By Rick Coates
The Paella In The Park event on Friday night in Traverse City will
focus on the Spanish peasant dish, Paella (see Tastemakers). The
evening will be highlighted by wine pairings from the Wineries of Old
Mission Peninsula. The question is, what will be for dessert?
How about a full serving of Blues Traveler?
We had to pull some strings, said Sam Porter, of Porterhouse
Productions. They are playing Grand Rapids on Thursday night and then
they are at Lollapaloza in Chicago on Saturday, but they agreed.
Rootstand, a favorite on the festival circuit will open for Blues
Traveler. Porter hopes that the evening will result in the community
getting an opportunity to see how the grounds that once housed the
Clinch Park Zoo can serve the area in various ways.
This is a great parcel of land; I feel that several events can take
place here. Not everything has to be about thousands of people, said
Porter. We are capping this at 1,500. Though I suspect that with the
stage setup we will have a lot of boats in the marina and in West Bay
watching and listening as well.
Porter likes to have music as a complement to his events. He has seen
that synergy work with the Traverse City Microbrew & Music Festival,
as well as a winter version of the same festival. He felt Blues
Traveler and Rootsand would offer the perfect music styles for a wide
range of attendees for Paella In The Park.
Blues Traveler has mass appeal to people of all ages, said Porter.
The play danceable music and I see them as being perfect for the
THE BACK STORY
The band formed nearly 25 years ago when frontman and harmonica
virtuoso John Popper and some of his high school buddies started
jamming together. It would take a few years for the bands music to
catch on, but in 1994 they hit the big time. The blues-rockers
released their album Four that contained chart-toppers Hook, and
Run-Around and it even won them a Grammy that year.
They quickly joined Dave Matthews as the popular bands on the jam-band
circuit, including performing at the 25th Anniversary of Woodstock in
1994. The band released North Hollywood Shootout in 2008, their ninth
Health and legal issues have not slowed Popper and his bandmates.
Popper who had been overweight for years had surgery six years ago and
dropped 180 pounds. He found himself in legal trouble, being arrested
twice for marijuana possession charges. A year ago he had hip surgery,
but according to Popper, all is well in his and Blues Travelers
We are very, very busy, said Popper. There is a lot that we are
trying to accomplish with this band. We are still trying to reconcile
the different things we do, and cultivate what were individually good
at into something thats bigger than the sum of its parts,
For Popper and Blues Traveler, their focus has been on returning to
the band that has produced six Gold or Platinum albums, with a
combined sales of more than 10 million CDs. They built their
reputation on the jam-band style that has resulted in more than 2,000
live shows in front of more than three million people over the past 16
As we look at our last few records we focused on the songwriting and
we felt we were getting away from that spontaneity that we create on
stage, said Popper. So with this last album we eliminated all the
pre-production stuff and just went right into the studio and wrote the
songs. We wrote and recorded as we went along.
Popper also felt this process helped the group get out of the musical
rut they were in.
Look, if you stay in this business long enough you are going to fall
into ruts. We started in this business as kids, made some mistakes
along the way. But we are still here. If you want to stick around you
fight through it and that is what we have done.
That also included the death of founding member and bassist Bobby
Shennan in 1999.
We are like family and when Bobby passed away we sat down as a group
and talked about what we should do, said Popper. Sure, we
contemplated calling it quits but we knew that Bobby would want us to
continue on and we know that we have made the right decision.
So what is at the heart of Blues Travelers success after 23 years?
We are constantly reinventing things and discovering new aspects of
what we do in order to keep things fresh, said lead guitarist Chan
Kinchla. Weve spent a lot of time sorting out everyones role and
learning how to listen to each other and get out of each others way.
Its funny, but right now the band is feeling a lot like it did in the
early days, when we were just playing for the sake of playing and we
were hitting on all cylinders and the communication was fresh and
alive. The shows have been really kicking, and the new songs have
been going over great.
I think we know as a band we have more to learn, said Popper. What
makes it work for us is honesty. As long as we all know that we mean
it, we know that we have the potential to come up with something good.
It is the philosophy we take every night onto the stage and into the
Blues Traveler will perform Friday night as part of the Paella In The
Park. Tickets are limited and may be purchased at
www.porterhouseproductions.com or at Oryana in Traverse City and the
wineries on the Old Mission Peninsula.