Hootie & the Blowfish: Not Just a Band for Kids

Listening to their music is a family affair

It comes as no surprise that Hootie & the Blowfish is selling out summer shows about as fast as it takes to say the band's name.

What will raise some eyebrows, however, is who's buying tickets.

A recent concert in Mansfield, Mass., drew not only college students, but also preteens and parents to hear the South Carolina rock group whose first major release, "Cracked Rear View," is one of the best-selling albums of all time. It has sold 14 million copies worldwide since 1994.

The easygoing foursome was cheered by about 20,000 fans at the Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts as they rolled through the first of two sold-out shows. Fronted by lead singer Darius Rucker, the band opened with "Old Man & Me" off their latest album, "Fairweather Johnson."

Despite some initial sluggishness, Hootie & the Blowfish offered a good evening's worth of entertainment. Rucker's distinctive vocals were strong throughout - upbeat on "Hannah Jane," slower on the encore tune "I'm Goin' Home," a tribute to Rucker's late mother, both from "Cracked Rear View."

Songs from the likable and ballad-heavy "Fairweather" - which hasn't sold nearly as well as its predecessor - are the focus of the tour. Among the new tunes were "She Crawls Away" and "Tucker's Town," both of which included the band's fine harmonies.

Like the new album, the concert supporting it is a somewhat subdued affair - not that the audience doesn't have occasion to dance and sing along. But much of Hootie's music is more for swaying than shimmying.

The Grammy-winning band (1996 best new artist and best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal) got the best response when it played the songs that made it famous: "Hold My Hand," "Time," and "Only Wanna Be With You." The latter was a real crowd-pleaser, especially for fan Michael Hayward, whom the band paused to toast because he planned to get engaged during the song.

For most of the concert, Hootie & the Blowfish (whose name comes from the nicknames of two of Rucker's friends) conveyed the friendly, laid-back approach it's known for - and not just through its folksy rock songs. The audience was always referred to as "Y'all," and the group's attire included the bare feet and shorts sported by drummer Jim Sonefeld.

Peppered throughout the show were songs by other bands - a throwback to Hootie's early days of playing music by groups like Kiss and R.E.M. at bars and college parties.

One such cover was The Who's "Can't Explain," sung by guitarist Mark Bryan. On stage he is by far the chattiest and most animated member of the group, which also includes Dean Felber on bass. Other covers came during the three encores - one standout being "So Lonely," a ditty by The Police brilliantly performed by Rucker.

*Hootie's summer tour: Aug. 15, Meadows Music Theatre, Hartford, Conn.; Aug. 20, Memorial Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.; Aug. 22, 23, Walnut Creek Amphitheatre, Raleigh, N.C.; Aug. 27, South Florida Amphitheatre, West Palm Beach, Fla.; Aug. 28, Thunderdome, St. Petersburg, Fla.; Aug. 29, 30, Lakewood Amphitheatre, Atlanta.

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