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Blues Traveler
by Kevin C. Johnson
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis, MO
Dec 6th, 2001

While jam bands from all over such as Widespread Panic, Leftover Salmon, and the String Cheese Incident are gaining new prominence and recognition, Blues Traveler, a band that found more success than any of them will probably ever see, continues to stay afloat despite difficult times.

The John Popper-led Blues Traveler aren't releasing radio favorites like "Run-Around" and "Hook" anymore or hit CDs like 1994's four. But Blues Traveler continues to have its following, evidenced by the healthy turnout for the band's two-set, two-hour concert Wednesday night at The Pageant.

Though it looked as if they band could've been permanently sidelined by the drug overdose death of its bassist Bobby Sheehan two years ago (he was replaced by Tad Kinchla, brother of the band's guitarist Chad Kinchla), not the mention Popper's hospitalization for a blocked artery the same year, the band is back with this new and successful tour and its accompanying CD Bridge.

The formerly overweight Popper, now looking more fit and healthier than ever in his professional career, jumped back and forth between singing (not always so decipherable) and playing harmonica (more forceful than his vocals). He gave both equal time as he fronted his band on a number of extended jams that often seamlessly slid into one another.

Whether the band launched into one of the better new songs like "Back in the Day" or "Just For Me," an expected favorite like "Run-Around," or a beloved cover like Charlie Daniels' "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," the crowd soaked them in. Songs swelled, soared, and simmered in the band's over-capable hands.

Michael Franti from opening act Spearhead joined Popper on vocals for Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry," which incorporated a bit of Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up." Radio(Active), also from Spearhead, joined Blues Traveler also, making sound effects with his mouth and rapping. How often is it that the names Blues Traveler or John Popper could make it into a rap verse?

Franti & Spearhead would seemingly have nothing in common with Blues Traveler or its fans, but the thoughtful rap/soul act quickly won the crowd over and undoubtedly gained a new bunch of fans in the process with a high-energy set.

Earlier this year, the Gil Scott Heron-inspired Franti and his band Spearhead released "Stay Human," a conceptual CD built around the impending execution of a fictional, female African-American political prisoner. But rapper/singer Franti (formerly with Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy) said those who came for political insight Wednesday night needed to just have a good time.

It was an easy request as Franti sang and spoke, moved and grooved to his band's sounds on songs like "Soulshine" and "Every Little Soul". And he even found time to honor recently deceased Beatle George Harrison when he sang a rendition of "Here Comes the Sun."