What: Blues Traveler eTown taping
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder, 303-786-7030
Brace yourselves to either feel very old or very young. Blues Traveler is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a band.
Younger fans are probably wondering how it can be possible that the band has existed longer than they’ve been alive, and older fans are probably startled by how long it’s been. That’s part of what’s great about Blues Traveler. The bluesy rock band seems to pick up new fans all the time.
Popper heaved a big sigh at the prospect of looking back at 25 years and picking out the high points. He managed to come up with a good list on the spot, though: Performing the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock, winning a Grammy, playing with the Grateful Dead, the look on his parents’ face when he handed them a gold record.
Then there are the smaller, but somehow more meaningful moments, like an extra stroke of luck at a show in their hometown of Princeton, N.J.
“After Bobby [Sheehan] picked a four-leaf clover, I picked a five-leaf clover. That became a song lyric,” Popper. “To trump a man who just pulled a four-leaf clover, to see the look on his face — I’ll remember that forever.”
But like any lasting artist, Popper knows looking back is just an indulgence. His instincts tell him to keep looking forward.
“Your retrospect, it serves you well as far as having experience, as far as trying to do things better, but you tend to look forward to things, like what haven’t I done,” he said. “I think the things I haven’t done are gonna be in the next 25 years.”
For a moment, he paused.
“Yeah I got another 25 in me.”
If the next 25 years are anything like the last, or even close to it, it would be very impressive. Since 1990’s self-titled debut album, which went gold, they’ve put out nine more full-length records. “Travelers and Thieves” and “Save His Soul” also reached gold status, “Straight on Till Morning” went platinum, and 1994’s “Four” did the same six times over. The latter had a big push thanks to what remains one of Blues Traveler’s biggest mainstream hits, “Run-around.”
Listing Blues Traveler’s successes by the numbers would get tedious. And besides that, it’s the band’s mainstream/underground balancing act that really keeps them alive. The blues rock sound appeals to wide audience, and it lets them go in different directions without a complete sonic overhaul. At some times the music is more commercial friendly and at others it’s jam band niche, but they always balance out. The result is that they never alienate part of the audience.
“We’ve done a lot of straddling and I think in some ways, we’ve been able to sort of hide because it’s, ‘No, they’re not a pop band, they’re a jam band. But no, jam bands don’t put records out,” Popper said. “Once you’ve been discovered, they put convenience stores on you, like America. You wanna be just simmering below the surface constantly.”
It all sounds very calculated, but it’s just in the band’s nature. There have been changes in the roster over the years, most notably after the death of original guitarist Bobby Sheehan in 1999, but Blues Traveler started as a group of good friends and the new members fall in easily. It keeps them all rooted and makes the highs even sweeter.
“When you have a really great moment in my field, it’s just so great when you get to be you in them,” Popper said. “Every step of the way, I got to be with people I was friends in high school with. We started in my friend’s basement, whose parents had to deal with a rattling kitchen. I think that’s the fun part, is the contrast in the adventure. It wasn’t so much a business venture as it was a tribal lifestyle, and I can’t recommend it enough.”
Blues Traveler is coming to eTown just after the release of “25,” a collection pulled from their enormous catalog. It wasn’t easy, but they managed to pull together a mix of hits and little-heard B-sides.
“To be able to give these things to posterity gives you a sense of completion as a songwriter,” he said. “The B-sides thing was a much bigger deal. “Blue Hour” — I love those words and that song just kind of came and went. I always feel like it’s the island of broken toys, but there’s nothing broken about them. There were just other songs that we chose.”
The album and the show should be enough to make any fan, young or old, feel some pangs of nostalgia. Talking with Popper about it, it sounds like the band is feeling the same. Blues Traveler is getting ready to release a new album — moving forward as always — but on a big anniversary, it’s hard not to look back.
“You just gotta be genuine. You gotta mean it,” Popper said. “And I think, you know, if I was gonna go with a generic platitude, I think every step of the way, I’ve meant it.”