Backstage last summer, at the Michigan stop for 2014's "Under the Sun" tour (a package event that included Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth, and Uncle Kracker), the members of Blues Traveler reconnected with an old friend of theirs — Adam Schneider, a former manager of the band and now the senior vice president of events at Palace Sports and Entertainment.
While Schneider and the band were talking, one of the things they reminisced on was the HORDE festival, a series of touring packages that happened across the country in the '90s. Blues Traveler frontman John Popper was originally inspired to create a larger summer amphitheater showcase for smaller acts, which were used to playing clubs. The touring festival was a big draw for jam bands and fans from 1992-1998. And after some attempts at reviving the festival in the past, the band finally found the right person to person to pull it off again — Schneider. All agreed that trying to do HORDE at DTE Energy Music Theatre in 2015 would be a great idea.
"It really came from a very pure place of enthusiasm and mutual history and friendship over the years," Schneider says. "We were all backstage at Under the Sun and we were all talking about what a great thing it would be if we could do HORDE here next summer, and here we are."
So HORDE is happening again, for the first time in almost 17 years, with a special show at DTE on Thursday, July 9, bringing together artists such as Blues Traveler, 311, the Verve Pipe, and Big Head Todd and the Monsters. Every band will play full sets across two stages, and local craft beer brewers and other vendors will be on hand to help fans celebrate.
Ben Wilson didn't join Blues Traveler as a keyboardist until 2000, after HORDE had played its last date. But the Ann Arbor native told Metro Times over the phone how excited he was for the festival's return to Detroit.
"We beat it up pretty good trying to get stuff going," Wilson says of his early days playing blues here locally. "The guys that are hanging out, playing blues in Detroit, are doing it because they love it and are trying to make a living at it because it's a tough row to hoe."
Blues Traveler is, of course, best known for the hits they scored off their multiplatinum 1994 record Four. But the band has been consistently releasing work for 25 years, including their 12th album, Blow Up the Moon, which came out in April. The record features unique collaborations on every song. Jewel, Bowling for Soup, and Rome Ramirez, among others, all contributed to the record.
"Every record that we do, I feel like when we're done, we're a much better band than we were before," says Wilson. He says that the band might emphasize a little more jamming over some of their pop song tendencies due to the culture of HORDE.
But even if these acts are jam bands, it was on rock radio in the 1990s that brought exposure to most of the artists on this bill. With bands like 311 ("Down," "Amber") and the Verve Pipe ("The Freshmen"), there will be no shortage of familiar favorites peppered in the sets throughout the night. Additionally, Big Head Todd and the Monsters built up a strong and loyal following with its live shows after breaking through in the early '90s.
"The HORDE idea resonated with each of these artists," Schneider says. "It really developed very organically. It wasn't hard to book it."
While HORDE obviously has its roots as a touring festival, both Schneider and Wilson seem mainly focused on just this one night in Michigan. That said, jam band fans are intensely loyal, and events like the String Cheese Incident's now-annual weekend of shows at Electric Forest have proved that Michigan is pretty hospitable to jam bands. So don't be shocked to see HORDE return again soon. Wilson even mentioned the possibility of doing HORDE as yearly event just in Michigan.
"We would love to be able to do these again, and I know there are a lot of people that would love to see us do them again," Wilson says. "But let's take this one first and hope for the best."
HORDE Festival visits DTE Energy Music Theatre at 4 p.m. Thursday, July 9.; 7774 Sashabaw Rd., Clarkston; Tickets range from $20 to $69.50 and can be purchased at livenation.com, palacenet.com, other Ticketmaster locations, or by phone at 800-745-3000.
Adam Theisen is an intern for Metro Times.