Wednesday, July 6, 2011

John "JoJo" Hermann

Throughout Bonnaroo’s 10 years, many bands have come and gone. Some have started out playing small stages and come back to play bigger stages or even to headline. But one band in particular has proven themselves timeless year after year after year—they just keep coming back for more.
Widespread Panic first hit Bonnaroo as a headliner back in 2002, the first official year of the festival, and this year they closed down the festival with their sixth headlining appearance.
A blues, rock and jazz jam band out of Athens, Georgia, Widespread have seen an astonishing 25-year career with 11 studio albums to their name and countless live show releases. The band’s current members include John Bell on vocals and guitar; John “JoJo” Hermann on keyboards; Dave Schools on bass; Jimmy Herring on lead guitar; Domingo Ortiz on percussion and Todd Nance on drums.
Sunday afternoon, just a few short hours before Widespread is due to hit the stage, JoJo Hermann takes a break from the heat to chat with us about everything from the band’s outrageous fans to their upcoming hiatus.
Jojo emanates a fully casual persona. Comfortable in a T-shirt and baseball cap, he cracks jokes and smiles, though he’s a seasoned pro at these interviews.
Touring is a major part of what these guys do, and their fans are a big bunch of repeat, loyal customers. They’re the fans who follow the guys around the country and hit shows in multiple states. Hermann smiles when he thinks about them.
“We are very thankful. I just hope they keep their jobs,” he says. To take a glance at Widespread’s tour schedule is to be astounded. They play worldwide shows year-round. With such a faithful following, they wouldn’t want to let their dedicated fans down, so they never fail to give them a reason to stick around.
The relationship between Widespread Panic and their fans is a two-way street, though. It’s not just the fans benefiting from the band; the fans actually give back a surprising amount. Herman describes the fan contribution as being “pretty rich,” adding, “We just feed off that a lot—as much as possible.”
Widespread Panic is a band people love to love. Their fans cannot be hewn in by demographic, as they are the definition of diversity itself, spanning ages, genders, backgrounds and walks of life to unite around one common musical interest. Unifying a group like this on such a massive scale is quite a feat, and Widespread have proven their ability to make it happen.
“It feels really good to bring people together; it’s just a good thing,” Hermann says.
A band that has been a part of Bonnaroo from festival one, Widespread have witnessed the changes and the constants of Bonnaroo during the festival’s 10-year history.
“They have let the quality and the variety of the artists grow,” Hermann says, pointing to the keys to Bonnaroo’s sustained success. “I don’t think anyone expected this 10 years ago. It’s a great festival, and they do it right. I think Bonnaroo really created this whole trend with the festivals, and it feels like they were the ones who really came in and put the bands first. And people are getting it. Now these festivals are everywhere, taking over ... really.”
Hermann looks back on his band’s soon to be six-year Bonnaroo run and says, “We were kind of surprised they invited us back. We were like, ‘Really?’” Not only are Widespread in their sixth year; they’ve also earned their slot as the closing act.
“This wouldn’t be the first venue we closed down,” Hermann jokes.
Twenty-five years is a solid run for any band, and Widespread Panic have decided to take a break.
“We haven’t determined exactly when or how long, but yeah, it will be a nice break.” He says he has some family time in his plans. “I’m going to go on a family vacation like the Griswolds. We are going to go to Wally World (laughs).”
The term “jam band” has been used to describe the talent of many great bands, but Widespread are on the forefront of the category. Hermann says he has his own definition for the term.
“If you are jamming, it means you do your own thing. I think pretty much anybody fits in now. Basically, it’s like saying rock ‘n’ roll bands,” he says.
Sunday night’s sixth headlining performance by Widespread Panic certainly gave festivalgoers the energy they needed to stay amped “Up All Night!” The band gave a riveting two-and-a-half hour performance and even brought out special guest Bruce Hornsby. It was a fitting 10th anniversary for Bonnaroo and 25th anniversary for one phenomenal jam band.

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