One more for Mikey: We Miss You

Written by Steve Love with Jamie Wickford / Photos by Ian Rawn / playindead.org

August 27, 2012

Ten years sounds like a long time, but when reflecting upon sadness or loss it seems shorter, almost like yesterday. We can all agree that life is precious, delicate, mysterious and full of challenges and regrets. When a loved one passed away, the instinct is to stop, think and take stock of where one”s own life is heading and moreover, what exactly needs to be done with an all too uncertain amount of remaining time.

After awhile, and as the grief process takes its course, sadness begins to slip away and one day, without notice, it’s back to business as usual… until reminded.

In the case of Michael “Mikey” Houser (January 6, 1962-August 10, 2002), reminders come often through reminiscent discussion and anytime his music is heard.


 

I’m in love with a girl that I met in the bar
She’s brought me this far

 

The unique guitar riffs, calm lyrics and quiet stage presence made him a fan favorite and when sadness recoils, the knowledge of knowing that someone so talented and gifted was taken from us at an early age only exacerbates the grief. Recollection of how astonishingly deep Mikey’s unselfishness was when he decided to go out on the road and tour with Widespread Panic, even when noticeably sick, his life “time” limited. To make that sacrifice only proved how important music was for him, but to forgo spending that borrowed time with his family and off the road friends provided all who were touched in those remaining days a rare glimpse of humility, something for which Houser was a beacon. Ironically, ten years past his untimely passing, his family invited us to share in an evening with them to collectively reflect on Mikey’s contribution to life in a celebration of an immense man that so many will never forget.

Acting as organizer, it was hats off early to Barbette Houser- Horowitz for what immediately came across as a well-planned event. It was clear that she had put her painstaking all into this special tribute concert for her late husband; and in recalling the grief shared amongst fans through the years, there were shared thoughts abound concerning  the emotional fortitude that she and her family had shown in so doing.

The evening”s setting was the recently restored Georgia Theatre, the place to play for aspiring Athens based musicians, and as fate would have it, the place where an untold litany of early Mikey-inspired memories were made with Bloodkin, Vic Chesnut and of course, Widespread Panic. In terms of spaciousness and the like, the Theatre was noticeably more comfortable on this evening. One can only be presume that Barbette set a strict limit in regards to how many tickets could be sold.

Upon arrival, fans took to mingling on the rooftop and catching up with old friends and family before surveying the items that would be auctioned (including handwritten Mikey lyrics donated by John Bell, paintings and signed posters) to provide funds for The Michael Houser Music Fund. Early-entry VIPs were treated to some wonderful southern food, complete with delicious golden fried chicken, and entertainment inside by Dangfly, whose set ending signaled the beginning of a photomontage backdrop that scrolled through photos from Houser”s life, both onstage and off. The only unfortunate thing was that the event could have never accommodated all who wished to be there, but once again, Barbette showed just how much she “gets it” by making the entire evening accessible on the internet for free (though donations were accepted) to all who needed to simply couldn”t be in Athens. Even so, there was an ever-present group of approximately 25 ticketless souls who opted to watch from a sidewalk out of a desire to simply be as close to the magic that was inevitable.

 

Well the barstool rodeo’s in town
And I know all of our friends will be going down…

 

In the moments leading up to the show”s opening, older fans and friends took time to reflect and remember what Mikey stood for while the younger ones in the audience were enthusiastically awaiting the closest thing to feeling the power that Houser”s presence always spawned.

Ceremonies officially got underway set from the Romper Stompers, a collaborative joint between Panic”s drum section (Todd Nance, Sunny Ortiz) and personnel from Bloodkin and Barbara Cue, an up and coming Athens collective that is showing true promise.

From the inception of the set, the tone was set for the evening, courtesy of an eclectic mix of songs that Houser held close to his heart, including: “Airplane,” “Smoke and Burn (Burned Faceless),” a nod to Vic Chesnutt with “Blight” and a tune that most would have never predicted to be one of Houser”s favorites to rock when riding on Widespread Panic”s tour bus, Kathy Mattea”s “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses.” (according to Todd Nance, it was)

Former Widespread Panic guitar tech and current Outformation front man, Sam Holt, came out for a few songs including “She Drives Me to Drink,” providing just the right amount of latitude to ensure that the high energy level was sustained until the last drop.

