When Jerry Garcia died, a few bands were ready to fill the void, and in some ways reset and revitalize the jam tradition that was never really cut out for sold-out shows at Giants Stadium. They were adopted, in a Balkanized, patchwork way, by the Dead’s fans and their voracious appetite for shows, reenergizing the scene and returning jam to the clubs and small theaters from which it came.
Of these, Phish is the most enduring and distinguished, eventually arriving themselves at the arena level and staying there. But Blues Traveler was the one that scored some radio hits – which may actually be a demerit badge, depending on how you construe the codes and values of the jam.
An agile little band with some ’90s hippie soul moves and a few big hooks, Blues Traveler’s main man was the likable singer and harmonica virtuoso John Popper. If Stevie Wonder is the Toots Thielemans of the harmonica, then Popper is its Yngwie Malmsteen: a bit of a terrifying technician, less inclined to melodies and more inclined to frenetic, dazzling sheets of notes on an instrument upon which that really shouldn’t be possible.
Radio Woodstock presents John Popper at the Bearsville Theater on Friday, May 4 at 9 p.m. Tickets cost $30 and $55 and are available at www.bearsvilletheater.com. The Bearsville Theater is located at 291 Tinker Street in Woodstock.