WEB EXTRA: Replacement to rock star: Outformation’s Sam Holt lives the dream

Feeling uninformed? Out of the loop? Well get in line to see Outformation, where the insider info says the “Out” is In in a big way. This blossoming gem of American rock’n’roll has been impressing crowds in intimate venues across the country with their blues-infused Southern twang and far out improvisations based on rock solid songwriting.

Lead guitarist Sam Holt is best recognized as the guitar-tech-turned-interim-member of Southern jam rock giants Widespread Panic. “I really just wanted to be a part of the music anyway I could,” says Holt, talking on his cell phone from a rest stop in North Carolina. He continues, “I thought for a while that it was going to be as an audio engineer, and then it was as a guitar tech, and now it’s playing, so that’s where I am right now.”

Holt was right hand man to the late Mikey Houser, Widespread Panic’s soulful, stage-fright stricken lead guitarist who left this life in 2002. Along with George McConnell, Holt helped fill the void and keep Panic afloat for the last 3 years until this past fall when the legendary Jimmy Herring (Allman Bros., Aquarium Rescue Unit, Jazz Is Dead, Phil Lesh and Friends) took over in what appears to be a permanent role.

This transition allowed Holt to dedicate himself to Outformation, which until recently led a loose existence, playing gigs in Sam’s spare time. Finally a full-time outfit, Outformation is taking off. Their first album “Tennessee Before Daylight” was nominated for “Best Album” of 2005 by Honest Tune Magazine, and crowds East and West have been getting sweaty to their original grooves, all laced with rip-roaring guitar solos and intelligent, air-tight improv. The band’s shared influences include Willie Nelson, Charlie Daniels and Waylan Jennings, not to mention the Grateful Dead and most obviously Widespread Panic. “I think Elvis was the first thing I really got into, when I was about 5 or 6,” says Holt. Lately, he has “been listenin’ to some Shooter Jennings (which is Waylan’s son).some Frank Zappa, been listenin’ to the new Robert Randolph record.and Kiss. A friend gave me a Kiss DVD so I’ve been watching that. Kiss hit me at just the right time as a little kid, I was really into that stuff when I was little.”

Having grown up in the middle of the classic guitar oriented rock’n’roll era, Outformation’s utterly American music is definitely loud. They play hard and fast, but not without feeling. Songs like “American Spirit” and “24 Hours at a Time” hit as great get-up-and-go road trip tracks, while songs like “Hey” or “Tennessee Before Daylight” are thick with smooth old-time honesty. One of the most pleasing traits Holt seems to have carried over from his tenure with Widespread Panic is the ability to explore both sides of the music; the bright, bouncy major scale moments share the same significance as the darker, more spacey and sometimes scary places that music must inhabit.

Comparing his experience with Panic to this new venture, Holt explains that, “there seemed to be a lot more pressure with Panic. You know, I’d be sitting backstage warming up going, ‘Man, there’s 10,000 people out there ready to get off.’ With [Outformation], I’m just worried about getting us off.” Asked about the difference in venue size, Holt seems to enjoy the smaller clubs Outformation fills because band and audience are “right on top of each other, you know? It’s just on a much more intimate level for us, with our music. Whereas with Panic, there seemed to be a lot more weight to it, a lot more emphasis.” While it’s true that there are a lot more people paying attention to Panic, the difference is shrinking daily.

For a guy who “got a guitar when [he] was 16 but never really took it seriously,” Sam Holt has lived the dream of every wide-eyed front-row fan who thinks, if they just got the chance, they’d sit in and shred with the guys up on stage (or at least be their beer bitch). Holt has ascended the spectrum and is now leading his own band into national prominence. So go check ’em out, and prepare to be “outer-tained” by these outstanding “outer-tainers”.

Outformation is Sam Holt (guitar) , Grady Upchurch (bass) , Lee Schwartz (drums) , Jeff “Birddogg” Lane (percussion) , CR Gruver (keyboards). Their first two studio releases are Outformation EP (2003) and Tennessee Before Daylight (2005). Their third album is in the works and is due out mid-year 2007. They will be playing the Iota Club and Caf? in Arlington on Tuesday, February 13th.

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