Intermissions throughout the evening were far from the standard drag, consisting of gear change and house music. Rather, all who participated in the raffles were on the edge of their seat and all were cheering for the lucky fans who walked away with rare memorabilia. The crowd was introduced to Houser”s parents who were there to share in the evening”s primary purpose, to honor their son. Needless to say, gratitude swirled as Barbette and family made a point of thanking the full room on multiple occasions when not sharing stories about Mikey”s love for music and family — never minding the fact that the pleasure was all ours.

The next band to take the stage and keep the barrage of tribute tunes up was The Heap. Through nine songs the band took the volume up for a downright funky 40 minutes. Highlighted by the second trip into Houser”s Sandbox,  “Low Country” was an amazing offering, the horns blasting mercifully while fans grooved to the number that was spiraling the number into a new but fully spirited place down the spine and beneath the feet.

A near complete reunion of Outformation (Jeff “Birdogg” Lane”s percussion role was ably filled by Sunny Ortiz) was next to take the stage. The 11 song set featured favorites such as “West Virginia,” “Time is Free”  and“90,” but when John Bell and John Keane ambled onto the stage, the set took on a whole new meaning and direction. To no surprise, the Georgia Theatre throng shrieked with delight, knowing that a gem or two would be gracing their ears in short order. What they got were two great songs choices and a classic. “Can’t Change the Past” was stellar as the front men traded verses and “Southern Angels” was performed powerfully with full emotions on their faces.

The last song in the set was the night’s biggest and by far, the most sought after Mikey tune. “Sandbox,” the title track from Houser”s second of two posthumous releases, was played for the first time in over a decade. Having  been a rarity when active (played less than 25 times over a 5 year period from 1996-2001), it goes without saying that many from the Panic faithful went their entire tour career without ever having the pleasure of hearing the number live. Most figured the song to be permanently shelved alongside other gems (“Raise the Roof” and “Waker”) out of respect for the Mikey. On a night that was all about paying respect to the fallen brother, there could not have been a more fitting venue for the splendidly written number to resurface in all of its beauty; Holt, Bell and Keane did the song justice, playing it with soul straight from the heart… just as Mikey always did. As the song dwindled and came to a close, fans prepared themselves for the final two, and most anticipated, sets of the night but were thankful for the preceding final intermission.

Taking a brief survey of the room, it was interesting to see the various reactions that were being had in response to what had just occurred onstage. While one person was giving his buddy, a high-five, rejoicing over finally capturing a tune they had chased for untold years, another was sitting quietly, seemingly having gotten lost to the moment it time, blank-faced but bright-eyed. In the brief look, unique insight could be found. Whether fervently texting a friend, phoning a long since seen touring partner, tweeting a reaction, visibly moved with red cheeks from tears that had poured only moments earlier or simply lying one”s head on his or her lover”s shoulder, unity shone bright as the sun in the snow. In spite of the diverse expression of feeling, each were under the same agreement in regards to exactly how important the music and life of Michael Houser meant to each of them. In this room, his gentle soul was vibrantly present in spite of the fact that its vessel had long-since departed.

By the time that all had reconvened for the final sets, the energy in the building was at a fever pitch, all having no clue as to what would be coming next, just knowing that it was going to be special. John Bell and John Keane retook the stage with an ensemble of friends that included Ike Stubblefield (keys), Andrew Hammer (drums) and Tom Ryan (bass) and began the set with a welcomed and well played serving of Pink Floyd”s “Wish You Were Here” that transitioned into “No Matter What” and  “All I Wanted,” interspersed by a revelatory JB telling stories about Mikey and disclosing song meanings. After a sweet take on “I”m Not Alone” with Randall Bramblett, the set closed with the most fitting number to close things out before the Tribute Jam, “Travelin” Man,” the final song Mikey wrote for Widespread Panic.

Going into the evening, all eyes had looked to the Tribute Jam (John Keane & Friends) to be the most valuable set of the evening. But after what had transpired throughout the evening from every ensemble and individual, proclaiming anything as a clear winner would be far too subjective. This said, the set delivered on every expectation with plenty of room to spare.

Opening things up with quite the trilogy of tunes, John Keane and Jimmy Herring traded leads on “She’s Not There” while Danny Hutchens led his band”s subduedEnd of The Show,” but it was “Porch Song” that proved to be extraordinary through the guitar of Herring and moreover, the rare appearance and fiddle work from David Blackmon. Blackmon has not played with Widespread Panic in over a decade, but it wasn”t just his mere presence that made the song so delicious. He had been out at various points throughout the night and no doubt, each time was special. But with “Porch Song,” it was the fact that the number just so happened to bring out his classic fiddle sound through composition that gave the impression that it was written with him in mind.

