Sanctuaries in the Snow

The Michael Houser Shrine (Aspen Mountain)

The Michael Houser Shrine is on Aspen Mountain.

Michael Houser was born on January 6, 1962, and died August 10, 2002.  He was born in Boone, North Carolina and was a founding member of Widespread Panic in 1982 while attending the University of Georgia with John Bell.  His distinctive playing style was featured on the band's first seven studio albums and is responsible for the band's moniker: "an honest tune with a lingering lead".  Panic's large lineup released Houser from rhythm guitar duties, and allowed him to play lead melodies that lingered behind the dominant vocal melodies.  Houser's nickname of "Panic" (earned due to his once-frequent panic attacks) became the basis for the band's name.  Houser returned playing all shows seated in 1997.  Due to circulation and his extensive use of the Ernie Ball volume pedal and the crybaby wah pedal caused his pedal leg to go numb.  During an acoustic tour, mostly in Colorado, Houser remembered how much more comfortable and accurate he was sitting down while playing.  Mike taught himself to play the guitar while sitting on the arm of a couch.  At the first Widespread Panic show, he played an acoustic guitar while sitting on a small metal chair with his right foot on the volume pedal.  Many consider him a master of the volume pedal for his skilled incorporation of its use in conjunction with the other members of Panic.  Houser was considered to be the "silent genius" of Widespread Panic and wrote many of the band's most well known songs, such as Porch Song, Airplane, Ain't Life Grand, and Vacation.  Among those who he played with were Carlos Santana, Bob Weir, Dave Matthews, Trey Anastasio, and JJ Cale.  Houser played a discontinued guitar called a Fender Telecaster Deluxe Plus. This guitar is a Telecaster body with Strat hardware.  Fender made five for him.  A guitar lasted him about three years, at which point he felt he had sweated into them enough.  He had two guitars he favored, a 1992 model, and a 1993 model, both with Firestorm red finish.  Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2002, he died later that year at the age of 40.  A solo album of his instrumentals entitled "Door Harp" was released after his death, and was followed by "Sandbox" in 2006.  He is survived by his wife Barbette, two children (Waker and Eva), and many loving fans.  (From Wikipedia.) 

The link to the Widespread Panic web site is:

A knowledgeable Aspen, Colorado local adds the following information:  Widespread Panic has always loved playing Aspen and Snowmass, having played here numerous times, including the legendary "Sit and Ski" tour of 1996 when they played at the Wheeler Opera House.  They also played at the Snowmass Conference Center in the early days and headlined two days of the ill-fated Harmony festival at Buttermilk.  And although Mikey had passed by then, they are the only band in the history of JazzAspen to headline multiple nights where they played multiple sets in 2005 and then again in 2008.

The Michael Houser Shrine is located near some cliffs and contains a wooden sign which has "Houser" carved into it; this sign was made by local Nick Devore in a high school workshop.  It also contains another sign that says "Thanks Mikey," photos of Michael Houser, a Colorado Flag (which was later replaced by a blue and white Michael Houser flag), Tibetan prayer flags, a miniature guitar, a nice bench to sit on while taking in the great view from the shrine, a "WP" patch, photos of John Bell and some of the other members of the band, a Colorado license plate that says "Widespread Panic," a copy of a Patron Ticket from the August 28, 2008 Panic performance at Snowmass (Jazz Aspen Snowmass), some artificial red roses, a sign that says "The Best of North Carolina," a photo pass for a Panic concert, and a few other items.  The maintenance of this shrine has been done by a person who goes by the name "Beta Get Flat."  Significant visitors to the shrine have included Michael Houser's parents (Nate and Melba Houser, in February 2009) and also Tammy Nance (wife of drummer Todd Nance) in March 2009.  See below for information about and photos of items donated for the shrine by Nate and Melba Houser.

