Ben Wilson of Blues Traveler on band's Harrah’s Atlantic City gig; sushi-making class, Resorts turns 45

Other milestones on tap, including 30 years of poker. Borgata cekebrates 20.
Blues Traveler.
Blues Traveler.DMK Publicity

Categorization is pretty much the lifeblood of the music industry. It can be difficult for an act to market itself if it doesn’t fit neatly into a specific silo (e.g. pop, hip-hop, rock). But that has never been an issue for Blues Traveler.

The band, which performs May 20 at Harrah’s Resort Atlantic City as part of a tour celebrating the release of the limited-edition double-album, Live and Acoustic 1997, has defied definition since the release of the their self-titled 1990 debut album.

Although the Princeton-born unit has the word “Blues” in its name, its sonic blueprint has always transcended that genre. Thanks to the group’s signature hit, 1995’s “Run-Around,” which spent almost a year on the Billboard magazine pop chart (making it the longest-charting single in history; it also won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance By a Duo or Group with vocals), the argument can be made for placing Blues Traveler in the “pop” category.

But to a large degree, the group led by vocalist/harmonica virtuoso John Popper, has made its in-concert bones as a “jam band” whose performances feature extended periods of instrumental improvisation and not just succinct and consistent recreations of recorded material. And just to muddy the waters even more, the group is currently working on an album of soul and rhythm & blues songs.

So, how do the band members themselves describe what it is they’ve been doing since Ronald Reagan was president?

“It's actually kind of funny because the first five or six years that I was in the band, we spent a lot of time [discussing] how do we want to address this? Do we need to address it?” offered Ben Wilson, the band’s keyboardist since 1999, during a recent phone call.

 “I actually think we got a little bit too self-conscious about the whole thing: Do we write singles? Are we more about the jamming? And in the end, whenever we were done [recording] the music, it was like, ‘This is the music.’

“It’s just what we do as a band. It just comes very naturally. And so the less we thought about it [in the studio], and the more we just let things happen and didn’t force anything—and the less self-conscious we got about things—the better the outcomes were.”

On the other hand, he continued, things need to be a little more thought-out in a concert setting. While the instrumental passages might be conjured on the spur of the moment, where those moments occur do have at least some rhyme and reason.

“When we get on stage,” he explained, “it's like, ‘Run-Around’ needs to be ‘Run-Around,’ but ‘But Anyway’ can be whatever it's gonna be, because there's all these solo sections in the middle, and what do we want to do with it?”

Ultimately, suggested Wilson, trying to define Blues Travelers’ sonic blueprint is a pointless exercise. “We're just a band that’s been around for 35 years, and we get up there and we do our thing, whatever that is,” he said. “And as long as people keep coming, we must be doing it all right.”

Show time is 8 p.m. For tickets, click here.

Sushi School’ en-roll-ment at Hard Rock

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to roll your own sushi, does Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City have a class for you.

On May 25, Shingo Inoue, executive chef of Asian-centric restaurant Kuro, will conduct a sushi-making seminar. The course will focus on the fundamentals of creating the Japanese staple, including selecting the fresh ingredients, preparing sushi rice and crafting the perfect roll. Inoue will also answer questions and offer tricks of the sushi-making trade.

The session will end with a meal that includes both the dishes made by class attendees and some from Kuro’s menu.

For tickets, go here.

Milestones galore

A slew of notable gambling-den anniversaries will be celebrated between now and Independence Day:

  • On May 26, Resorts Casino-Hotel will mark 45 years since the day Resorts International became the first legal casino outside of Nevada.

  • June 25 will be the 30th anniversary of legal poker in Atlantic City (for the record, the first hand was played at the long-gone Sands Casino-Hotel). And three days later both Hard Rock and Ocean Casino-Resort will figuratively blow out five candles.

  • June 30 will see the 15th anniversary of the Water Club complex at Borgata Hotel, Casino & Spa (which will soon be re-christened as the MGM Tower). And finally, on July 3, Borgata itself will turn 20 years old. 

Resorts’ observance will feature a number of free public events over the Memorial Day weekend, from giveaways, a sand-sculpture exhibition and the casino’s traditional, summer-season-greeting balloon drop on Memorial Day Friday. Ticketed attractions include a performance by The New York BeeGees (May 26), who pay tribute to the band that defined the musical era in which the original Resorts International opened and a sneak preview of “Disco Inferno” (May 28), a new musical revue that will begin an every-Sunday residency on June 25. 

For the full rundown of Resorts anniversary festivities, go here.

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