Widespread Panic Guitarist Houser Dead At 40

Guitarist Michael Houser, a founding member of the Georgia-based jam band Widespread Panic, died yesterday (Aug. 10) at his home in Athens from complications related to pancreatic cancer. He was 40.

Guitarist Michael Houser, a founding member of the Georgia-based jam band Widespread Panic, died yesterday (Aug. 10) at his home in Athens from complications related to pancreatic cancer. He was 40.

Last month Houser took himself off the road as the band worked its way through its annual summer tour. Guitarist George McConnell, a longtime friend of the group, has been playing his parts in his absence.

About two weeks after last playing with the group on July 2 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Houser released a statement that read in part, "In the words of Lou Gehrig, 'Though some of you may have thought I have caught a bad break, I feel like the luckiest man in the world,' Between my best friends, [Widespread Panic members] J.B., Todd, Sunny, Dave, and JoJo, and you, our friends, and best support group in the world, I feel strong and well taken care of."

Houser, vocalist John Bell, and bassist Dave Schools founded Widespread Panic at the University of Georgia in the early-1980s. Soon after, drummer Todd Nance and percussionist Domingo "Sunny" Ortiz rounded out the group; keyboardist John "JoJo" Hermann joined the fold in 1992. The band has released seven studio albums and three live sets, including this year's "Live in the Classic City" (Sanctuary).

Via a note to fans on the official Widespread Panic Web site, the band asked that "in this very sad time, we encourage you to gather with your Panic families in your hometown and celebrate Michael Houser's life on Monday, August 12th... Our hearts are with you as we know that your thoughts and prayers are with us."

A private funeral is planned. According to a statement, the Houser family is requesting, "as a living memorial to Michael and his love of music," that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Michael Houser Music Fund (c/o Athens Academy, PO Box 6548, Athens, GA 30604). "Mike, his wife Barbette, and his son Waker have all been deeply involved with Athens Academy," the statement reads, "and through this fund, the school will be able to provide children with the opportunities to discover the richness and wonder of music that so enriched Michael's own life."

Fans have already begun organizing candlelight vigils in Houser's memory. Visit the Housertribute.com Web site for more information.

At deadline, the fate of Widespread Panic's Aug. 17-18 Seven Fiddler's Music Festival in Greenwood Village, Col., was unknown. As previously reported, the event is due to feature sets by Ben Harper, Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, Steel Pulse, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Angelique Kidjo, and Keller Williams.