"SHRINE SHIHAN" Tim Mooney conducts a tour of three of the Aspen Mountain Shrines in this Aspen 82 video (2:47):  "Aspen Mountain | Shrine Tour part 2."  Included in this part 2 tour are these Shrines:  Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, and Michael Houser. 

See an article that was in the Snowmass Sun newspaper of January 18, 2012, "Widespread Panic's Michael Houser honored with shrine" by David Wood.  This article is set out in full below at the bottom of this page.)


See this March 27, 2013 article "Aspen/Snowmass Tree Shrines: Michael Houser Shrine" by Amanda Rae,

For some video of the Michael Houser Shrine, check out this video:  Jeremy Wallace explores 'the dumps' off of the F.I.S. lift,  A quote from Jeremy:  "Shrines like this are what makes this community so cool. I really like it."

This January 15, 2016 video (S-Media, Ski Television, First Load) shows parts of the Jimmy Hendrix Shrine, the John Denver Shrine, and the Michael Houser Shrine.  It also mentions, but does not show, the Jerry Garcia Shrine and the Elvis Presley Shrine.

Photos of the shrine are below.  Also see photos in this Facebook photo album (you do not need to have a Facebook account in order to view the album):

See the sections below, following the photos, for two newspaper articles from the Athens Banner-Herald, dated August 12 and August 16, 2002.   

If you have information or photos of this shrine that you would like to share for use on this page, please send to the author at [email protected]

This shrine is covered in the book, "Sanctuaries in the Snow--The Shrines and Memorials of Aspen/Snowmass."  The book may be purchased on this page on this site:



In what was a very historic occasion for the Shrine, Michael Houser's parents, Melba and Nate Houser, visited the Shrine on February 24, 2009.  Photos of them are below.

Click on images to enlarge.

As of April 2011, some new items donated by Michael Houser's parents, Nate and Melba Houser, have been installed in the Michael Houser Shrine. These items include some laminated posters and photos, as well as some wind chimes. Photos of these items are below. Click on images to enlarge.

The photos in this section were taken in the summer of 2013.  Click on images to enlarge.

The photos in this section were taken on June 22, 2017.  Click on images to enlarge.


On June 29, 2021 a significant addition was made to the Shrine, lead by Miranda Jaroneski (Michael Houser's niece) and also her friend Andrew Westbrook.  Both of them live in Richmond, Virginia.  In addition to coming to Aspen to make this Shrine addition, the previous weekend they had attended a 3-night run of Widespread Panic at Red Rocks near Morrison.

Read the two paragraphs below for the story; these are from a Facebook post by David C. Wood, Jr.

"Miranda and Andrew created a metal sculpture for the Shrine (see photos below in this section), which was inspired by the cover of the band's album 'Til The Medicine Takes.  They made it from a 1/8" piece of steel.  It is incredibly beautiful and is a nice addition to this shrine, located amidst a grove of aspens on Aspen Mountain.  Miranda and Andrew spent many hours creating this work of art, and despite the inevitable weathering, this sculpture will be around for a long time to come.  I've been to many shrines in the mountains of Aspen/Snowmass and this is easily my favorite, and with the best view.  As we were walking to this very inaccessible and hard to find shrine, we were guided by the sounds of the two or three wind chimes at the shrine.  When you sit down on the half-log bench and look over the city of Aspen, basking in the warm sunlight and the cool mountain air, you can feel Mikey's presence.”

