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Blues Traveler makes its way to Hartford
by David Friedman
Danbury News-Times, Danbury, CT
Apr 20th, 2001

Blues Traveler will be at the Webster Theatre in Hartford a week from Sunday. Maybe you've seen them at the H.O.R.D.E. music festival that started in 1992 and was hitting 42 cities in 68 days by 1998.

Maybe, like me, you're among the more than six million people who have picked up a copy of their top-selling album, four, since it came out in 1994.

And maybe you even wondered whether they'd continue as a band after bassist and founding member Bobby Sheehan was found dead at the age of 31 in his New Orleans home Aug. 20, 1999.

Well, Blues Traveler is still plugging away these days. The band, featuring new members Tad Kinchla on bass and Ben Wilson on piano/keyboards, is playing live April 29 - one week from Sunday - at the Webster Theatre in Hartford. The show is part of a mini-tour that began April 11. It will be fans' first chance to hear songs off Blues Traveler's new album, Bridge, due out May 8 on A&M Records.

Kinchla, 28, had ties to Blues Traveler even before he replaced Sheehan in the lineup just over 18 months ago. Kinchla's brother, Chan, 31, plays guitar in the band he founded with Sheehan, lead singer-harmonica player John Popper and drummer Brendan Hill in 1988.

"I grew up knowing these guys," Tad Kinchla said in an April 12 interview from Myrtle Beach, S.C. "I mean, we all went to the same high school. So I had known about Blues Traveler since its inception. I was always a big fan. They really wanted to pursue the music, so I thought it was great for them to go to New York (after graduating from Princeton High School in New Jersey). I was always really proud of them. when I went to Brown they were starting to get radio play."

While Blues Traveler was releasing its third album, the gold-selling Save His Soul in April '93, Tad Kinchla was playing in his three-piece funk-rock college band, Dowdy Smack. The band opened for Blues Traveler for a handful of East Coast shows.

"Seeing their enjoyment and successes definitely inspired us to pursue it," said Kinchla, who played lacrosse and majored in urban studies at Brown.

According to Kinchla, Sheehan was always generous. The late Blues Traveler bassist used to supply his future replacement with musical equipment. More importantly, Sheehan set a good example.

"I always really enjoyed his style of play because it was more freeform," Kinchla said. "He had his own style and he played like that. I'm a little different, but I always admired the way Bobby pursued bass. When it all went down, Bobby passed and the band didn't know what was going to go on. And they decided to keep playing. The band did a tryout where there were five guys and each guy sat in at a show.

"I went last and I was playing a bass that Bobby had given to me," Kinchla added. "There was just kind of a vibe that really worked. It was definitely something that I was happy to get. It was obviously unfortunate circumstances, but I was part of the family. They never asked me to replace him; they asked me to be the bass player. They said, 'Play the way you play. Don't try to mimic anything.'"

Kinchla's style is working out just fine. He's done about 50 shows since joining Blues Traveler. And he wrote the music and collaborated on the lyrics for two tracks on the Bridge LP: "Girl Inside My Head" and "You Reach Me."

I've got an advance copy of the Bridge CD, and this stuff is infectious and well put together. "Girl Inside My Head" happens to be my favorite song on the album.

"I wrote that tune, "Girl" with (Smithaus) and we had been playing it," Kinchla said of the track, which is the first single and video from the new album. "The first things (we) did when I came into the band was we got a keyboard player and we wrote this album. Right away, they were like 'That's a good one.'

"The original melody and verse lyrics were a little different," Kinchla explained. "John (Popper) rewrote the verse lyrics and then we worked on the chorus lyrics together. It was amazing the way these guys opened up to me and allowed me to come in and take part in the writing process."

Another song on Bridge, called "Just For Me," is reminiscent of the band's older hit song, "Hook." Meanwhile, "Pretty Angry (for J. Sheehan)" was written for Bobby Sheehan's brother, Johnny. The two were close and the song addresses the feelings of sadness and anger Bobby's loved ones felt when he died.

Kinchla, who listens to Led Zeppelin, Soul Coughing, old Parliament, the Meters, Soundgarden, old David Bowie and the Police, is excited to play and promote the new album. Blues Traveler performs two- to three-hour concerts.

"It's been a traditional thing for the band to stretch a show out and see how it goes," Kinchla said. "In the last two years, there's very few bands - with the exception of Dave Matthews and Widespread - (that jam). People want an experience. They don't want to see a candy-coated, 45-minute pop set and then nothing stands out.

"Now we're playing the new stuff and it's just ripping," Kinchla added. "It's pretty crazy. It's been an amazing year and a half, two years. Things have turned around a lot in my schedule, in my life. I'm just holding on as we go and enjoying every day. If it's successful, it's successful. But I'm in it for the long haul. That's what I'm most happy about - I'm playing full-time for a band that's been together 12 years."

The show begins at 8:30 p.m. with doors opening an hour earlier. The venue is at 31 Webster St. Tickets are $25 in advance, $27 at the door. To purchase tickets, call Tickets.com at (860) 422-0000 or visit www.tickets.com on the Internet. For more information, call the Webster Theatre at (860) 246-8001.