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Blues Traveler tries improv style, wows Wolf Trap crowd
by Michael Menachem
American University Eagle, Washington, DC
Jun 17th, 2002

John Popper of Blues Traveler opened the popular band's show with a Hendrix-style, improvisational harmonica twisted "The Star-Spangled Banner. The crowd of all ages, at Wolf Trap on June 11, cheered crazily and the band kept the momentum going with "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." The most famous single, "Run-Around" was performed next; it was a unique version with strong guitar riffs and a lot of harmonica that was different from the group's biggest selling single.

Already, it looked like the five band members were having a blast performing together on stage. Their camaraderie and anticipation of one another's improvisations make this band cook. Lead singer Popper was wearing his signature cowboy hat, but this time it was black. The harmonica is John Popper's machine. He works that instrument into almost every song and improvises the whole way through. The band was bluesy and very funky. Popper's slurred lyrics and high pitched harmonica sequences were what got the audience going, not to mention a band with incredible musicians.

Another huge hit, "Hook" was played; it was even better live than it is on the recording. The powerful side of John's voice came out, and the lyrics were light and fast-paced. The harmony on this live version was perfect on the chorus and it got funky halfway through. John turned around during instrumental portions of the show to have a smoke with his back to the audience. A reprise of "Run-Around" was next, after a chill instrumental session.

Popper and his band revealed two new songs that they mentioned had never been played live before, "Let It Ride" and "This Ache". Both sounded very original, but in terms of their next mainstream hit, "This Ache" sounded better. "But Anyway", an earlier single, hooked the audience members who were there for the singles, and all the fans went nuts again.

The band played a lot of songs that were not hit singles, throwing in their own improvisation a lot of the time. The bass player is an incredible musician. Blues Traveler's music was truly inventive. They threw in some powerful ballads and there were a lot of hippies dancing around in the crowd. Blues Traveler ended their set with "Devil", again, and came back for an encore of mostly jam sessions.

To catch Blues Traveler this summer all over the U.S. and Canada, check out their tour listings at: http://www.bluestraveler.net/tourdate.html