Blues Traveler at the Taste of Syracuse

The Blues Traveler

Saturday, June 7, 2014, Blues Traveler took the Volkswagen Main Stage at 9 p.m. invited by an excited crowd of fans gathered at an event in Syracuse, NY called The Taste of Syracuse. This particular day featured “Brews, Blues and BBQs Festival.” There were several different food vendors surrounding the stage area such as a Zebb’s Restaurant, Jerk Hut Restaurant, Jolime Café and more, as well as domestic and craft beer vendors, and a Kieffer’s Cigar’s booth. The setup created a different type of atmosphere than a typical concert, in the sense that the “lines” for the food and drink vendors were in the crowd, so the concert listeners and consumers were enjoying food, drink, and of course the music of Blues Traveler in one large shared area.

Even with all this going on in the background, the always engaging John Popper, lead singer of Blues Traveler, began his introduction and then the band blasted right into a peppy rendition of the Grammy-winning song “Run-Around.” The performance was energetic, having not lost any of the jubilance and presence that made them so much fun in 1994 when the song was originally released. The memorable harmonica solo in this tune was played with fervor and precision, reminding us all why we love this band, and that was just the first of many moments that evening that rekindled the flame for those of us that remember, and awakened something in those hearing the band for the first time.

Next to thrill the crowd was a whirlwind performance of “Fire on the Mountain,” a cover of the Charlie Daniel’s Band favorite. This selection was an excellent choice, as the vibrant mixture of southern rock and quickstep blues that are the brickwork of this tune are also very much a part of the essential elements of Blues Traveler originals. This particular song choice also displayed intelligence in production. It allowed the band to do something of paramount importance for all working musicians putting on a good show- which was to have fun. The entire five-member ensemble was dancing around and truly enjoying the music, which of course, helped the audience do the same.

There were several opportunities that evening to appreciate the high caliber of musicians forming Blues Traveler. Lead singer/harmonica player John Popper was a powerhouse, singing his heart out and sounding fantastic, as well as displaying an intense, melodic style of harmonica work. Guitar player Chan Kinchla wowed the crowd with his stylistically diverse solos ranging from Delta blues all the way to a face-melting metal riff. Bassist Tad Kinchla was rhythmically perfect, and when his turns came to solo he played incredibly funky and complex bass lines that left the audience reeling. Ben Wilson, keyboard player, was frenetic and visibly joyful, not to mention played his instrument with an immense technical skill that seemingly flowed through all the songs adding depth and energy, and drummer Brendan Hill was so pumped that his thrilling fills and solos even got John Popper excited enough to comment about it.

Perhaps his most memorable drum solo of the evening, however, was when a 30-second long drum feast led into another of Blues Traveler’s fan favorites, “The Hook Brings You Back.” This song was another selection from their famed album “Four” the mid-nineties chart-topper. The whole band sounded amazing and possibly the most interesting thing was that everyone in the audience, myself included, remembered almost every word of the lyrics and were loudly singing along. This song was the ‘soft close’ of the show, and naturally left the crowd clamoring for an encore.

The band returned to the stage about one full minute later and resumed their respective places on the stage. At that point John Popper addressed the audience, re-introduced all the band members, and when the cheering subsided he grew slightly somber and said he wished to dedicate their encore performance to his Aunt Jean, who had passed away two days prior to the show. The response from the audience was an expression of empathy and a respectful clapping, but when they heard the opening notes of “The Mountains Win Again,” the volume and tone of the cheering changed to a once-again roaring happiness. After the moving five-minute performance the band accepted their accolades and John Popper threw his harmonica to the crowd for some lucky fan to take home. They bowed and exited the stage, ending their two-hour set, and then in another fine display of the group’s sense of humor, the speaker system began blasting the Trey Parker song from the television show South Park, “I’m So Ronery,” a Kim Jong Il spoof.

The crowd, now exuberant and giggling from the evening’s festivities finished their food and beverages and began to disperse. Overall the atmosphere and music that seemed so strangely mixed at the beginning of the evening had melded beautifully and provided a night of delicious food, great people, and of course an awesome show that was executed by a band that is still incredibly fun to witness, even as they celebrate their 25th anniversary as a group.

Tiffany Reynolds
– The Fuze Magazine

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