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Unexpected guest surprises beginning guitar class
by Misty Schoen
The Daily University Star, Austin, TX
Mar 5th, 2002

John Popper, the lead singer of Blues Traveler, was an unexpected but most welcomed guest in a beginning guitar class last Thursday.

Grant Mazak, lecturer and local owner of Mazak Music, said Popper looked vaguely familiar when he first saw him in class, but he wasn't sure who the visitor was.

"The students introduced him in a humorous way," Mazak said. "They said, 'This is our friend, John,' and they told me he played the harmonica. Then I pretty much figured out who he was."

Two of Mazak's students, Stephanie Miller and Holly McReavy, met Popper at the Ritz, a bar in Austin, the night before class. Miller, who is in a band called Hooker Pink, said she and some of her friends were at the bar when a friend introduced her to Popper.

"We were all hanging out around the pool table (with John Popper)," Miller said. "He's really funny, and he had lots of stories."

Before the night was over, Popper accepted Miller's invitation to come to her guitar class at SWT the next morning. So Miller and McReavy picked him up in Austin and even stopped for breakfast at McDonald's before arriving to class.

Mazak said he had to give a lecture during the class period because he has two beginner guitar classes, and he could not afford to get one class out of sync with the other.

But Mazak's lecture did teach Popper some valuable information. He told Mazak there were some things about Barre cords he never understood until after Mazak's lecture.

After the lecture, Mazak sat with Popper and they played several songs together: Mazak with his guitar and Popper with his harmonica.

The two played the Bob Marley song "No Woman, No Cry," a song the class had been working on. They also played the Blues Traveler song "Hook" and The Beatles song "Imagine."

Miller said she realized in class that Popper was not just a regular, everyday guy.

"When he started playing in class, it was a reality check," Miller said. "He actually has a Grammy."

Besides playing for the class, Mazak said Popper talked about the band and had some anecdotes for the class.

"We traded some road stories; his were better than mine," Mazak said. "We traded some jokes; his were better than mine.

"We traded some lyrics; his were better than mine."

After class, Mazak was invited to eat lunch with Popper and several students at the San Marcos River Pub and Grill.

Mazak said he had always loved Blues Traveler's music on the radio, but he didn't have any of its CDs.

"I'm a little older and I don't buy a lot of contemporary music, but I have three of its CDs now," he said.

Mazak said there is a movement in a lot of contemporary music away from instrumental solos. Blues Traveler, he said, reminds him of a classic rock band because they feature more instrumental music, like Popper's harmonica solos.

Mazak said the band is in Austin writing music before its March 21 gig at Stubbs BBQ. Mazak, who is a musician himself, said writing music on the road is difficult, and he assumes Blues Traveler came to Austin because it is a good place to write.

"In all the places I lived, Texas is by far the best place to be a musician," Mazak said.

"It was way beyond the ordinary to meet John Popper because he's not a Texas musician."