On Saturday, December 26th, 50+ artists and hundreds of thousands of viewers around the world came together for Georgia Comes Alive, a virtual music festival aimed at promoting voter participation in Georgia’s critical Senate runoff elections on January 5th, 2021. Presented by Live For Live Music in partnership with HeadCountGeorgia Comes Alive aimed to promote voter participation in Georgia by supporting local grassroots organizations including Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda and CivicGeorgia.

One of the many featured interview subjects was Widespread Panic bassist Dave Schools. Though Schools was born in Virginia, his work with the Athens, GA-bred blues-rock bulldogs has made him an adopted son of the Peach State. Schools spoke with passion about the state of local politics with SiriusXM‘s Ari Fink. Over the course of their 22-minute chat, Schools took Fink and viewers on a guided tour of the famous Athens music scene—or what he referred to as “Mayberry on acid”—from which Widespread Panic rose to prominence.

“If you don’t vote, you don’t have a voice,” Schools noted. “Nature abhors a vacuum, but government loves a vacuum because if we create a vacuum by not using our voice they will fill it however they well please.”

Though the band itself had experience with political action dating back to 1998 with the Rock The Vote fundraiser with R.E.M. and Kim Bassinger, Widespread Panic was also directly tossed into the political arena that same year during the planning of the record-setting outdoor concert in Athens known as Panic In The Streets. It took Athens’ mayor at the time, socialist Gwen Ingram O’Looney, going to bat against what Schools described as a “good ole boy city council” to bring the iconic show to fruition.

“They were convinced our fans were gonna dose the horse feed for the mounted police force, and I was like, ‘We have a mounted police force?'” Schools remembers. “We had to do things like promise to buy them a whole new batch of guaranteed-clean horse feed.”

Yet even with these experiences back in Georgia, especially coming up in the outspoken college town of Athens, the bassist is adamant that Widespread Panic has maintained a non-partisan, a-political stance, “We let our music do the talking.”

Georgia Comes Alive also featured a one-night-only performance from Schools’ new supergroup with Bob Weir (Grateful Dead), Jeff Chimenti (Dead & Co.), and Jay Lane (Primus, Bob Weir and Wolf Bros)—the Lame Ducks. Schools noted that Empty Podiums and Peach Flippers were also considered as names for the all-star collaboration, but were ultimately voted down.

While Schools is certainly no stranger to the music of the Grateful Dead, he noted the personal challenges that he still faces when attempting to tackle the Dead’s songbook—and, like so many musical roads in Georgia, this one led back to the late, great Col. Bruce Hampton. “You have to walk a line between avoiding the traditional use of your instrument and maintaining your ability to project your personality through your instrument,” Schools said. “Which is where my experience with Col. Bruce Hampton comes in.”

Below, watch Dave Schools talk with Air Fink about local politics, Widespread Panic, the Lame Ducks, and much more at Georgia Comes Alive. If you enjoyed the show and have the means, consider donating to Georgia grassroots voter organizations via GeorgiaComesAlive.com. There’s also still time to enter to win a guitar signed by Schools, Weir, and the rest of the Lame Ducks here.

Georgia Comes Alive Conversations – Dave Schools (Widespread Panic) & Ari Fink

Dave Schools joined 50+ other performers and speakers as part of Georgia Comes Alive, presented by Live For Live Music in partnership with voter registration nonprofit HeadCount. The marathon streaming event, powered by Nugs.TV and Plus 1, generated more than $160,000 in funds for organizations like CivicGeorgia and Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda that are putting in work on the ground to get Georgians out to the polls. For more information, head here.