"If you would like to read the story about how this metal sculpture was created, these are Miranda's words:  It’s a piece of scrap sheet steel Andrew was holding onto at his work.  We printed the design out at a random size to see if it looked right and it did!  Taped the pieces of paper together and cut it out.  Andrew then took that to work and traced it onto the steel and used a plasma cutter to cut it out.  Next he sanded and ground the surface and edges.  Then it was my turn.  I looked at the design and sketched it out tracing the inspiration piece. I then realized that I could use an old doodle I used to do in schoolwork and i think it worked out perfectly.  Then I just sketched out the doodle on the metal to get an idea of how big everything was going to be and the solidify the spots like the eye and wing structure that I had to do a certain way.  I spent about 12 hours with a dremel and a stock of diamond burr tips and started carving.  I could say I had a process but it was kind of all over the place.  It’s all a blur.  I did record some of it and will be complaining it into a blog after we get back from the trip.  That part was by farrr the most labor intensive.  I think I lost a few years off my hand dexterity from how vigorous it was.  Back to Andrew, he took the drill and the wire brush to polish it again and then it was time for torchin.  When steel heats up, there are degree ranges that will give you a certain color for each temperature.  The windows for each color are slim and with a simple blowtorch you really just go by sight.  Andrew had an extra scrap to test on and we decided it looks better from the reverse side from the torch.  It became a team effort, me watching the color with him torching. There’s a delayed reaction with the steel still heating up so we were cautious!  Back to me, I went back over the inscription and the life light in the eye so they would pop in the silver look.  The rainbow effect is only the top layer even though it heats all the way through to color both sides.  Wild!  Back to Andrew, clear coats of spray paint to prevent rust.  It will definitely still age but maybe more gracefully. Last step is drilling a hole for the chain.  Then we will be drilling a hook into a tree and it will glimmer and spin in the sunlight on Aspen Mt."

See photos below, and click on the images to enlarge them.  These photos were taken on June 29, 2021.

The photo below is of the cover of the Widespread Panic album 'Til The Medicine Takes.

This article was published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Monday, August 12, 2002.

Cancer claims life of rocker
Michael Houser -- 1962-2002

By Kevin Conner
[email protected]


The lead guitarist and pioneer of one of Athens premier bands, Widespread Panic, died this weekend after a bout with a pancreatic cancer, according to a statement released by the band Sunday.

Michael ''Mikey'' Houser, 40, died at his Athens home Saturday.


In a prepared statement released Sunday by Paula Donner, Houser's spokeswoman, Houser's family is encouraging people to make contributions to the Michael Houser Music Fund, a program with the private school Athens Academy.


''Mike, his wife Barbette, and his son Waker have all been deeply involved with Athens Academy 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,'' the statement read, encouraging people to contribute to the fund at P.O. Box 6548, Athens Ga. 30604.

The band's Web site blacked out its normal content on Sunday and replaced it with a picture of Houser and Donner's official band statement. It concludes with: "Our hearts are with you as we know that your thoughts and prayers are with us."


Houser's death has hit hard with the band's fans, who are known as being among the most avid in the music industry. Thousands follow the band from city to city during their tours. As the news of Houser's death began circulating on the Internet Saturday, many of those fans offered their thoughts.


Among them was Matthew Buchanan of Birmingham, Ala., from the Spreadnet Listserv: "How do you put into words the grief you feel for someone lost whom you never met, but whose inspiration and music meant so much to thousands of other kind souls across the country? For me, you don't really try, so I'll just say 'Thanks for the memories, Michael Houser, and may God give rest to your soul.' I'll just suggest something I feel you would want us to do ... find healing through each other and our music."

Houser began playing in 1982 with the band's current vocalist, John Bell, and the band was later formed in the mid-1980s after bassist Dave Schools, percussionist Domingo Ortiz and keyboardist John ''JoJo'' Hermann joined.


Houser released a statement last month on the band's Web site, explaining his illness to fans and that he would not be able to finish its summer tour.  The statement read in part, ''...I am at my home in Athens, Ga., surrounded by my family, and being well taken care of. 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.'''

Houser started this summer's tour with the band, but returned home before their July 3 performance in Milwaukee due to his illness. The band continued touring with fill-in musicians George McConnell and Randall Bramblett.


When Houser confirmed his illness, many Athenians offered their words of sorrow (full story). Among them was Kyle Pilgrim, owner of the Georgia Theatre, who worked at the Uptown Lounge in the 1980s, a club the band frequently played in their early years.


