South Carolina

Hootie & the Blowfish bring ‘Group Therapy Tour’ to where the band started in Columbia

Hootie history: Band took ‘name of Columbia and Five Points around the world’

Author Mike Miller recounts the birth and rise of Hootie & The Blowfish and the band's lasting impact on Columbia, the state and the University of South Carolina.
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Author Mike Miller recounts the birth and rise of Hootie & The Blowfish and the band's lasting impact on Columbia, the state and the University of South Carolina.

Almost a year ago, Hootie & the Blowfish announced the group was reuniting for a massive summer tour and a new album.

After 40-plus concerts, the U.S. portion of the popular reunion tour is wrapping up this week. Fittingly, the band is ending the “Group Therapy Tour” where it all began for Hootie & the Blowfish four decades ago — Columbia.

Wednesday is the first of three consecutive nights that Hootie & the Blowfish will perform at Colonial Life Arena, which is less than two miles from the Five Points bar that was the inspiration for the tour’s name.

And band members Mark Bryan, Dean Felber, Darius Rucker and Jim ‘Soni’ Sonefeld know something about Columbia’s bars.

They formed the group while they were students at the University of South Carolina in the 1980s. When it wasn’t playing gigs at frat houses, Hootie & the Blowfish was a staple in Five Points bars and restaurants in Columbia.

By 1994, the group had signed a major-label deal with Atlantic Records and released “Cracked Rear View,” which has gone platinum 20-plus times and is one of the best-selling albums of all time.

In 2015 Darius Rucker played a concert on the USC Horseshoe to celebrate the opening of the USC Journalism school.

But the seeds of success were sown in Columbia, which seems like the ideal place to wrap up the reunion tour on “Cracked Rear View’s” 25th anniversary.

“It means the world that our fans have reacted so positively,” Bryan said in a news release, “especially in a city as important to us as Columbia, where we get to play for the first time in almost 20 years.”

Originally, the band was only going to play one concert in Columbia.

But days after announcing it was getting back together for the tour, with Canadian rock band Barenaked Ladies, Hootie & the Blowfish added a second Columbia show because the first concert sold out in minutes.

The second show also sold out, prompting the band to add the third date in Columbia. Tickets for the Wednesday night performance were available online as of Wednesday morning. Prices ranged from $29.50 to $158 per ticket.

Fans attending Wednesday night’s concert, or the other shows on Thursday and Friday, can expect to hear a lot of songs from the album that won Grammy Awards for Best New Artist, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 1996.

During a performance in Charlotte last week, the band played nine of the 11 tracks on the hit record. That included mega hits “Only Wanna Be With You,” “Let Her Cry,” and “Hold My Hand.”

But the “Group Therapy” concerts haven’t just been a tribute to their greatest commercial success. It has been an eclectic mix from the band that Rolling Stone magazine said features “elements of rock, soul, folk and pop.”

Hootie played 22 songs in Charlotte, including several mash-up numbers that featured original music and covers of some the group’s favorite songs.

Without spoiling the surprise for anyone who hasn’t been keeping track of the band’s set lists this summer, ticket holders should expect to hear cover songs over the next three nights at Colonial Life Arena.

They should also hear a small sampling of some of the songs that has made Rucker, the group’s lead singer, a country music superstar after Hootie went on hiatus in the early 2000s.

During the band’s June performance in Raleigh, it played a couple of Rucker’s most popular country hits, somethign it has done consistently on the tour.

Fans can expect to hear some songs from the group’s new album, “Imperfect Circle,” which will be released on Nov. 1. Hootie & the Blowfish recorded music for the new album prior to the tour in Nashville, Rolling Stone reported.

“God, I love this record so much,” Rucker said of the group’s first studio album since 2005’s “Looking for Lucky,” according to Rolling Stone.

Bryan said a documentary about the band could be released around the same time as the new album.

It will likely include footage from the current tour, which has been a hit for those pining for the 1990s.

After a performance in New Jersey, one reviewer said the two-hour show “was a heaping scoop of nostalgia melting down the arms of its longtime fans, many of whom had dug out their old Birkenstocks and baseball caps.”

Even though the band members are now in their 50s, the shows have been consistently considered fun, energetic and have sent tens of thousands of fans home with smiles on their faces following each performance.

“I just didn’t know if we could still pull in the people,” Rucker said in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “But I was wrong. I’m glad I was wrong. Once I saw those crowds singing every word, I knew I was really, really wrong.”

So if this is the first time seeing the band perform in Columbia in 20 years, or the first time ever seeing Hootie & the Blowfish live, the three night residency in Columbia should offer something for anyone interested in their music.

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Check out photos from the Hootie and The Blowfish tour stop in Raleigh, N.C. Friday night, May 31, 2019.

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Noah Feit is a Real Time reporter with The State and McClatchy Carolinas Regional Team. The award-winning journalist has worked for multiple newspapers since starting his career in 1999.