The music of Blues Traveler was everywhere in the mid-’90s. Hits like “Run-Around” and “The Hook” were all over radio and MTV, and every college dorm room seemed to have a copy of the “four” album on CD (often in close proximity to Dave Matthews Band’s “Crash” and Rusted Root’s “When I Woke”).

Blues Traveler, like many of its era’s survivors, has since transitioned from mainstream phenomenon to elder statesmen, now boasting 14 studio albums worth of material and a fan base happy to reconnect with the catalog and the good times whenever they come to town.

In 2021, the band released “Traveler’s Blues,” a guest-heavy covers album that was nominated for a Grammy. And on May 15, they’ll start shipping the archival “Live and Acoustic: Fall of 1997” on vinyl.

Fronted by the charismatic vocalist and harmonica player John Popper, Blues Traveler also features brothers Chan Kinchla (guitar) and Tad Kinchla (bass), Brendan Hill (drums) and Ben Wilson (keyboards). Wilson recently chatted with us in advance of the band’s northeast swing, including dates at the Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg (Sunday, May 14), Harrah’s in Atlantic City (Saturday, May 20) and the Tap NY beer festival in Bethel, NY (Sunday, May 21).

You joined Blue Traveler at a very difficult time in 1999 after the death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan. What was it like coming into that situation?

I did have a compatriot as Tad, Chan’s brother, came in at the same time, so we were both trying to negotiate those waters, not together necessarily in the same boat, but in parallel boats. It was a little different because he was Chan’s brother, but a band is like a family; at that time they had spent more time with the band members than their own kids. We’ve throttled it back since those days, but at the time, we were on the road for eight or nine months a year.

You’re dropped into these kind of dynamics that are kind of set, and not all of them good, so you just find your way. Musically, the guys were extremely open and cool about letting Tad and I express ourselves. There were definitely some moments where the loss of Bobby was very present. There were a lot of firsts without Bobby, and so there were some times of macho men getting in touch with their feelings. It was cathartic, and every year you look back, we got better as a band got closer as friends.

The band started in 1987 and is still going. Why has it lasted this long?

Well, that’s an interesting one. There’s a certain fatalism in that this four-piece came out of Princeton, NJ, and had this superstar talent in John, and these three [other] dudes just love to play and love to rock and they just love playing their instruments, and they had this massive success, and after Bobby died, decided to continue, because why wouldn’t you, and he would have wanted that. “What the hell else are we going to do? Why would we walk away from this beautiful thing?” This warty but beautiful thing we built all of these years.

You’ve recently done some duo shows with Popper.¬†

We’ve done a bunch of those. We did an album, “North Hollywood Shootout,” and John was getting interested in doing more ballad-y kind of stuff, his inner crooner was trying to get out. He was writing songs that were more suitable to that and they lent themselves to being more stripped down. He had always done them with a guitar, and we started doing a couple with piano. Piano just has a different timbre and a different attack and release, and there’s a reason a lot of the crooners work with a piano player as opposed to a different guitar player. Just a different sound. On one song, “Ode From The Aspect,” we became very good at the interplay. Someone offered us a couple of dates. We just did a show with Adam Carol. It’s been kind of a cool sidelight. It’s an impressive way for him to really show what a musical beast he is.

You have a new release from the 1997 acoustic performances, but are you working on new material?

We’re starting to record. This is going to be sort of volume two of “Blues Traveler plays American roots. We did get a Grammy nomination, which the label, Round Hill, really enjoyed that and said why don’t you do another one? This one will be more soul: Sam Cook, Sly, Al Green, The Meters, Dr. John. Lots of different kind of cool, old but still in the Americana world, but not Americana as you would call it today.

Photo by Graham Fielder 

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