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Familiar Faces, New Vibes
Blues Traveler goes through some transition
by Keith Ryan Cartwright
The Tennessean, Nashville, TN
Apr 16th, 2004

An old expression says that the more things change the more they stay the same. You couldn't find a better description for the band Blues Traveler.

Obviously, the band's music has changed somewhat in the past few years with the passing of bassist Bobby Sheehan in 1999 and the addition of Tad Kinchla and Ben Wilson. But an important constant that has remained intact has been the "family vibe" cultivated since well before the band formed back in 1983. Part of that feel was further enhanced because Tad is, after all, the younger brother of the band's guitarist Chan Kinchla.

"It allowed me to come in with my own voice because I had known these guys since I was much younger," Tad Kinchla said, "and they would be practicing in our basement, borrow my amps and blow my amps.

"I came in and I already had a personal relationship with everyone. For Ben, it was a different situation, so in certain situations I think it can be very frustrating for Ben to come into a group of friends who grew up in the same neighborhood with the same people telling the same stories, eating the same food. I think it was a little more difficult for him to come in and just have a voice. Whereas I knew the idiosyncrasies of say John (Popper) and some of the nuances of the individuality of John and the inner relations just between Chan and Brendan and all that."

His longstanding friendship with everyone involved with Blues Traveler allowed the younger Kinchla an opportunity to freely admit he wasn't interested in merely recreating what they already had accomplished.

"One of the things that was conditional of me coming in was not wanting to just recreate what Bobby did because that's not what I'm good at," Kinchla said, "and I don't want to do that.

"I really like his style of playing and what they did as a group, but those guys really supported me and said, 'Look, we're not hiring you to recreate anything. We're moving on.'"

Another contributing factor in Blues Traveler's evolution that oftentimes is overlooked has as much to do with their ever-changing personal lives as it does the addition of two fresh musical voices.

These guys who first got together to jam in Princeton, N.J., have grown into adulthood and started families of their own. That can't help but influence the music they write.

"They have families and that changes their attitude toward playing, their plans and how we're going to go about things," Kinchla said. "That changes any band or any kind of group of people working in any field. They're making a transition into having a family."

Before starting a run of spring tour dates, which tonight brings the band to the Ryman Auditorium, Blues Traveler took about three months off not only to allow Popper time to settle into his new digs, but also because Chan Kinchla became a father for the second time.

"This is about the longest break we had since I've been in the band," Tad Kinchla said. "It's great getting back out there. I was getting a little anxious myself, but I know the other guys have families and my brother actually had another child. Those guys were enjoying family time and John just went through a move out to Seattle.

"He was kind of living in a pretty stagnant place in Pennsylvania and not much was going on. He's now engaged and I think he wanted to move to a place that was a little more enriched culturally. The situation kind of proposed itself and so he went out there."

The band is back on the road supporting last year's Truth Be Told, its seventh studio album, and a recently released DVD, which is much more than 60 minutes of live music. Unlike other concert DVDs by other bands, Thinnest of Air, recorded last Fourth of July at Red Rocks Amphitheatre outside Denver, showcases the individual personalities behind Blues Traveler.

"It gives you a real idea of what the vibe is like," said Kinchla, who noted that with the release of the second single, "Sweet and Broken", they haven't really started thinking about writing the next album just yet. "In the meantime we're just going to tour and do what we do."

Getting there

Blues Traveler will play at 8 tonight at Ryman Auditorium. Tickets, $23.50, are available through Ticketmaster or the Ryman box office. $20 tickets with student ID are available only at the Ryman box office. Call 255-9600 or go to www.ticketmaster.com or www.ryman.com.