Revving up the music scene

Arts & Entertainment

Revving up the music scene

Blues Traveler to christen Aztec track as a prime venue
Jam band Blues Traveler returns to Four Corners after 15 years

Relatively speaking, “jam band” isn’t a very old term.
Sure, saying those two words in a music crowd can delight or sour any ears, usually depending on whether you’re talking to a lover or hater of the Grateful Dead.
It is universal knowledge that the Dead are the quintessential, and perhaps the first, jam band, but that phrase didn’t start getting thrown around until the mid-’90s when neo-hippie bands started popping up like wildflowers on a Colorado mountain range or unwanted weeds in a garden.
Bands such as Phish, Widespread Panic and Blues Traveler all can get lumped into that group, and whether a hater or lover, their contribution to American rock music and their numbers in concert ticket sales and coast-to-coast fans can’t be denied.
The third of the trio of aforementioned new-hippie jam bands will make a return to the Southwest Saturday when Blues Traveler plays the Aztec Speedway. It’s the first time Blues Traveler has played in the area since a Fort Lewis College appearance in 1998.
Opening the show will be Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers.
Blues Traveler includes John Popper on harmonica and vocals, Chan Kinchla on guitar, Tad Kinchla on bass, Ben Wilson on keyboards and drummer Brendan Hill.
What began as a basement band started by high school friends in Princeton, N.J., has grown into an established act that recently celebrated its 26th year of playing. A late 1980s move to New York to a very different lower East Side from what exists today provided a flourishing spot for them to build their live show.
“We came up with the Grateful Dead; they were really big. There weren’t any other contemporary jam bands. There wasn’t even the term jam band,” said Chan Kinchla. “We knew we wanted to do something based on live music. We moved to New York and played tiny little bars to, like, four people, but we just loved doing it.
“Slowly but surely, New York started happening,” he continued. “Next thing you know, at a certain point, we started making a living playing, and that was when it clicked that we might be able to do this for a living, and off we went.”
Though their early identity is linked forever with the Dead, Blues Traveler’s sound bears little resemblance to the senior act. It is a rock band driven by Popper’s harmonica and vocals, a more classic take on American rock ’n’ roll via soul and funk that only loosely fits the jam-band mold. The list of bands that influenced its sound is vast.
“We just loved all kinds of different music. There was no real rule,” Kinchla said. “We loved Led Zeppelin, we loved punk rock, we loved Prince, we loved jazz, and we loved old-school blues. We were listening to all that different stuff.
“We were music heads and into everything, then we moved to New York and that whole scene was really musical and very diverse,” he said. “That went into the pot of our sound. We were trying to be influenced by good music, but it’s a big soup for sure.” Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.

If you go

Saturday: Blues Traveler with Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers, 5 p.m., $30/$45 ($5 parking), Aztec Motor Speedway, 300 Legion Road, (505) 258-3978, or

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