Blues Traveler members from left are Brendan Hill (drums), Chan Kinchla (guitar), Tad Kinchla (bass), John Popper (vocals, harmonica), and Ben Wilson (keyboards). Photo by Graham Fielder

It’s time to celebrate the return of concerts to the Waterville Opera House, and what better way of doing that then with a performance by Blues Traveler. I had the pleasure of interviewing them when they appeared at Colby College in the early 90s as they toured in support of their second CD, “Travelers & Thieves,” so when I learned that they were coming back to Waterville supporting their newest album, “Traveler’s Blues,” I put in a request to chat with a member and scored an opportunity to converse with Ben Wilson, the keyboardist and newest member of that popular group. I began by asking him when he joined the band?

Wilson: I joined the band in 2000. The original bass player had passed away over the summer of 1999 and obviously they wanted to keep the band going. They wanted to, in some way, honor the original bass player by adding a keyboard player. So they put a little, modest search out. I saw it online, responded to it and sent some music to the guys and the next thing I knew I was on a plane to try out for them, and they hired me there — it was truly amazing.

Q: That is a bit of serendipity right there.
Wilson: Oh, I sincerely love serendipity, it’s just fantastic, I’m very lucky. So you figure stuff out for a while and then it started going great guns. It’s been a helluva ride and I’m enjoying the crap out of it!

Q: And if you can find something you love and can make money at it, you can take your vocation and make it a vacation real quick.
Wilson: It’s true, it’s really true.

Q: Now, the new album, when does it come out?
Wilson: July 30th. I believe that’s when it’s coming out.

Q: Oh, so when you hit the opera house you’ll be touring in support of it then.
Wilson: Oh, yeah, I guess so, yes, we will. We’re kind of touring in support of it already but that would be the more official ‘touring in support of it’ kind of deal. So, yeah, you’re right.

Q: It qmust be nice to be back on the road again after that extended, enforced break.
Wilson: COVID sucked to be a musician, obviously, from a personal, selfish point of view. We travel so much usually that for the first little while it was nice to be home with the family — my teenager and my wife, of course. When you look at the problems that everyone was going through, my troubles were minimal in the grand scheme of things, but still, if you’re just looking at yourself personally, it sucked.

Q: I understand completely. Just out of curiosity, since joining Blues Traveler, have you performed up here in Maine before?
Wilson: Ah, we have. I remember being up there in Portland, Maine a couple of times, we actually did a rehearsal there at one of the theaters in Portland. There was a cool outdoor show in Freeport that we did once, yeah, we’ve been there a bunch.

Q: Now were you a fan of the band before you became a member?
Wilson: I had been a fan back in college in the late 80s and early 90s when they were just kind of coming up and they were doing more of the college circuit, I really dug that early stuff. Then I kind of lost touch with them a little bit, I moved in a different direction by playing in a swing blues band, a little more rootsy. But then you couldn’t get away from them for a while when “Run-around” hit. I always knew they were a great band, I got a little tired of hearing that song on the radio all the time but now that I’m in the band I’m sure grateful that there is a song like that we can play that people love and that makes them want to see us play some more (laughter), so that part’s pretty nice.

Q: I can well imagine!
Wilson: I wasn’t sure what to expect after I joined, in terms of what the vibe would be like, but it is the exact kind of band that I would have been a part of my whole life just at a much higher level, obviously, and playing with a guy like John Popper who is a generational talent in a lot of ways. It is just this throbbing kind of live band that also has this sort of non-forced aesthetic to write songs that are more “song-y” as opposed to a lot of the jam bands or live bands that are out there that are basically writing the same kind of thing that they play on stage. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but my personal taste has always been to write songs and when we get onstage let’s figure out ways to stretch those out if we want or whatever we want.

Q: What can folks expect from the show there in Waterville?
Wilson: The Blues Traveler’s show, man, we come out and you’re going to hear the hits but you’re also going to hear some jamming, we’ll jam from Song A into Song B into Song C and then there’ll be a little solo section for one of the instruments. There will be a lot of high energy and a lot of fun, we take seriously people coming to our shows and having a good time, that’s important to us so we pay attention to that sort of thing. We will play some stuff off the new record but we’ll also be sure to touch on other things that everybody’s excited to hear. I’ve heard people say that it’s just fun, going to a Blues Traveler show is fun, and I mean, it’s certainly fun for us, and quadrupley so given the last 18 months of not being able to do anything. Thank goodness that’s over!

Q: Is there anything, Ben that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Wilson: “Get out and come to the show — the world is safer now, so get vaccinated, get out and have some fun!” It feels good, man, it feels like real life the way it was, and we’re just having a great time!

Lucky Clark has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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