It was the second show on the first Hootie & the Blowfish tour in 10 years, and Darius Rucker couldn’t keep it together, no matter how hard he tried.
“We were playing ‘I Go Blind’ and I looked over at [guitarist] Mark [Bryan] and, I mean, we have been playing together since I was 19 years old,” Rucker remembers during a recent interview. “I mean, he’s 52 years old and I’m 53 years old and it just made us laugh. I just could not stop laughing.”
The Group Therapy Tour currently has Rucker, Bryan and their fellow Hootie & the Blowfish bandmates Dean Felber (bass) and Jim “Soni” Sonefeld (drums) in the midst of a road trek that will have them visiting 44 cities, including a stop in Tinley Park at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre on Aug. 24. The ages of the two-time Grammy Award winners are not the only thing that has changed since the last time they went on the road together.
“This is the first time ever that everyone has their own bus,” chuckles Rucker, who originally met his bandmates while at the University of South Carolina. “There is just a whole different dynamic out there this time around.”
Getting the chance to come together again “this time around” did take its share of coercing and waiting and eventually trusting that it was the right time and the right decision for the band as a whole.
“We definitely talked about it for a couple of years,” says Rucker. “We almost did it for our 20th anniversary of ‘Cracked Rear View.’ Every time we would meet about it, we all agreed that if it wasn’t going to be great, we didn’t want to do it. We then got together again about a year ago when we hit the album’s 25th anniversary. It was probably about two months before the tour announcement was made that we made the final decision to do it.”
Rucker says he did have his share of reservations about the tour, right up to the very moment they all first took the stage together on May 30 in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
“I just didn’t know if we could still pull in the people, “Rucker admits. “But I was wrong. [Laughs] I’m glad I was wrong. Once I saw those crowds singing every word, I knew I was really, really wrong.”
Some of those crowd members singing every word probably weren’t alive back in the ’90s when Hootie & the Blowfish were in the middle of their heyday courtesy of hits such as “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry” and “Only Wanna Be With You.”
The tour conversations also led Rucker and his bandmates to head into the studio to put together their first album in nearly 15 years, titled “Imperfect Circle.” It will be their first under a new record deal with Universal Music Group Nashville.
“It was just so much fun to get back in the studio and tell bad jokes and make the music we love,” says Rucker. “We still love the music.”
Rucker says fans shouldn’t expect anything on the new album (set for release on Nov. 1) that is too far out of the lane that Hootie & the Blowfish have been riding in throughout their career.
“That’s the toughest thing for us,” Rucker admits. “Once we put the guitar on the song, it always just sounds like us. I mean, hopefully this new album sounds cool and different, but yeah, it’s us.”
And while the band is currently enjoying quite the resurgence, Rucker is firm about the fact that this is not the end of his solo career, one of which has made him one of country music’s most beloved artists via chart-toppers such as “Alright,” “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” and 2013’s megahit “Wagon Wheel.”
Tricia Despres is a local freelance writer.