"(Houser's) just an incredible human being, a wonderful person ... and when you hear something like this ... my heart breaks, for him, for his family, the band, everyone. I love the guy and hope the best for him. We're behind him 100 percent,'' Pilgrim said upon learning of his illness.


Widespread Panic has developed an international fan base known as ''Spreadheads,'' a takeoff of the ''Deadhead'' term used to describe fans of the Grateful Dead. Widespread Panic is known for its jam-rock style, a blues-based style of music with improvisational guitar and progressive percussions that the band meshes with Bell's gritty vocals.


The band's first album, ''Space Wrangler,'' was released in 1988 and was followed by others like ''Widespread Panic'' and ''Ain't Life Grand'' up until its most recent album, ''Don't tell the Band,'' was released in 2001.

This article appeared in the August 13, 2002 issue of the New York Times, in the Arts section.

Michael Houser, 40, Guitarist And Singer of Widespread Panic

Published: August 13, 2002
Correction Appended

Michael Houser, a guitarist and singer for the rock group Widespread Panic, died on Saturday at his home in Athens, Ga. He was 40. The cause was pancreatic cancer, said the group's publicist, Paula Donner.

Mr. Houser announced his illness in a statement last month after missing a number of concert dates. He played at the beginning of the group's summer tour, in June, but starting early last month the group replaced him onstage.

Widespread Panic was a leader among the so-called ''jam bands,'' a loosely connected scene of groups like Phish and String Cheese Incident that followed in the footsteps of the Grateful Dead, playing long, meandering improvisations in concerts that often lasted for hours.
Like the Grateful Dead, Widespread Panic also toured constantly, drawing big crowds despite meager record sales. None of the group's 10 albums went gold, but it was among the country's most successful touring bands. Last year the group earned $14 million from 83 concerts, according to Billboard.

Begun by Mr. Houser and friends in Athens in the early 1980's while attending the University of Georgia, Widespread Panic (named after Mr. Houser's nickname, Panic) brought a bluesy, Southern-rock sound to its improvisations, drawing frequent comparisons to the Allman Brothers, who were also from Georgia.
The group's first album was released in 1988 and its reputation grew steadily before hitting it big on the Horde tours in 1992 and 1993. In 1998 the group drew an estimated 100,000 fans for a homecoming performance in Athens.

Mr. Houser is survived by his wife, Babbette, and his son, Waker, both of Athens.

Correction: August 14, 2002, Wednesday A picture from The Associated Press yesterday with an obituary of Michael Houser, a guitarist and singer with the rock group Widespread Panic, was mislabeled by the news agency and published in error. It showed another group member, John Bell. The obituary also misstated the given name of Mr. Houser's wife and omitted a surviving daughter. His wife is Barbette, not Babbette, and the daughter is Eva.


This article was published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Friday, August 16, 2002.


Michael Houser


Athens, GA. Michael Nathan Houser, 40, died Saturday August 10, 2002 at his home in Athens, GA. He was born Jan 6, 1962 in Boone, NC.


He is survived by his wife, Barbette, his son, Waker and his daughter, Eva. Also surviving are his parents Nathan and Melba Houser of Afton, Virginia, sister Missy Jaroneski of Richmond, Virginia and grandmother Pauline Houser of Vale, North Carolina.


Shortly after graduating from the University of Georgia with a B.S. in chemistry in 1985, Michael began his career as a rock guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He was a founding member of the popular band Widespread Panic. His reputation for panic attacks as a student formed the basis for the band's name. Widespread Panic has built a large, loyal following of fans and is among the most successful touring bands in the country playing mostly their own creative bluesy-rock songs. They have recorded 10 CDs and two live DVDs, and in 1998 an estimated 100,000 fans filled downtown Athens for an album release concert. Michael was also a member of the band Brute. Affectionately called ''Mikey'' by friends and fans, he was known for his improvisational guitar leads and soul-searching ballads.


