After a decadelong hiatus, Hootie & the Blowfish could easily have toured with hits and fan-favorites from the five albums made during the group’s initial 20-year run.
Instead, the band has a new studio album to go with part of this summer’s reunion tour, which hits the Great Jones County Fair in Monticello on Friday night (7/19). Lead singer Darius Rucker said the need for new music for the tour was obvious to the band.
“I think the main reason (for the album) was for all those people who are really, really die-hard fans who just loved the music and just want something new,” Rucker said in a recent phone interview. “They don’t want us to play 15 new songs in the set, you know, but they want some new music — and for us, for ourselves, for our sanity of doing something new. We haven’t made a new record in 15 years. So I think it’s for us (too), just to play something new.”
The reunion has been anticipated for some time. Even as Rucker’s country career took off, he said in multiple interviews that the band someday would tour again and make another album.
It was after the touring cycle for Rucker’s most recent country album, 2017’s “When was the Last Time,” that things went into motion for the return of Hootie & the Blowfish. Timing played a key role in the choice of 2019 for the big reunion.
“The main reason is this is the 25th anniversary of ‘Cracked Rear View,’” Rucker said, citing the blockbuster 1994 Hootie & the Blowfish major label debut album. “That was reason enough to get back and go out (on tour) for a year and do the record. And we knew we wanted to do it. We just knew we wanted to do it when the time was right. When we stopped playing, we were putting 8,000 people in a 12,000 seater. And that’s cool and that’s a moneymaker, but that’s not selling out.
"So we wanted to do it when it mattered. Now, I’ll be honest with you, I was shocked with ticket sales. I mean, three nights in Columbia (S.C.), two nights at the Garden (New York’s Madison Square Garden), I wasn’t expecting that. I think we did it right. We came out when people were really interested in seeing us again.”
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Indeed, a reawakening is underway to Hootie & the Blowfish, which includes Rucker (vocals/guitar), Mark Bryan (guitar/piano), Dean Felber (bass/piano) and Jim Sonefeld (drums). A January article in Esquire magazine may have captured things best, apologizing for how the group was treated in the wake of its history-making debut.
If you were a music fan in the ’90s, you know the story. In 1994, Hootie & the Blowfish’s major label debut became as ubiquitous as any album in rock history, selling 16 million copies as earnest and tuneful hits like “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry” and “Only Wanna Be with You” were played incessantly on FM radio and became staple on college campuses nationwide.
The band’s solid follow-up album, “Fairweather Johnson,” did reasonably well, moving 2.3 million units. But by then a backlash had started to gain steam and before long, Hootie & the Blowfish was getting branded as the most uncool band going. The group soldiered on, releasing three more albums, while doing decent business on tours until the 2008 hiatus.
As the Esquire article and strong tour sells suggest, even some of the more vocal Hootie haters now seem to realize Hootie & the Blowfish wasn’t that bad after all.
That’s not news to Rucker, who said he believes the fact he continued to play a few of the biggest Hootie hits in his country shows introduced a new generation to the group, and that may be contributing to the sellout numbers being generated by this summer’s reunion tour. And it certainly hasn’t hurt to have the Barenaked Ladies — another band with a string of hits from the 1990s and into the 2000s — also on the bill.
“I love that lineup,” Rucker said. “When we called those guys, they were so excited. And when it started to come together, I said that’s a great lineup, great music, neither band is kidding themselves thinking that we’re these bands that are putting out brand-new songs that everybody wants to hear or anything. We know we’re a band that we’ve got our hits and we’re going to go out and play our (expletive) off. We’ll go have a blast and try to blow each other off the stage and then play a lot of songs together and put on a great show.”
Rucker said Hootie & the Blowfish will vary the set lists on tour, generally deciding what songs — including new material — to play on the day of each show.
The new album, produced by Jeff Trott (songwriter/producer credits include Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks and Joe Cocker) came together quite seamlessly, with the band choosing from 80 songs that were in play for the album. Rucker noted that even though the group had gone a decade and a half since making new music, the four band members settled right back into their collaborative writing routine.
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“It’s so funny for us,” he said. “We can go forever, and when we get in a room together, we’re back in that same dynamic we had since we were 19. So it’s the same thing for us. We write the way we write.”
The band members also wrote with outside songwriters. One notable artist who joined in the writing was Ed Sheeran, who co-wrote a pair of songs with Rucker for the new album and a third song that Rucker may record on his next country album. Rucker and Sheeran met well before the latter became a household name to music fans.
“I met Ed before he got famous,” Rucker said. “He was doing something in the States before the Taylor (Swift) tour. My oldest daughter had discovered him on YouTube and said will you take me to see this kid, Ed Sheeran?”
Sheeran, ironically, didn’t know that much about Hootie & the Blowfish when he first met Rucker, and was shocked when he discovered what the band had accomplished.
“It’s funny, he and I were talking about it because he was from England and he had heard of Hootie & the Blowfish, but (didn’t know about the success of the band),” Rucker recalled. “He was (shocked). So we were friends for a long time.”
Rucker, who will focus on his country career in 2020, hinted that this year’s Hootie & the Blowfish reunion won’t be a one-time event, but the band will have to pick its spots for tours and making more music.
“We can’t do Hootie & the Blowfish every summer. If we’re going to do this, then do it the right way,” he said. “We have to do it like other bands do it. Bands that are at our level and where we are in our career don’t go out every summer. Go out every four years, every five years, then you do what we just did, sell out every show you play. The Garden calls you and says ‘Can you play a second night?’”
WHAT: Hootie & the Blowfish, with Barenaked Ladies opening
WHERE: Grandstand, Great Jones County Fair, 800 N. Maple St., Monticello
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday (7/19)
TICKETS: $73 standing room only on the track, $63 bleachers (amphitheater sold-out), free hillsides; Greatjonescountyfair.com
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FAIR ADMISSION: $10
TODAY (7/18): Tim McGraw, with Trace Adkins opening; 8 p.m.; $75 and $70, free hillsides; $10 fair admission
SATURDAY (7/20): Chris Stapleton with Kendell Marvel opening, 8 p.m.; $83; free hillsides’ $10 fair admission
SUNDAY (7/21): TobyMac with We are Messengers opening, 7 p.m.; $35 and $25; free hillsides; $10 fair admission
TODAY (7/18): Harness racing, 11 a.m., Grandstand, free, plus fair admission
SATURDAY (7/20) and SUNDAY (7/21): stock car races, 11 a.m., Grandstand, $5 amphitheater, free other seating areas, plus fair admission