Words: Joe Wolf
Photos: Brian Bruemmer
When it was announced that G Love would take the stage at 6 pm, they weren’t joking. He was prompt and he wasn’t going to waste any time getting the energy up. He took the difficult task of being a solo acoustic act opening up for heavy-hitters and he knocked it out of the park! He was interacting with the crowd early and often, encouraging hand clapping, call and answer, and sing-alongs. I guess that’s what the veterans do. His set was only about 45 minutes, but none of those minutes were dull.
G Love, when not with The Special Sauce is a one man band. He growls out blues vocals in-between story-telling and hip hop lyrics. He holds down the rhythm stomping out percussion parts. The harmonica howls while he plays an assortment of guitars mixing in dobro, slide, and 12-string making for a ragtime, knee-slapping good time. Though the set was short, it was solid. I knew most of the songs he played and what I didn’t know, much of the crowd did. He snuck in Canned Heat’s “Going Up The Country” before ending with two of his hits, “Cold Beverages” and “Baby’s Got Sauce.”
That finale had everyone’s attention. G announced that he was going to bring out a guest harmonica player. Knowing that John Popper was in the house and knowing that the bands are collaborating had me on the edge of my seat. Just then an adorable curly-haired toddler made his way out on the stage. It was G’s son and it clearly wasn’t his first time in the spotlight. The little guy stomped as ferociously as his father and played his harp like his life depended on it. He¬†even threw his hand in the air a few times as if he was leading the band!¬†The performance brought the audience to our feet. Collective sighs and laughter filled the amphitheater – a testament to how cute everyone thought the father and son duo was. The boy seemed to love the attention and when it was over, he was hoisted into the air to a roar of applause.
Switch over was fast and smooth and in about 15 minutes Blues Traveler started. John hasn’t lost any of his ridiculous harmonica chops and he still belts out notes as if he never needs to inhale. Popper¬†was also quite talkative. He¬†mistakenly referred to the crowd as “Cleveland.” It could have¬†passed as a joke, but the way he retracted his statement made it seem like a real misstate – the quintessential stage gaffe! He stumbled through a brief understanding of Cincinnati, finally yelling “F— the Steelers” before admitting that he doesn’t know what he is talking about and that he was just killing time to drink more tequila. The whole¬†sequence was laugh-out-loud funny!
The guys played their newest release “The Wolf is Bumpin,” threw in a few covers including¬†Sublime’s “What I Got” and ¬†“Devil Went Down to Georgia” with “Hook” wrapped in the middle of¬†it. Whether they still enjoy playing it or not, they gave the crowd a spot-on “Run Around.” Blues Traveler is a powerhouse of talent and it showed. Chop for chop they can hang with anyone in the jam band scene. The band is still lively and fun as they bop around stage and interact with the crowd. It was disheartening that the pavilion was only half full all night. It made me feel like the 3 acts were past their prime, but the energy on the stage made me feel like nothing had changed in the 20 years since I saw¬†Blues Traveler¬†at Bogarts.
The third act was a collaboration set that brought out members from all three bands. The amount of¬†skill on stage was almost overwhelming. They covered “Fearless” by Pink Floyd, “Bertha” by the Dead (an obvious crowd pleaser), and my favorite, “When the Levee Breaks” by Zeppelin. When they got the Led out, Popper and G Love wailed into their harps together` and the thunderous bass drum made it feel like John Bonham was playing. The mash up of bands appeared well-rehearsed and all of the tunes were wonderful. I would have loved to watch them trade players in and out all night!
The final act was moe.. I honestly came in not knowing more than¬†a few of their songs and it was my first time seeing them live. I definitely didn’t tell anyone that. It didn’t take long for them to make a fan out of me. The first thing that caught my attention¬†was the vibraphone and the beautiful layer of tones it added to the music. Most of what I heard sounded like songs I never knew I never knew. Catchy vocals and trading guitar solos that all seemed to flow and make sense to my virgin ears. I do look forward to seeking out more of their music and live shows.
This lineup was stellar. I hope that the bands are all enjoying the tour and cooking up a new one for next summer!