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Blues Traveling Comes To a Halt
by Felix R. Rivera
Skidmore newspaper, Saratoga Springs, NY
Oct 16th, 1998



The road crew has been working all day at virtually remodelling the gym, SGA (basically made up of almost every cheery, happy-go-lucky Skidmore student) is scurrying around in a rapid nervous frenzy. The rain is beating the pavement outside in trembling anticipation, and there walks in Chan Kinchla (guitarist) smacking high fives with one of the sound technicians, howling "Go Yanks! El Duque tonight, baby." I'm there saying to myself, "Hey, this guy seems pretty neat; he likes baseball, at least." At this point, I was losing my patience with Blues Traveler and the crew, wanting an interview, going in wet and coming out empty handed.

Why can't we have a chat with returning visitors on our turf, in our own home, the house that Lucy built? Answer: Blues Traveler is a superstar corporation now. They no longer fill up bars and small clubs; stadiums across the nation and cameo appearances in the comedy Kingpin are what's happening now. You can see the outpouring of fame in Kinchla's appearance. The guy took on a nice, sharp 90s-style haircut with streaking flashes of blond. During the time of their self-titled debut release (a time when these New Jersey rock jammers decided to take a break from their nomadic, touring addiction to record their music), Kinchla wore an ugly beard, had crust in his eyes and dressed like a 60-year-old bar-hopper. Now it's about the need for a fashion statement, a need not to socialize with anyone at a "lower level," and so forth.

Money makes superstars. It even lures them to Skidmore when they really don't want to come. Money brought Blues Traveler here, and they left like thieves in the night. There was somewhat of a crowd at this Oktoberfest grand feature which was open to the Saratogian community as well. In fact, it seemed as if the townies were more fired up than anyone else there seemed to be an all-star cast of local bar bouncers, Newberry flash dancers, and pizza shop delivery boys with their girlfriends shaking asses left and right; the Skiddies looked kind of glum perched on the bleachers, but there was a decent crowd hopping around near the stage.

Blues Traveler's music definitely calls for hoppin' - they have been a funk-blues possessed jammin' rock band for years. They started off with a highly intriguing medley of old and new tunes. John Popper (the big man behind the harp and trademark vocal inflections) bursts into "Dropping Some NYC" from the debut LP. Kinchla raises the neck of his guitar while bopping his head like a little boy immersed in a new set of headphones his mommy gave him for his birthday. Bobby Sheehan (bassist) lays back with closed eyes surrendering to the eloquence of his groovy rhythm, and Brendan Hill hammers the drum kit with authority with every hard drop into Popper's chorus-shout of "NYC". During the jam for "NYC", Traveler surprisingly jumps into "Crash Burn" from their breakthrough four. The group turns on the ignition, steps on the gas and keeps rockin' straight on with absolutely no intermissions: A great way to start a concert. The group brings down the intensity by crash-landing smoothly into the bouncy dance tune "Felicia" from their latest effort Straight on Till Morning. This clever medley triggered a rising and falling sensation in the crowd's cheer. The audience instantly became an ocean, and Traveler channeled the tides.

Since the 95 release of four, Traveler have defined themselves on the radio as being a very catchy, good-natured, rock-folk hillbilly sounding band of pirates with memorable tunes like "Run-Around" and "Hook". However, Traveler centers on establishing an astoundingly different kind of mood for the music masses of 97 with the first single release off the latest album of "Carolina Blues," a rough, grinding, sexually aggressive bar-rock tune. So you would think that Traveler would employ the same approach on their current tour; this past weekend's performance justifies the theory. However, are we impressed with this? Did Traveler's jammin' sessions in the middle of relatively short songs prove to be a unique success, or were they commercial banal flops? A so-called jam band that truly jams is a band that explores, a band whose members get wonderfully lost in their sounds without a structure or sense of what's going to take place in the next fleeting seconds. Everything is basically up in the air. Unfortunately, Traveler played it too safe. The band members jammed within confinements of musical structure "you knew exactly where they were going to begin and where they were going to end," music major James O'Mahoney 99 said.

Quite interestingly, Traveler captured us when they didn't jam as much. By the mid-point of the show, Popper and the pirates sat down for a little acoustic session, during which the jumpy Latin rhythms and romantic lyrics of "Canadian Rose" and seriously precious tone of "Just Wait" softened our hearts into hypnotic surrender. Sad to say, two tunes are definitely not enough for a session that has the great potential to be poignant; two tunes are definitely a tease. However, towards the end of the show, Traveler made us laugh with their humor. Popper spots a banner from the first row of what seemed to be a drawing of somekind of animal in a grotesque position, and places it on the front of Hill's drum set. Kinchla and Sheenan stand back in wonder of this masterpiece. Popper sings "Oh Beautiful" to the audience in an obviously sarcastic, yet good-natured tone, and brings his hand up to his hat in salute and admiration.

An interesting beginning, a lazy and impatient acoustic session, an ending empty jam of all Traveler jams, a well-deserving encore, the traditional tossing of Popper harps into the crowd, and a collective kiss of the band members to all the Skiddies and townies in attendance all add up to an awkwardly frustrating night, a performance of a superstar band quick to perform and quick to leave, a band like many others who "sold out". MTV, Rolling Stone, radio stations throughout the world, and many other commercial displays may say that Blues Traveler is no doubt traveling at great speeds through the music world of our generation. However, their traveling came to a stop here at Skidmore College.