If you've never really understood the Deadheads - the legion
of Grateful Dead fans who follow the band from town to town -
don't look now: Here come the Travelers.
Thats the name taken by the similarly loyal fans of the young New York
band Blues Traveler. Like the Deadheads, the Travelers follow their
troubadours from show to show, through the phenomenon hasn't achieved the
level of the colorful, mobile subculture of its hippie-originated
Still, the Travelers' number is steadily growing.
"They're bored, and I think they're fans of real
music." said Blues Traveler frontman John Popper, 24.
"I keep getting surprised everywhere we go how many there
are, but I decided it would be good luck not to count them."
Blues Traveler, which headlines the Palace tonight, sounds little
like the Dead, though Popper - a singer and harmonica phenom -
admits to a similar musical philosophy.
"Here's our shtick line to describe our music: It's our
garage band attempt at our appreciation of jazz improvisation
through the reality of rock 'n' roll," he said, speaking by
phone from a Phoenix hotel room. "Rock has its own
vocabulary, but you can approach it with freedom."
One other thing the group has in common with the Dead is a Graham
connection: It is managed by David Graham, son of San Francisco
rock promoter-manager Bill Graham, who has been associated with
the Dead since 1966.
"The music both we and the Dead play is what Bill Graham
calls pelvic music," Popper said. "It makes you dance,
and there are a lot of kids who like that fun. But that's where
the comparison [with the Dead] ends."
Blues Traveler actually owes its beginnings to comedy more than
music. Popper says he was first exposed to blues-rock via John
Belushi and Dan Aykroyd's Blues Brother routines.
"I wanted to be a comedian, but I wasn't funny enough to do
it every night," Popper said. "So through listening to
the Blues Brothers I found out about [blues harmonica player]
Paul Butterfield, and through him Elmore James and then through
that I heard about Jimi Hendrix. And when I first put on
Hendrix's 'Voodoo Chile,' that was the day I knew I wanted to be
Shortly after Popper was graduated from high school in Princeton,
N.J., in 1986, he and schoolmates Chan Kinchla, Bobby Sheehan and
Brendan Hill (playing guitar, bass and drums, respectively)
formed a band. They eventually set up shop in New York and began
playing in out-of-the-way bars, at first by necessity, later by
"We'd get kicked out of the blues bars," said Popper,
noting that the band's free-form approach often deviates from
"We found this great place, the Nightingale Bar. It wasn't a
blues bar. It was an anything bar. The R&B bands that played
there showed us how to work the crowd.
A debut album, Blues Traveler, was released by A&M
Records last year, and the band went on the road, playing clubs
across the country and then landing the opening slot on an Allman
"That was like going to school," Popper said of the
Gregg Allman was impressed enough to sit in on organ and vocals
on "Mountain Cry," a song on the new album, Travelers
& Thieves. Meanwhile, the band's legend grew at home,
where it centers a new rock community that also features its
"sister band," the Spin Doctors, and in pockets around
Along the way, it's picking up more fellow Travelers - and the
reputation that goes with having such a Dead-icated following.
"I never considered myself a Deadhead, though I always liked
the Dead," Popper said. "I was flattered by the
comparisons, but it's already gotten to be too much. But I guess
it'll go on until we do something to change it."