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Blues Traveler still kicking out the jams and headed to Savannah

 

Blues Traveler still kicking out the jams and headed to Savannah

06 Feb 2018

UPDATE: Blues Traveler's Feb. 13 show at The Stage on Bay has been postponed. Tickets will be refunded or honored for the make-up date, which is to be determined.

Emerging in the mid-1990s jam band boom, Blues Traveler found success early on behind catchy rock tunes and frontman John Popper’s distinctive harmonica playing. Thirty years later, the band members are still challenging themselves, writing and recording new material and touring nonstop.

“It blows my mind,” founding member and guitarist Chandler Kinchla said. “It seems like such a long time. I remember some things like it was just yesterday. I can’t believe I am a 48-year-old dude. I still feel like a 20-year-old living in New York City.

“To be honest, the longer we do it and I am able to do it and play with some great musicians — to have those crowds come out — the more I appreciate it.”

Blues Traveler formed in Princeton, N.J., as The Establishment in the late 1980s around Popper and drummer Brendan Hill. Kinchla was added shortly after and bassist Bobby Sheehan, Popper’s good friend, rounded out the original group. A notorious basement jam session, dubbed The Black Cat Jam, would give life to their core blues rock sound. Blues Traveler was born.

“The signature of our sound is John’s harmonica playing,” Kinchla said. “That was quite apparent when I first met him in a little amp room in a high school where we had a rehearsal space. Even back then, I knew I was wanting to play with him. It was obvious back then there was something special.”

The band would break into the mainstream in 1994 with their fourth album, “four,” and the hit songs “Run-Around” and “Hook.” “Run-Around” would eventually earn the band a Grammy Award and catapult them to tours with The Rolling Stones, as well as appearances at Woodstock ’94 and on “Saturday Night Live.”

Tragedy struck in 1999, however. Sheehan died of an accidental drug overdose in New Orleans. Kinchla’s younger brother, Tad, would eventually join the band. They added keyboardist Ben Wilson soon after, as well. Blues Traveler 2.0 hasn’t stopped since.

“It seems like Bobby passed away yesterday,” Kinchla said. “It’s hard to think it was 18 years ago. This band has been together a lot longer than the original, the 1.0, the Mach 1. The original Blues Traveler in 1990 was balls-to-the-wall, in your face all the time. We’ve mellowed a lot. It wouldn’t really fit for a bunch of 45-year-olds to be head banging like they’re in some punk rock band. That was for a different era.

“It’s covered so much time,” Kinchla said “For us, what I think is important is we’re always trying different stuff musically. We keep writing new songs all the time. Every three or four years there’s a new album. For us, it’s to be constantly looking forward.”

Blues Traveler has released 12 studio albums since their 1990 eponymous debut release. The past two, 2012’s “Suzie Cracks the Whip,” and 2015’s “Blow Up the Moon,” saw the group collaborating with outside writers and musicians. Songwriting for the group had always been an insular act, until they hit a wall.

“We really enjoyed working with outside writers,” Kinchla said. “It kind of got us out of a rut. We felt we kind of worked ourselves into a musical box a little bit. So we worked with outside writers, to open up our minds a little bit.”

Last year, however, the band retreated to the countryside outside of Nashville and made a return to their original songwriting process. Writing as a group, without the assistance of outside songwriters, Blues Traveler penned new tracks for their 10th studio album, “Hurry Up and Hang Around,” which is set to be released this year.

“It came together the old-school way,” Kinchla said. “I think all of that time working with other people and trying different things led us back to what it feels like for us to just write a pure Blues Traveler record … It will set us up for some fun stuff to play for the next five years.”

For their Feb. 13 show in Savannah at The Stage on Bay, expect to hear the hits and some deep cuts, as well as tracks from the forthcoming album.

IF YOU GO

What: Blues Traveler

When: 7 p.m. Feb. 13 (postponed; make-up date TBD)

Where: The Stage On Bay, 1200 W. Bay St.

Cost: $19-$49

Info: savconcerts.com

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