By: Derek Jung
First and foremost, let’s get something out of the way: John Popper can play the harmonica very well.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the band. Blues Traveler’s heyday was in the early-to-mid
90’s. Their seminal album four was released in 1994 and nothing since has reached the kind of acclaim
that the first few albums received. Given that fact, I would consider them a borderline nostalgia act.
There’s nothing wrong with being a nostalgia act, in fact, many similar bands still draw huge crowds.
Being a nostalgia act comes with a certain self-awareness of where you currently stand in your musical
career; you know that your best days are probably behind you, and even if you still want to make new
music, you realize that most people will want to hear your older material. Blues Traveler hasn’t reached
that point yet. The band released a new album this year titled Blow Up The Moon. I’m sure the album is
fine, but I can also guarantee that the vast majority of the audience came specifically to hear the hits
from four. It wasn’t until nearly the end of their set that they finally brought out “Run-Around”, and you
could tell from the crowd that it was too little, too late to save the set.
Popper’s lost a lot of weight since the 90’s, a product of a series of health issues in the last 15 years, but
his voice still sounds great and he can still wail on the harmonica. He had a set-up of 5 red solo cups on a
little table to prevent his mouth from getting dry, and the stagehand would replace them as he drank.
By the end of the show, I think he drank enough solo cups to field a regulation beer pong table.
Every song featured the harmonica in some shape or form, and he is definitely the virtuoso that I
imagined from listening to the albums growing up. The problem with having so many harmonica solos is
that they all start sounding the same after a while. I appreciated the skill and difficulty of his playing, but
it quickly became an overused gimmick. In fact, most of their jamming got old, and I’m normally all
about jam sessions mid-concert. There were harmonica solos, guitar solos, bass solos, and more guitar
solos; this jamming was not only excessive but it often sounded jumbled and disorganized, like it was
one person’s turn to show off for a little while without much interaction with the other bandmates. I
love good jams where the individual members react to the ebb and flow of each other’s playing, but this
was not it.
To avoid being a total buzzkill for two live reviews in a row, there were some memorable moments
during the show. They played a fun cover of The Charlie Daniels Band classic “The Devil Went Down To
Georgia” where Chan Kinchla, the guitarist, dueled Popper on harmonica. They also did a reggae
restyling of Radiohead’s “Creep” which was pretty cool and definitely took me by surprise. Because they
were sandwiched between songs that I didn’t recognize, they were a breath of fresh air to the set. Later
on, they brought out New Hollow to play the song they helped collaborate on from Blow Up The Moon
called “Jackie’s Baby”, but not before wishing Evan West from New Hollow happy 21st birthday. Yes, you
read that right. Blues Traveler collaborated with a bunch of early twenty-somethings. Stoner uncle
Throw in a keytar jam (I’m serious), and you have the basic gist of what the show was like. I’m not going
to lie, my wife and I left a little early when it became apparent that they were going to continue avoiding
four and keep on with the never-ending, insufferable jamming. It wasn’t worth it to hear “Hook” or “The
Mountains Win Again”.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the opening band, Cincinnati’s own Motherfolk. They may sing “whoa”
and “oh” too much, but I really like their sound, and I’m disappointed because I think I was in the
minority last night.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary (debatable) guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here: