Thousands of Widespread Panic fans invade area

Some 35,000 fans of Widespread Panic invaded Pelham last weekend for the rock band’s three-day tour stop.

More than 1,000 hardcore fans made the Birmingham South KOA in Pelham their temporary home last weekend.

&uot;We are all very tired,&uot; said a relieved Tammy Osborn, KOA manager.

She said fans began arriving late last week and kept coming throughout the weekend. The campground stays open 24-hours a day during Widespread Panic’s annual tour stop.

Residents driving on Shelby County Highway 33 in the city where the campground is located saw a sea of tents and campers filled with concert-goers.

Osborn said she has to hire temporary workers for the weekend to keep up with the campers. A staff of 20 KOA employees &045; some full-time, some part-time and some just for the weekend &045; manned the campground filled with exuberent fans who stretched all the way into the parking lot.

Pelham police regularly patrolled the area. Some were even undercover walking among the fans &045; donned with beads, sandals, tie-dyed shirts and dew rags.

Osborn said employees can sometimes get short-tempered with the swelling crowd.

&uot;For the most part, everybody did a remarkable job,&uot; she said.

The campgroud, she said, was the site of several drug busts during a weekend marred by many arrests.

&uot;The drugs go on and I’m sorry for it,&uot; Osborn said. &uot;We had some problems in the park, but the cops were on top of it. Police see something and they go after it.&uot;

She said one unusual problem was when police busted some campers for having nitrous oxide tanks. Nitrous oxide is a gas commonly used by dentists.

She said many times a few bad apples spoil it for everyone.

&uot;For the most part, these kids are very courteous and respectful. I’d say 10 to 15 percent try to rip you off and cause problems.

Panic fans

&uot;Good times and good music,&uot; said a laughing Ken Croft, a camper at the KOA park last weekend. Croft said he goes to three or four Widespread Panic concerts a year in the southeastern United States.

The University of Georgia student was one of hundreds of Widespread Panic fans at the campground ranging in age from recent high-school graduates to some in their 40s and 50s.

Jeff Bush of Nashville sat Saturday afternoon outside the tent he shared with Brian Blackman of Austin, Texas. Steffanie Morrison and Marie Johnson of Missoula, Mont., sat next to their new friends.

Blackman

and Bush said they plan to go to every show on Widespread Panic’s spring tour which includes four cities and more than a dozen shows.

&uot;Its about the music and the people you meet,&uot; said Blackman. &uot;I think it’s just a conducive environment to meet people.&uot;

Bush agreed.

&uot;To me, it’s a way to get out of the 9-to-5 thing. Everybody just likes each other here,&uot; he said.

Bush said when the pair began the tour in Raleigh, N.C., they only had $30 left after the first concert but were happy nonetheless.

&uot;We sustained ourselves. We got into the shows. It’s like the people most able to give don’t but these people (Panic fans) do,&uot; he said.

Blackman said Widespread Panic has an influence on their fans.

&uot;The music is positive, and that’s uncommon in our culture. In this day and age, it’s hard to find music that’s not commercialized,&uot; he said. &uot;You don’t hear these guys on the radio, but they sell out 20,000-seat arenas.&uot;

Blackman said he feels the media and the police are biased against the Athens, Ga.,-based band. He said criminal activity is minimal among the group’s following.

He said he witnessed a concert-goer being arrested and assaulted for shooting a bottlerocket at a previous concert in another city.

&uot;The police put him in the back of the (police) cruiser, and they basically assaulted him in front of everyone,&uot; he said.

&uot;When they saw the news media, they took him out of the car and put him in another cruiser just so they could show it on TV.&uot;

Buzzy Davis of Charleston, Tenn., and Chris Cooper of Columbia, S.C., sold T-shirts and ice-cold liquor shots at the campground last weekend.

Davis said he has been following the band on their tours since 1993.

He said the pair sell about 600 shirts a year doing some 60 shows. They make their home in a simple cabin in Colorado during off months.

&uot;I’ve been doing this entirely too long, and I need to get back to college,&uot; Davis said. &uot;But this is Mikey Houser’s (Widespread Panic guitarist) last tour, and I’m giving it up for him.&uot;

Davis said it’s a good life.

&uot;Obviously, there is drugs everywhere but no one is beating anybody up and everybody gets along,&uot; he said. &uot;When everybody leaves this campground, it is spotless.&uot;

The staff of the campground, however, disagree with many of Davis’ comments and continue to clean