by Ryann Gordon
Blues Traveler kicked off Thursday night in the Pavilion at the Downstream Casino Resort. Fans loaded in as the doors opened, fresh from dinner and for many, fresh from the casino slot machines.
The mood was anticipatory as the band’s opener neared, cheers erupting as the lights dimmed preparing for show time. Jono Manson, the band’s later-announced mentor from their early days in NYC, opened the show with a solo guitar act, singing a traditional song about, you named it — the blues — then breaking into a more hardcore southern-acoustic set list.
The ensemble gives an ‘80s vibe with Manson’s denim-on-denim getup and fade-in screenplay on the TV screens, paying homage to the time period when he and Blues Traveler came up in NYC. His solo acoustic act picks up as he introduces Blues Traveler keys player, Ben Wilson, who accepts applause as he steps into his massive dual-piano space and begins tearing up the keys like a man on a mission.
Fans continue to file in through the opener until the house is full. After a brief intermission, the lights dim to welcome the show’s main attraction — Blues Traveler — and the crowd goes wild.
“Quapaw, Quapaw, Quapaw!” lead singer John Popper’s voice belts over the cheering crowd. “I don’t care if it’s Oklahoma or Kansas, or Missouri, so we’re just gonna call it Quapaw.” The band laughs in unison with the crowd, cheering and whistling filling up the room. “Let’s boogey!” Popper’s signal snaps the band into chorus, and singing applauses erupt from the crowd.
Blues Traveler opens the set list with their famous ‘90s hit “Run Around,” pleasing crowds with a fan favorite from the start. By the second song, a woman couldn’t take it anymore and flies from her seat dancing. At the third song, a Blues Traveler rendition on “Last Dance with Mary Jane,” a third of the crowd is standing, and growing by the minute. By halfway through the first half, every woman (and most men) in the house are on their feet.
John Popper goes to town on his harmonica-toted microphone, contouring sounds you never thought could be produced at speeds unimaginable. His talent on the instrument is indescribable, proving why the band’s notable style led them through decades of touring.
“He shreds on the harmonica,” a fan remarks to another in the crowd, showing that shredding on harmonica is in fact a possible feat.
The band takes turns giving each other breaks, leaving no silent space as they take turns jamming wholeheartedly. The music takes a psychedelic turn on their entrance to another favorite hit, “Hook,” which brings the entire crowd to their feet. Transitions become growingly theatrical, as the show slows down and kicks back up in a cinematic display like a roller coaster of feelings.
While Popper tears up the harmonica, singing almost simultaneously while he scats, Chan Kinchla steals the show on guitar, rocking out and dancing like a kid in a candy store, showing real enthusiasm for the music. He and his brother, Tad Kinchla, on bass, rock across the stage from one another, reminding viewers of the band’s hometown origin that started in drummer, Brendan Hill’s basement. As the band closes their rendition of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” they bring Jono Manson back on stage and things get more sentimental.
No show is complete without the drum solo, and the band watches in agreement as Brendan Hill takes off with a solo that gets the audience up again. As the concert comes to a close, the band leaves only to re-enter at the crowd’s chanting for an encore. The only downside was that the encore wasn’t their third famed ‘90s hit “Mountains Win Again” and instead a revised version of “Hook.”
The show ends with the entire crowd on their feet, several people dancing at the front of the stage. Chan Kinchla rips it to shreds, finishing by holding out his guitar by the strap and running down the edge of the stage to let people touch it. Blues Traveler lingers respectfully, chatting with front-rowers and giving respect to the crowd who brought them there, and crowds shuffle to front stage to get their chance to talk to the band.