Jam band titans Blues Traveler to bring latest release, greatest hits to State College

John Popper, of Blues Traveler, performs on the Main Stage at the annual AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival in Johnstown on Aug. 4. Blues Traveler will perform in State College on Saturday.
John Popper, of Blues Traveler, performs on the Main Stage at the annual AmeriServ Flood City Music Festival in Johnstown on Aug. 4. Blues Traveler will perform in State College on Saturday. The Tribune-Democrat via AP

With 30 years of touring the globe under their belts, jam band titans Blues Traveler must have an interesting Penn State story to share, right?

A 1993 cancer benefit in the parking lot of Beaver Stadium comes to mind.

I reminded drummer Brendan Hill of the gig during an interview. He afforded another cool connection to the area.

“We moved from England to America when I was young, because my father — a professor — got a job teaching a filmmaking course at Penn State,” Hill said, the faintest hint of a British accent coming and going.

Professor Hill would move the family yet again, to Princeton, New Jersey, to take a New York City job with the broadcasting network ABC. In Princeton, young Brendan met his future Blues Traveler bandmates.

Three decades and a whole lot of harmonica solos later, Blues Traveler return to State College on Saturday for a sold-out show at The State Theatre to promote the forthcoming album, “Hurry Up & Hang Around.”

Hill recently shared thoughts on the new album and his band’s legacy.

Q: As your 1994 album “Four” grew to be a huge seller, how did the band reconcile pleasing its hardcore fan-base with newer fans who may have shown up to hear just “the hits?”

A: An important mentor for us was the Allman Brothers Band, who we opened for on summer Amphitheatre tours. The Allmans have a huge catalog — the popular hits like “Whipping Post,” the deep cuts, and material from whatever new release they wanted to promote. And they were able to maintain this great balance rotating songs from those three groups.

So, we learned from that. We learned how to structure our set lists in ways to keep the audience engaged. Yes, the opening notes of “Hook” and “Run Around” got — and still get — probably the biggest roar from the crowd, but we’ve been able to keep our creativity, our love of improvisation, and our musical integrity. Plus, a lot of people who went into a Blues Traveler show only knowing “Run Around” came out devoted fans!

Q: Could you speak to the recording process for “Hurry Up & Hang Around?”

A: We had a strict time schedule and budget to record this album. We literally got off the stage at the New Orleans Heritage Jazz festival, drove directly to Nashville, recorded with producer Matt Rollings (Willie Nelson, Leonard Cohen) and then got back on the road to play more gigs.

It was very much the grind of a young, hungry band. I think that feeling will definitely come across on “Hurry Up…” It has a real “wild and wooly” sound. Matt was excellent to work with, too. Definitely a “no fuss, no muss” kind of guy, especially considering the time constraints!

We’ll play about five or six new songs from this record at each show, including the new single “Accelerated Nation.”

Q: The band is noted for a cameo in the 1996 comedy “Kingpin.” What can you share about that experience?

A: That was a lot of fun. The (directing) Farrelly Brothers were big Blues Traveler fans, so that’s how that happened. I remember reading the script, even the staging directions were written in their dry humor. So, there we were — in a field dressed as Amish playing our hit “But Anyway.” Shooting our portion took about a day. (Guitarist) Chan (Kinchla) and I actually grew our beards out — so that’s real facial hair you see on me! (Singer) John Popper also had the part as the announcer during the bowling tournament. So yes, that was an awesome experience!

Saturday’s Blues Traveler concert is sold-out, but The State Theatre has established a waitlist for tickets that become available the day of the show. To sign up, visit thestatetheatre.org/blues-traveler.