Go Away With … Widespread Panic’s John Bell


Photo Credit: Edna Batki

By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Media Services
April 6, 2010

Rock musician John Bell resides in the north Georgia mountains — equidistant from Athens and Atlanta. As the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for Widespread Panic, Bell spends much of his time on the road — the band is currently on tour to promote its 11th studio album “Dirty Side Down,” which will be in stores May 25. But he’s not complaining.

“When I was growing up, I always wanted the adventure of hitting the road,” says Bell, 48. “I still get a kick out of it. I love touring, and I also love traveling with my wife, Laura.”

Q. What is your favorite vacation destination?
A. New York City. Anything can happen there in terms of restaurants and entertainment and comfort. There is no other city in the country that’s as dense and fills the skyline like New York does. Architecturally it’s an amazing city as well. Things are just built differently now than they were back then. It’s neat because you really get a sense of history there. It’s not Old World Europe, but you get that vibe. New York just has vibrancy and history, which is a great combination for me. The band gets a lot of folks that like to come see us from other parts of the country and a lot of them follow us to New York. I can see why they want to visit. It’s easy to get around and it’s just a really exciting and fun place to be.

Q. Where are your favorite weekend getaways?
A. I love Atlanta. It’s growing, but it still seems like a little baby compared to places like New York and Chicago. San Francisco’s another great smallish kind of great city that’s a wonderful place for a getaway.

Q. What are your favorite hotels and restaurants?
A. Honestly, I really like the out-of-the-way places where you can sit and have a glass of wine at lunch on the street. It feels kind of European and I kind of go for that kind of feeling when I’m on vacation. If we’re staying at a place for a long time, I actually like to go to a Whole Foods and jam the hotel refrigerator with lots of good stuff from there.

Q. When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?
A. I take a lot of stuff when I’m on the road traveling with the band. I’ll take recording stuff and an extra guitar. I also have to have a lot of books, even though that weighs a lot. Sometimes I’ll have a couple bag of books and then everyone is like, “Where are your clothes?”

Q. Where have you gone that might surprise people?
A. I don’t know if this is really surprising, but I went to visit Mark Twain’s house in St. Louis and had a really fun time doing so. He probably has touched the lives of everybody that I know, so to take a peek at where he grew up was really interesting to me. Whenever I travel, I really think it’s worth taking a look to see if there’s something historic or unique to that area to go check out.

Q. How do you try to fit in when you’re a tourist?
A. I don’t really have to try. People don’t really recognize me so I just go about my business.

© 2010 JAE-HA KIM


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