DATE: Wednesday, October 15, 1997           TAG: 9710150030



                                            LENGTH:   75 lines


IT'S TRUE - never, ever assume anything. Take Blues Traveler, for example.

This summer, John Popper and his crew released ``Straight on Till Morning,'' the studio follow-up (a live set came out last year) to 1994's ``four.'' That CD was the band's breakthrough, selling 6 million-plus copies and landing two singles, ``Run-around'' and ``Hook,'' in the Top 10.

You'd assume that B.T. expected the new disc to rocket straight up the charts. You'd assume they dropped off this year's H.O.R.D.E. Festival because they expected to headline the big venues themselves.

You'd assume, after the CD reached No. 11 and then settled, settled, settled to its current No. 77, that Blues Traveler added a few 11th-hour H.O.R.D.E. appearances to pump up sales. You'd assume that when that didn't happen, they retreated to smaller halls like the Boathouse, where they headline tonight.

You'd assume wrong.

``We're very pleased with the way it's doing,'' said drummer Brendan Hill. ``When `four' first came out, a year and a half later `Run-around' was on MTV and radio. The album started going up the charts. For us to be in (the 70s with the new disc) on Billboard and have a video on MTV and a single on the radio (`Most Precarious') is great for us.''

As for H.O.R.D.E., Blues Traveler toured with the festival every summer since Popper founded it five years ago. Except for a few dates, they passed this year to be in Europe during the peak festival season.

``I guess we all had certain expectations,'' Hill said from Buffalo, N.Y. ``For me, mine have been exceeded by being on tour with the Rolling Stones and playing live. It's all about playing music we enjoy playing and the audience enjoys. That's my PC answer.''

The band is wrapping up a handful of dates on the Stones' ``Bridges to Babylon'' tour, which comes to 80,000-seat Jack Kent Cooke Stadium on Oct. 23. It's not their first time in front of such mammoth crowds - they were part of Woodstock '94; played a benefit before 500,000 on the Lawn in Washington, D.C.; and early in their career opened several times for the Allman Brothers.

The latter ``was kind of like a vision to the future. We started up H.O.R.D.E. after that,'' Hill said. Touring with the Stones, though, ``has been like going to rock school, learning from the masters.

``I don't really know how it came about. They like to have bands say they can do it before officially asking. They put out feelers, and I guess we made the list.''

With the Stones, Blues Traveler's set is held to an atypical 45 minutes. Tonight's show will be more in keeping with the elastic jams that have become their stock in trade.

``We've honed it to where we're doing two sets,'' Hill said. ``We play an hour and a half, take a break, then play another hour and 20 minutes. It's been a pleasure to do a couple of these between Stones shows. Forty-five minutes is nice, but it's great to play our own show.

``After the Stones, we'll do our own tour. It will be pretty fast and furious - Chan (guitarist Chan Kinchla) is expecting a baby in December. We're trying to do the country in six weeks.''

To keep all those one-nighters from becoming stale, he added, a different member puts together the set list for each show.

``It's like playing Scrabble. I get to play favorites that I like to do. It makes it interesting for everyone to mix up the whole bag.

``Every show is different,'' Hill said. ``A lot of people sit in with us. We play songs from all of our albums (plus) a lot of new songs, old songs we never recorded and a lot of covers. Hopefully, that makes the show special for someone who's never heard us before and fans who've seen us 50 times.

``We want to continue our momentum. You keep that in sight, even when you have a big spike in your career like `four.' Keep the tiller steady and go for the ultimate goal - to do what you enjoy doing.'' ILLUSTRATION: Color photo




[For complete graphic, please see microfilm]

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