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Blues Traveler: Jamming to rhythm of the road

Know & Go

WHO: Blues Traveler dance concert with Blackbird Quartet opening

WHERE: Veterans Memorial Hall, 255 South Auburn St., Grass Valley

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

ADMISSION: General admission only; no reserved seating. $45 CFTA members, $55 non-members.

TICKETS: Center for the Arts box office, 314 W. Main St., Grass Valley; 530-274-8384, ext. 14; http://thecenterforthearts.org/tickets/; Briar Patch Co-op, 290 Sierra College Dr., Grass Valley; and at the door.

INFO: http://thecenterforthearts.org/blues-traveler/; http://www.marenmetke.com/Black_Bird_Quartet.html

On the road for most of the last 26 years, the legendary dance-jam band Blues Traveler is parking its luxury tour bus for the first time at the Grass Valley Veterans Memorial Building Saturday night.

“We’re making it a big old dance party,” said Pamela Roberts, marketing manager for the Center for the Arts. “It’s going to be all dance floor.”

“We’re not putting seats on the floor like most of our shows,” confirmed Center for the Arts Executive Director Julie Baker. (There will, of course, be seating in the bleachers.)



The funky and seductive jazz of Nevada City’s Blackbird Quartet will open the show.

“If you get just the right combination of a cool venue and a great crowd, it can be just magical.”
— Blues Traveler drummer Brendan Hill

“It will be sort of a mellow opening, where people can get their drinks and hang out,” Baker said. “Then it will be one long set with Blues Traveler.”




Although virtually all the Grammy Award-winning band’s dozen albums were recorded in the studio, it’s their reputation for epic live shows that has kept the band thriving all these years.

“It’s the crowd, which you feed off of. It just fuels our creativity and our energy,” said Blues Traveler drummer Brendan Hill in a phone interview Monday.

It all started in high school in Princeton, N.J., in 1983.

“I had a little basement band,” Hill said. “John (Popper) joined the high school jazz group as a soloist on harmonica, and I said, ‘Huh, I think that guy should be in my band.’

“Ever since then, we’ve been playing together and having a good time.”

Over the next several years, Hill and Popper brought Chan Kinchla (guitar) and Bobby Sheehan (bass) into the band that evolved into the New York City-based Blues Traveler in 1987.

They developed a loyal, underground following and broke into the mainstream in 1994 with their fourth album “Four,” which went platinum six times over and won a Grammy with their No. 1 hit “Run-Around.” That was followed by more hit singles and several more gold and platinum albums.

“We’ve been through a lot together, starting out, you know, in station wagons and vans and living in apartments together,” Hill recalled. “And we went all the way up to selling out Madison Square Garden and the Grammys.”

Unlike many long-lived bands, the original members of Blues Traveler have stuck together. Sheehan, however, died young in 1999. He was replaced by Kinchla’s younger brother, Tad, on bass, and the band added Ben Wilson on keyboards.

Asked how they’ve managed to stay a cohesive unit for so long, Hill explained: “We are kind of a democracy where we all contribute to the songwriting. It is everybody’s band. John’s obviously the star with vocals and harmonica, but we created a sound that’s unique to us.”

And true to their name, the band has traveled on and on. Although they don’t do as many shows they used to and fly home more often during tours, Hill reported the band has been on the road since May this year and is booked into early December.

The band that stays together … lives apart

After about 10 years of being a New York-based band, living and playing on the road for as many as 250 shows a year, “We just kind of decided everybody wanted to live in their own space. Everyone had girlfriends, et cetera,” said Hill.

The band didn’t split up, but the members moved to individual homes ranging from Seattle to Miami. Now, Hill and Popper live near each other in Washington, Chan Kinchla lives in Los Angeles, and Tad Kinchla and Wilson live in Austin, Texas.

“It’s kind of nice to get away and go to your own little life,” Hill said. “And then you get an email saying, ‘OK, here’s the tour dates,’ and you’re like, OK, bye, honey, and you go off and you live this other life.”

“We’ve found it makes more sense to sleep on the bus after the show,” said Hill, who described the bus as “kind of a well-equipped submarine.”

“We’ve become kind of accustomed to driving through the night. I enjoy the rhythm of the road.”

As for the rhythm Blues Traveler will bring Saturday night, Hill said they will be featuring songs from their latest album “Suzie Cracks the Whip” (2012).

“It’s one of our best albums since the early days,” he said. “And keep an ear out for some new material coming out next year.”

All in all, Hill concluded, “If you get just the right combination of a cool venue and a great crowd, it can be just magical.”

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer and photographer in Nevada City. He can be contacted at tdurkin@vfr.net.


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