21 years after “four,” jam band still going strong
When the ARCA Series race ends Friday night, the show will just be getting started for Blues Traveler fans. The “Run-Around” jam band will perform after the race ends.
Keyboardist Ben Wilson didn’t join the band until 1999, five years after Blues Traveler’s breakthrough album, “four,” and a year after the band stopped doing its touring H.O.R.D.E. Festival. Wilson joined shortly after founding bassist Bobby Sheehan died of a drug overdose.
So how do you get roped into playing for a band like Blues Traveler? Probably not quite how you would expect.
“A band I had been broke up and a buddy saw an ad online saying Blues Traveler was looking for a keyboard player,” Wilson said. “I sent some music in and got a reply saying they wanted me to come play for them. They hired me on the spot. I was in Michigan at the time and didn’t expect a band from the east coast to be looking for a complete unknown from the Midwest to raise him up.”
Blues Traveler’s radio hits put them in unique company for jam bands. Many acts in the genre completely change their setlists night to night, avoiding repeats. Wilson said the band changes up its setlist night to night, but “Hook,” “Run-Around” and a few other select songs always make the list.
To keep things fresh, every night a different member of the band writes up the setlist.
“That way we can all bring something we love to the table,” Wilson said. “I like to find ways to highlight John’s (singer John Popper) harmonica work. He’s so good, but if he’s playing it every song you forget how good it is. I like to let him step away for a song or two and focus on his voice.”
Blues Traveler has been making music for 28 years now and Wilson said there’s no plan to stop. In April the band released its 12th album, “Blow Up the Moon,” featuring collaborations with The Dirty Heads, Hanson, Jewel and others.
“We’ve managed to survive each other this long, there’s no reason to stop doing it now,” Wilson said. “We’re not going anywhere, man. We’re going to keep making music, writing songs and being vital.”
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Iowa Speedway, 3333 Rusty Wallace Drive, Newton
Cost: Free with race tickets (starting at $20).
Info: Go to iowaspeedway.com.