Nostalgia is a powerful motivator.
Hootie & the Blowfish has played in Northwest Arkansas at least once before. It was 2007 at a benefit concert called Daly Days, a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club that took place at the Tyson Track Center in the south part of Fayetteville.
I was there. I don’t remember many of the specifics. Twelve years and a few beers before that show make the details hard to recall. But a few things I’m pretty sure of: John Daly, the University of Arkansas golfer and namesake of the event, got on stage and sang with the band. It couldn’t have been well attended – my boss handed me free tickets for it, and if you’ve never heard of Daly Days, it’s because it doesn’t happen anymore.
And then … Hootie went away. Frontman Darius Rucker announced and then embarked on a solo country career in 2008. He always hinted that Hootie & the Blowfish might get back together and play, but his solo career was going well. He charted a series of songs and won a Grammy for his take on Old Crow Medicine Show’s song “Wagon Wheel.”
Next at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion
Who: Chris Young / Chris Janson / Jimmie Allen
When: 7:30 p.m. July 19
Where: Arkansas Music Pavilion, Rogers
Cost: $39, plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or visit arkansasmusicpavilion.com for information.
Note: When purchased together, a four-pack of lawn tickets start at $26.50 for each ticket, plus fees.
This summer marks about 10 years since the last official Hootie & the Blowfish tour, although they do get together annually for a hometown fundraiser. Similarly, it’s been almost 15 years since the band last released a studio album. But it’s also the 25-year anniversary of their massively popular debut album, “Cracked Rear View.” That collection of songs is among the 10 best-selling albums of all time, having sold more than 20 million copies. The idea of a 25th reunion brought the band back together for a 44-date tour including a stop on Sunday (July 14) at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers.
A lot has changed since 2007, of course. But not the band, nor their status as the college bar band that (happily) never quite grew up. The four original members are still performing together, and the people who were watching them 10 years ago are still showing up at the concerts. But they brought friends this time. If your 50ish coworker at your Walmart or Walmart vendor job is a little sluggish today, it’s because they stayed up past their bedtime at the concert last night. It was a monster crowd, but also very even-keeled. Hootie & the Blowfish songs don’t inspire much exuberant dancing, as it turns out.
You can tell how a concert is going to be at the AMP by how quickly your cell phone stops working because of tower overload. Usually, it stops working about the time the seats are filled and the headliner takes the stage about 9 p.m. Mine was already a paperweight at 7:15 p.m., even before opening act The Barenaked Ladies took the stage.
Hootie & the Blowfish promised a new album as part of this anniversary tour. It was nowhere to be found on Sunday night – no mention of it, and no songs from it were played. Instead, the band focused on “Cracked Rear View” and a series of interesting covers, ranging from David Allen Coe to Tom Waits to R.E.M. to Kool & the Gang. A few of these covers provided the show’s highlights. Rucker, a product of the southern college scene that R.E.M. forever altered, offered “Losing My Religion” as “a tribute to the band that literally changed my life.” During a segment honoring the troops, Rucker and company offered a bluegrass-style, everyone-sings-into-the-same-microphone rendition of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” It was very well done.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the hits were among the least compelling part of the show. Rucker, who has no doubt performed tunes like “Let Her Cry” and “Hold My Hand” about 1,000 times each, seemed in a hurry to get through him. If everyone in the audience didn’t know every word to these songs, you wouldn’t have known a thing he was saying. He was much clearer on other songs that tested his range some, or presented him with a fresh challenge, like the cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Hey Hey What Can I Do?” or “With a Little Help from My Friends,” the latter of which received a little help from friends courtesy of the addition of the Barenaked Ladies band members.
When Rucker is good, he’s very good, and he steered the ship on Sunday night. But the crowd did not need perfection from him. They needed a trip down memory lane, and Hootie and the Blowfish were happy to oblige. Behind the band was one large-scale video board. It frequently showed images or references to Charleston, the band’s hometown. It also displayed other “southern” things, like a home with a charming front porch or a digital re-creation of a Waffle House that was so authentic I suspect they needed licensing rights to show it. Other visuals compiled a series of images from the band’s earliest days, including candid photos and show bulletins. It was a charming reminder that the band went from hand-drawn posters to arena shows in weeks.
Openers The Barenaked Ladies were happy to live in the past as well. Lead singer Ed Robertson mentioned that the crowd may have first heard the song “The Old Apartment” when they played it at The Peach Pit, the fictional hangout on “Beverly Hills 90210.” Robertson also talked about the joy of winding cassette tapes when he introduced one of their earliest songs, “Brian Wilson.” And he felt the need to plead with the crowd to give a new song some attention. Aside from the one new track, the Barenaked Ladies didn’t spend much time on new material either, instead playing their own mid-90s hits such as “Pinch Me” and “If I Had 1,000,000 Dollars.” When they did jump into the present, it was for an entertaining medley featuring “Shallow” from the movie “A Star is Born” and the song of the summer “Old Town Road.”
They were a jukebox on Sunday night, not just during the medley, but for the mid-90s, just like Hootie & the Blowfish. As a ticket to the past, the tour provided a quick journey there and back again. Nostalgia sells. And Hootie & the Blowfish continue to be very good salesmen. Just like the guy dragging at work this morning after a late night at the show.