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John Popper at the H.O.R.D.E. Festival
by Kurt Loder
MTV News Feature, National
Aug 8th, 1997

With Neil Young, Beck, The Ben Folds Five, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Kula Shaker, Primus, Morphine and Cake Like on board, this summer's H.O.R.D.E. tour may be the hottest ticket going. Blues Traveler frontman and H.O.R.D.E. organizer John Popper sat down with MTV News' Kurt Loder last weekend at Tinley Park, Illinois', New World Music Theatre to see how this summer's tour is shaping up.

Kurt: Before you played this set with Neil today, had you ever even talked to him before?
John: Uh, no actually.

Kurt: Just walked up on stage and played...
John: I saw him from afar when we were playing in Hershey last year. And the other guys got to meet him but it was raining and they wanted to keep me dry for some reason. And it was really cool that day because we weren't sure if we could follow Neil and it was a real challenge for us and I thought we did real well because he pushed us really far.That's the great thing about this tour is that you wind up going on after some really amazing bands so you better kick some butt. And that was a really great day for that. And I got right in off the plane, came straight here and he was going up on stage and I sorta' jumped right up there uninvited and started puffin'.

Kurt: And it worked out really well.
John: Oh it was great. I was really suprised 'cuz, like I was telling you before, I was pretty worried about what I was going to do. Because he has a harmonica you see.

Kurt: That didn't deter you though.
John: Nope. No I just figured, try and find a spot. Find a happy place.

Kurt: When H.O.R.D.E. started, you were among one of the guys who were behind it. What did it start out to be? Was it a specific idea?
John: You know, all the bands on the original year were Phish, Widespread Panic, the Spin Doctors and The Aquarium Rescue Unit, were all talking about, you know, we all hate playing indoors in the summer and the only way to play would be to have a draw - and you know if we teamed up maybe that'll be a great thing and we'd draw a big crowd. We'd sorta' have travelled the farthest of all these bands. So we were at home with Phish, and we knew Widespread real well and the Spin Doctors were in New York where we were. I wound up being the one making a lot of the calls. That was an interesing first year. It was eight really great shows and we added on Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. And it was just a really great show and the next year the people who wanted to do it remembered that spirit and it was just a lot of fun. It was hang out with really good bands in the summer and we were all learning from each other. I mean The Aquarium Rescue Unit who had the smallest draw was the band that when they would go on everybody would shut up and listen to them because they were the best band I had ever heard in my life.

Kurt: World's oldest underground band actually. They've been underground for so long.
John: Well, Colonel Bruce Hampton just, he lives underground. I'd take a bullet for the Colonel.

Kurt: Now this years line-up is really, I think especially in view to what's happening in the charts which is essentially nothing, is really interesting 'cuz there are these bands, some of them don't have guitars, what's going on with them? People searching for alternatives kind of thing?
John: Well, our pre-requisite is good live music. We wouldn't have a H.O.R.D.E. tour, we wouldn't do it if it was acts that couldn't deliver live. And I think that uh, we were just saying "Who wants to do it that hasn't done it yet?" And Primus, I was really psyched about getting Primus because those guys jam from way back. And, Beck obviously was a killer thing. We felt comfortable about leaving the tour when we found someone like Neil who could headline it. With some authority, really make it good. I was saying before when we were playing with the trains that live music has its own value. If you want to come here, smoke a little something, not that I'm telling you that it's...whatever you want to do...you just show up and you just dance to the bands. I mean, it's a lot of fun. It's something that's going to go in and out of style but will always be there because this is American music. Just like the blues or country music, it's going to be there forever. Rock and roll is here to stay, man!

Kurt: Can you explain this sword you're carrying with you?
John: Well you know my motto is 'What's a H.O.R.D.E. without a sword?' The first year where we called it the H.O.R.D.E., because I'm a big history buff, I was into the whole Ghengis Khan, Attila the Hun thing and you know, Attila had a magic sword that supposedly fell from heaven. Well this didn't fall from heaven, this is a 1862 Union Naval Cutless. And, you know, it just looks kind of cool when your converging on a town and you sorta feel like a pirate, it's nice to go...ARGH!!! And it was a lot easier than a parrot because you don't have to feed this. When your leading chants you know like...G...L...O...R...I...A, it's a good baton.

Kurt: Now when your going to get on a plane, I suppose there are problems.
John: Well, you know, they weren't really thrilled with me over at the old baggage check in. The real problem is this thing (fingers vest) they think this thing is ticking or has some sort of explosives in it. But you know, it's quite harmless, I assure you.

Kurt: You explain that its just a bunch of holstered harmonicas and they say, 'Well pass then...'
John: And grappling hook, you never know when you have to grapple.

Kurt: So what's the most amazing thing you've seen on the tour so far?
John: That train exhibit was brilliant. I mean really all the tents, I think this is the best concourse we've ever had. That's why I'm really glad you guys are here. I think people should just see it. If we had no bands, this would be a nice museum exhibit anyway. But it's sort of an interactive museum exhibit at that. But you throw in live music and your talking about a days worth of fun. You're going to get your money's worth here. I highly recommend it.

Kurt: Well, I think everybody'll be coming down. I thank you.
John: Thank you! You know I really appreciate you getting down in the grass, back to nature, you know.

Kurt: Getting down is what it's about.