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Blues Traveler back at The Peak

  • 20091008-143433-pic-812374698.jpg
    Blues Traveler will perform at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe Friday night.
Published October 08. 2009 05:00PM

Blues Traveler has been able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

It is the jam band that enjoyed both critical acclaim as well as commercial success on the pop charts.

It is the club band that hit it big, playing at venues such as Red Rocks and opening for The Rolling Stones.

Blues Traveler's latest album, North Hollywood Shootout, also reflects an attempt to have it both ways.

The new compact disc, produced by Grammy Award winner David Bianco, who has worked with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Ozzy Osbourne, Mick Jagger and Teenage Fanclub, was recorded live in the studio, taking advantage of the band's on-stage musical prowess.

According to Blues Traveler guitarist Chan Kinchla, recording the album in that manner is contrary to how the band has worked in the studio in the past.

"The whole process of making the record was intense," said Kinchla in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles, prior to returning to the road for the band's current tour, which includes a stop at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe Friday night..

"On a lot of our previous records, we would do a lot of time in rehearsal on the arrangements of the songs and get them finalized. That does have its benefits, but it loses spontaneity when you have it so final. We wanted to capture how we play live and get 'happy accidents', so we did a lot of improvisation in different configurations.

"It was a real liquid and fun way to make a record for us, and there's a lot more grooves on this than in the past. Live jams don't always get across when you listen to them on your car radio. This is a way to fuse the two."

North Hollywood Shootout - the title comes from an actual shootout in full body armor that took place a decade ago near the studio where it was recorded, takes advantage of Blues Traveler's improvisational skills.

"There's a lot of unspoken, happy little moments on this that you can't write," said Kinchla. "The two singles so far, 'You, Me and Everything' and "Forever Owed' were based on that."

"Forever Owed" is a special song for the band, as it is based on the members' experiences touring and playing military shows for the USO all around the world.

"It's cool, because we have done a lot of work with the military and the USO over the years," explained Kinchla. "Once you've seen what our military does, the respect you have for them is incredible. People just don't understand what the military does to keep peace and the sacrifices they do. We have bases everywhere, and it's fascination. We enjoyed doing it thoroughly."

Blues Traveler formed in Princeton, New Jersey 22 years ago, and founding members Kinchla, vocalist/blues harp player John Popper and drummer Brendan Hill are still in the band. Original bassist Bobby Sheehan died in 1999, and the band added Chan's brother Tad Kinchla on bass and Ben Wilson on keyboards, with that line-up debuting in 2001 and continuing to this day.

The band was initially identified with the burgeoning jam band scene and founded the touring H.O.R.D.E. Festival in 1992, which became an outlet for exposing other similar bands.

Blues Traveler's commercial breakthrough came in 1994 with its multi-platinum album Four, which featured the smash singles "Run-Around", a Grammy winner, and "Hook".

"We were as surprised as anyone to get those radio hits," said Chan. "They were more an experiment for us than anything else. That was a blast, doing Saturday Night Live and those concert tours. It was a real fine ride. Having a couple of big hits is great for your career. I love it, because it bought my house for me."

It also earned Blues Traveler the chance to open for The Rolling Stones, with one of the shows at the now demolished Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia.

"We did five shows with them, and they were the very first shows of that tour," recalled Kinchla. "It was great to meet all of those guys and hang out a bit with them."

In concert, Blues Traveler does its best to appeal to both its diehard followers and those only familiar with the hits.

"With the more hard core fans, we will work the catalog over for them, but you always have the casual fans who want to be able to hear the only songs they would know," mentioned Chan. "The band members make up the setlist, and we'll work 'Hook' and 'Run-Around' in there. Every night is a little bit different. We work around skeletons and don't stick to any standard arrangements."

The band is finishing up a busy summer and fall, with the current tour wrapping up on Nov. 6.

"We've been doing this for 22 years now, and it's crazy," noted Chan. "We started early, and most of us have been together since high school. We're having a ball and making at living at it, too."

Blues Traveler will be performing at Penn's Peak on Friday, Oct. 9 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $24 in advance and $29 the day of the show.For more information, call 1-866-605-PEAK.

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