Joining the tribute jam was Dan Horowitz (Barbette’s husband) on bass and Tim White (from 1988″s Space Wrangler) on keys making the affair even more special, as though it needed anything else.  The company brought the night”s festivities to a close with the all too fitting “Make Sense to Me,” a surprising rattling of the Rolling Stones” “Sympathy For The Devil” and  an encored “I”m a Man” with drums thrown in the middle of the sandwich.  With a gratitude cry from Bell of “Thank you everybody. Thank you Mikey.” the house lights were up and the night far from being history for those fortunate enough to be in attendance and those watching from home.

Oddly absent had been Widespread Panic bassist, David Schools, and ivory tickler, JoJo Hermann who had previously committed to obligations with their current projects.

 

This town has always been my friend

 

All in all, it was nice to see members of Widespread Panic, Bloodkin and Outformation along with host of friends, some of which are rarely seen. As he often did, Michael Houser had brought them together. They had come to celebrate the life and raise money in the name of their cohort, but moreover, their friend — something much greater than any old disputes, founded or otherwise. One can only hope that this was only a beginning of such occurrences.

The night had been a success on all accounts. Loads of dough was raised for The Michael Houser Music Fund (that provides scholarships to Athens Academy) and those lucky enough to be at the Theatre or watching on couch-tour.com could not have thought of any better way to use their own short bit of remaining time than they did by participating in the tribute event. It was a tribute to their musical hero. To us, Michael Houser was the best to ever play a Tele, the master of the volume pedal who could blister a jam as well as he could ride in the back. To his family, he was husband and father, son and brother.  Fortunately, they were selfless enough to let us borrow him so that he could do what he seemingly lived for, sharing his soul in hopes of completing the pass with another”s.

26 years ago, two young men dreamed big. They got a band together and named it after one member”s disorder. He was a man that was always willing to sacrifice of himself to have his dream and eventually it came true.  On this night, the tenth of August, 2012, his family shared him again. We were there together. They did it in downtown Athens, where it all began and in an evening of true sweetness, our souls were once again able to dance with his… and we were grateful. Thanks Mikey.  (and Barbette, Waker, Eva)

 


 

Havin” a good time, here today
Watching the sun shine, matinee
Never the wrong time, time we stay
Living the moontime, time we play*

 


 

Setlists

 

Romper Stompers

Airplane, Smoke and Burn, Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses, Blight, She Drives Me To Drink*, Bull Run*

*with Sam Holt

The HEAP

Sensible Shoes, Low Country, It’s Your Own Kinda Thing, The Future, Express Yourself, My Automobile, The Hipster’s Lament

Outformation

Happy Child, Steve Lopez Raffle, Valley Blue, 90, Into My Arms, West Virginia, Game On > Edgewater > Time Is Free, Can’t Change The Past*, Southern Angels*, Sandbox*

*with John Bell John Keane ; Sunny Ortiz on percussion in place of Birdogg

John Bell, John Keane and Friends

Wish You Were Here, No Matter What, I’m Not Alone*, May Your Glass Be Filled, Travelin’ Man*

*with Randall Bramblett on sax

Tribute Jam

She’s Not There, End of the Show, Porch Song, Makes Sense To Me, Sympathy for the Devil
Encore: I’m A Man

(all of the evening”s appeared at some point during this set)

 

Hear John Bell, Dave Schools & Jimmy Herring talk about Mikey:

Listen to John Bell- BELOW

Listen to Dave Schools- HERE 

Listen to Jimmy Herring- HERE (beginning at 39:00)

 


 

Click the thumbnails to view EXCLUSIVE photos* from the event

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*Photos are protected under the Copyright Law of the United States, specifically under and by Title 17. Further protection exists under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 | Any distribution, copying or any use other than viewing, without the express consent of the photographer or designate thereof, is forbidden. For more information, contact Honest Tune Associate Managing Editor, David Shehi.

 

 

Lyrics

Artist: Michael Houser Song: Sandbox Album: Sandbox

written by Widespread Panic

*Artist: Widespread Panic Song:Porch SongAlbum: Space Wrangler

written by Widespread Panic

Lyrics included in this article are the property of their respective authors, publishers or other rights retainer.