Happy Birthday John Popper: Sitting-In With Phish In 1996

By Andy Kahn Mar 29, 2016 12:32 pm PDT

Harmonica virtuoso John Popper celebrates his 49th birthday today. As frontman for Blues Traveler, Popper was among the founders of the jam band scene that emerged in the early 1990s along with similarly minded acts such as Widespread Panic, Spin Doctors, Aquarium Rescue Unit and Phish. In honor of Popper’s birthday, here’s a look back a sit-in he made with Phish in the fall of 1996.

Blues Traveler and Phish often shared bills in the early 1990s and both bands were aboard the H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) Festival that toured in 1992. Popper regularly graced the Phish stage during those formative years, forming a bond with the foursome which he discusses in his new memoir Suck And Blow: And Other Stories I’m Not Supposed to Tell written with Dean Budnick. According to a New York Post article, Popper also shared a penchant with Phish for pulling elaborate pranks.

The article reveals details of Popper sending Trey Anastasio a mountain of diapers after the Phish guitarist’s first daughter was born, and the harmonica player pulling a devious stunt to try and undercut Phish’s hold on Madison Square Garden in order to get the arena secured for Blues Traveler to play on New Year’s Eve 1998. Head here for the full story that involved sending strippers to Phish’s accountant with instructions to read excerpts from Sammy Davis Jr.’s Yes I Can.

Popper last sat-in with his cohorts from Vermont on November 15, 1996 at the Kiel Center in St. Louis. Coming at the end of a second set that saw setlist antics in the form of every song beginning with the letter “M,” Popper took the stage for the Phish debut of The Beatles’ “Mean Mr. Mustard” (portraying the “dirty old man”) and stuck around to play harmonica on a brief rendition of “Weekapaug Groove” as well as the “Funky Bitch” encore. Watch the entire second set from the Kiel Center below:


John Popper will appear at three NYC area signings next week and then one in Los Angeles with Broken Lizard’s Steve Lemme the following week. Popper will sign Suck And Blow: And Other Stories I’m Not Supposed to Tell at Book Revue in Huntington on April 2, NYC’s Strand on April 3 with co-author Dean Budnick and at Bookends in Ridgewood, New Jersey on April 4. The Blues Traveler frontman will also sign his book at Book Soup in West Hollywood, California on April 11. All four signings are expected to start at 7 p.m. local time.

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