he said. “There was some tension (in one scene), and they were aware there was a camera in the room. They were very camera shy, but in the end I think they were very grateful that we were able to document the summer tour. They all speak favorably of how they were conveyed on film. They’re down-to-earth people, like you and me. They’re very atypical of your typical rock ‘n’ roll band. Five of the six members are married, and none of them have tattoos. They’re really nice, humble gentlemen, so that’s conveyed in the movie.”

After shooting 500 hours of footage with eight cameras, Chris Hanson spent six months in New York City with editor David Frankel, who lent an objective viewpoint because he’s not a Panic fan. After filmmakers condensed 500 hours into approximately an hour-and-a-half, the band members screened the film, requesting that only about 2 percent of the scenes be cut, those they thought were embarrassing or misconstrued.

The Hansons paired the film’s premiere with a live performance by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and decided to continue in that vein at the film’s screenings.

“What’s fun about being an independent filmmaker is you don’t have to play by the rules,” Chris Hanson said. “We thought it would be fun to make it an event. The Henry Parson’s Project is a Widespread Panic cover band, so it’s a perfect match for people to experience some of the live music that we documented in the movie.”

Tickets to the screening, at 9 p.m. Saturday at Barkley’s in Frisco, are $10. The DVD is due out later this year. For more information, visit http://www.wpmovie.com.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at knicoletti@summitdaily.com.

Event: “The Earth Will Swallow You”

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10

Where: Barkley’s, Frisco


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