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Hootie & The Blowfish .Music That Mellows 9/10/99 Conord, CA ......
Hootie & The Blowfish: Darius Rucker (vocals, guitar, mandolin); Dean Felber (acoustic guitar, bass, background vocals); Mark Bryan (guitar, banjo, background vocals); Jim Sonefeld (bass, drums, percussion, background vocals). .


How can one band be the butt of so many jokes and sell over 19 million records? Just ask Hootie and the Blowfish. Just five years ago Hootie and the gang were sitting on top of the record charts with there hit single "Hold My Hand." That top-40 tune was quickly followed by "Let Her Cry" and "Only Want to be With You." The Blowfish were selling out venues around the country, subjects of an entire episode of TV's "Friends" and headlined a sold-out American Music Festival in Winter Park. The band claims they've always had good timing. "People say that we were the band that got rid of grunge music, but, believe it or not, I disagree," said guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Mark Bryan from the road last week
........Hootie and the Blowfish started out playing colleges and clubs in their native South Carolina. The smooth soulful vocals of lead-singer Darius Rucker, the band's unusual name and their hard-driving rock style soon brought the Blowfish a powerful east coast following. The band had already released two indie CD's on their own label before they were signed to Atlantic Records. "We've been playing together for 14 years, and I think it's lasted because of the fact that we're all friends," Bryan said. "I knew Dean (Felber - bassist) since our freshman days, and we all met in college. It's our Daris Ruckerlove of music that has kept us together, and we still have a good time making music and we still enjoy it and try to keep it fresh."The Blowfish actually served as opening act for Big Head Todd and the Monsters and the Samples in the mid-'90s, but it was the Blowfish that hit the record charts. Why? Much like Dave Matthews at RCA, Atlantic was anxious to have a top-name radio act, and they promoted this fish to the gills. Of course you can't force-feed 19 million records down the public's throat, so the general listening masses were ready for this pop roots sound. And the band rode the gravy train for five years. However, as the band grew so did an underground backlash of the group, despite the fact that the band played top-rate rock shows and became known for their undisputed cover versions of other bands' tunes. People always gave the band a hard-time about its goofy name, but it wasn't until the group's third record, "Musical Chairs" that the Hootie backlash began full force. For a band that has survived critical slaughtering for its accessible roots-rock sound, Hootie remains upbeat. The stylings on Musical Chairs proved the band's musical maturation, delving more heavily into blues and combining Rucker's love for R&B with Bryan's interest in bands such as Cowboy Mouth and the Old 97's. At this year's New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Rucker even shimmied into impromptu verses from Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu.{short description of image}
.......... Darius Rucker, the frontman with the husky voice minus the baseball cap, lets his emotions rule over him in concert, which made for a passionate performance as he often, sidled back from the microphone to make all kinds of expressive faces. From newer, more contemplative material--which featured the versatile Peter Holsapple on accordion, dobro, mandolin, and keyboards--to the familiar hits "Time" and "Hold My Hand" (which the band would reprise in each of the show's three--yes, three--encores), Rucker threw himself into the music with abandon, making every song sound fresh. Even their version of Stone Temple Pilots' "Interstate Love Song" seemed to breathe with the force of the road itself. "We'll play all night if you want," offered Rucker, and the mid-20's to early-30's coed crowd at the Concord Pavilion, roared in response. Breaking out a wide smile and into the tense "Be The One," Rucker led the Blowfish through another two hours of tight, moody strummings with a level of energy that outdoes their albums. If Hootie and company can draw and entertain a crowd this well with only heavily-circulated many-year old hits playing on the airwaves, you can bet that "the right time" for the band is a much longer period than critics first anticipated.

By Randy Cohen

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