A memorial service for close friends and family was led by Terre Balof, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens, on Monday, August 12.


In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to: The Michael Houser Music Fund, Athens Academy; P.O. Box 6548; Athens, GA 30604.



The article below about the Michael Houser Shrine was written by David Wood for the Snowmass Sun newspaper.


Widespread Panic's Michael Houser honored with shrine


Michael Houser, lead guitarist of Widespread Panic,
was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2002,
and he died later that year at age 40.
A shrine on Aspen Mountain honors his life.



Michael Houser (Jan. 6, 1962, to Aug. 10, 2002) was the lead guitarist of the band Widespread Panic and was one of its founding members in 1982 while attending the University of Georgia. Houser was considered the silent genius of Widespread Panic and wrote many of the band's most popular songs, such as “Porch Song,” “Airplane,” “Ain't Life Grand” and “Vacation.”

He played with many influential guitarists, including Carlos Santana, Bob Weir, Robby Krieger, J.J. Cale and Taj Mahal. Starting around the time of the legendary “Sit and Ski” tour in 1996, he started performing seated in a chair. He was recognized during his lifetime as a rare musical talent, and his popularity has continued to soar posthumously. Although Widespread Panic now has Jimmy Herring playing lead guitar, Houser's unique sound laid the foundation for the focus of the band's music, and that continues to this day — and probably will forever.

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the spring of 2002, he died later that year at age 40. A solo album of his instrumentals, titled “Door Harp,” was released after his death and was followed by “Sandbox” in 2006.

Widespread Panic has always had a connection with Colorado in general and with Aspen and Snowmass in particular. It holds the record for the most sellouts at Red Rocks near Denver. It has played in the Aspen and Snowmass area numerous times, including the above-mentioned “Sit and Ski” tour, when it played at the Wheeler Opera House. It also played at the Snowmass Conference Center in the early days and headlined two days of the Harmony festival at Buttermilk. It is the only band in the history of Jazz Aspen Snowmass to headline multiple nights, when it played multiple sets in 2005 and then again in 2008. Last year, Snowmass Village adopted the Widespread Panic song “Big Wooly Mammoth” as the official town song. The band will be performing at the Belly Up in Aspen in February.

The Michael Houser shrine is on Aspen Mountain near some cliffs and contains a sign that says “Houser”; another sign that says “Thanks Mikey”; photos of Michael Houser; a blue-and-white Michael Houser flag; Tibetan prayer flags; a miniature guitar; a bench to sit on while taking in the view; a “WP” patch; photos of John Bell and some of the other members of the band; a Colorado license plate that says “Widespread Panic”; a copy of a patron ticket from the Aug. 28, 2008, Panic performance at Snowmass (Jazz Aspen Snowmass); some artificial red roses; a sign that says “The Best of North Carolina”; a photo pass for a Panic concert; and many other items.

Significant visitors to the shrine have included Michael Houser's parents (Nate and Melba Houser) in February 2009 and also Tammy Nance (wife of drummer Todd Nance) in March 2009. Last year, Houser's parents donated some items for the shrine.

David Wood ([email protected]) is a huge Widespread Panic fan, having attended 14 concerts last year alone. The Michael Houser Shrine is his favorite shrine. He is also the author of a best-selling book about the Aspen shrines, “Sanctuaries in the Snow — The Shrines and Memorials of Aspen/Snowmass.” He donates all of his profits from book sales to The Roaring Fork Valley Scholarship Fund. The book can be purchased in Snowmass Village at Snowmass Sports, the Stew Pot, Sundance Liquor and Gifts, and the Village Market, as well as at various locations in Aspen.

Click on images to enlarge.

Sanctuaries in the Snow

The Shrines of Aspen/Snowmass (Including Plaques, Memorials, Displays and miscellaneous items) All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the express written permission from the author. For any such permission contact [email protected]

  • David C. Wood
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