HomeBensalem TimesBlues Traveler bringing 35th anniversary tour to Parx on Sept. 30

Blues Traveler bringing 35th anniversary tour to Parx on Sept. 30

Keyboardist Ben Wilson reflects on the band’s lasting legacy, details upcoming soul album and more

Musical milestone: Blues Traveler, the band behind “Run-Around” and other hits, is bringing its 35th anniversary tour to Parx Casino’s Xcite Center on Sept. 30. Submitted Photo

When The Times recently caught up with Ben Wilson, keyboardist of Jersey rock band Blues Traveler, he was very much at ease. It was the final day of the group’s tour with Train and Jewel, and the musician had found a riverside trail to hike during our conversation.

The idea of playing to a massive crowd that evening didn’t faze him. In fact, Wilson revealed that sometimes, the guys of Blues Traveler don’t finalize their setlist until the night before a show. But when you’ve been an industry staple for over three decades, the stress tends to melt away.

“What the hell should we be stressed about? We’re so lucky, so fortunate, to be in this business making a living, having the success that we’ve had for the duration of time that we’ve had,” said Wilson. “That’s not to say that I don’t get down or worry or anything like that. But when you stop and think about it, this has been the most fortunate life.”

To commemorate 35 years since Blues Traveler was formed by John Popper and Brendan Hill in a Princeton basement, the band is hitting the road this fall for a 35th anniversary tour, which makes a stop at Parx Casino’s Xcite Center in Bensalem on Friday, Sept. 30.

Attendees at the show can expect all the hits, including “Rock-Around,” “Hook” and “But Anyway,” plus some bluesy renditions of songs by Aretha Franklin, Big Mama Thorton and others, which can be heard on the latest album Traveler’s Blues.

“We’re looking forward to ringing in 35 years,” said Wilson. “Seems like yesterday it was 30, and even yesterday that it was 20. What a trip.”

Blues Traveler is also looking forward to completing its first full headlining tour in some time. In summer 2021, a bus accident postponed a number of shows. Then, when the group hit the road earlier this year, a member contracted COVID-19 and more dates had to be moved.

Jam-packed setlist: The 35th anniversary tour of Blues Traveler will feature hits like “Run-Around” and bluesy renditions of Aretha Franklin and more. Submitted Photo

For Wilson, it’s a thrill to not only play to fans who have stood by Blues Traveler since the beginning, but also concert-goers who recently discovered the music.

“I think we’re in our third generation of fans. It’s cool,” he said. “You go through a period of time where it’s all gray hair and then you go somewhere and it’s all these youngsters, college kids. It makes you feel good, that’s for sure.”

This, explained Wilson, is how he gauges the lasting legacy of Blues Traveler.

“In this day and age, record sales are not really a gauge. It’s so difficult to sell records,” he said. “Really, those small markers of newer fans and the response that we’ve gotten from the fans on this Train and Jewel tour. You know, I’m sure some of them are our fans. But I think a lot of them are Train and Jewel fans who maybe had their eyes opened like, ‘Wow, these guys still got it, too.’ ”

Wilson joined Blues Traveler after the band achieved massive success with its 1994 breakthrough album Four. The year was 1999 and Popper (vocals/harmonica), Hill (drums) and Chan Kinchla (guitar) were seeking new members following the untimely death of bassist Bobby Sheehan. A friend of Wilson’s passed along a small notice in a keyboard magazine that Blues Traveler was holding auditions.

“I put a cassette tape together, remember those? Sent it in. I was flown to Austin for the audition and hired on the spot. My life has been quite different since then,” said Wilson.

According to Wilson, the current formation, which also includes Tad Kinchla on bass, has actually been together longer than the original. As the five piece embarked on the journey of “Blues Traveler 2.0,” as Wilson called it, they knew it wouldn’t be the same without Sheehan. Therefore, it was decided that the sound would be revamped rather than duplicated.

“We did lose some fans in that transition, but I think what we’ve gained since as we’ve improved as a five piece, it’s really special,” said Wilson.

Though he was admittedly nervous to join a Grammy-winning band, Wilson reflected on the “total calm” felt when they played together. It also helped that his new bandmates were — and continue to be — very easy-going.

“Whatever stress I felt or worry about how fans were gonna react, I was liberated by the fact that the guys were pretty wide open,” he said, adding that their friendship and enjoyment of performing as a group on stage is a huge part of what keeps them going. “Those are the kinds of things that help a band last.”

In addition to the anniversary tour, Blues Traveler plans to head back to the studio this winter to record something similar to Traveler’s Blues, this time with an emphasis on old soul songs.

“If you love us, we’re gonna be around a lot more. If you hate us, sorry, we’re not going away,” promised Wilson. “Will we be around another 35 years? That would be older than the Stones by a longshot. How about 15?”

If you go: Blues Traveler is performing at Parx Casino’s Xcite Center, 2999 Street Road in Bensalem, on Friday, Sept. 30. Doors open at 7 p.m. The show starts at 8 p.m. All shows at Parx Casino are for audiences 21 and older. Tickets are on sale for $25 to $65. Visit parxcasino.com/bensalem/xcitecenter for more information.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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