If you survived the perilous traffic outside of Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood on Saturday night, you were part of a sellout crowd that swayed to the Barenaked Ladies' kooky lyrics and Hootie & the Blowfish's cool, rhythmic set, centered around the 90s radio singalongs that the band was built on.
The core of Hootie & The Blowfish is still intact. Darius Rucker Mark Bryan, Dean Felber and Jim "Soni" Sonefeld met as freshmen at the University of South Carolina. Frontman Rucker's raspy vocals are even more mesmerizing in person and his gaze seemed to reach back to the viewers on Lakewood' berm. Lead guitarist Bryan frolicked barefoot on stage with a stage presence that comes with a band rejuvenated with its first full tour in more than 10 years — 15 years since its last studio album.
The South Carolina-based band emphasized their roots in the deep south with a mix of stage art and stories about their early trips to Athens. Hootie opened with "Hannah Jane," a song with a foot-tapping, head bobbing refrain from their 1994 album "Cracked Rear View." Before diving into another 1994 hit, "Let Her Cry," Rucker opined about a crowd-pleasing story of a mid-90s show at Georgia Theatre in Athens in which they played the song live for the first time and named it that night based on a comment from a fan post-show.
Perhaps the highlights of the show were the mixtures of other catalogs in the set. A Darius Rucker solo original "Alright" was a singalong and pick-me-up in the middle of Hootie's deep track dive that help fans forget about the balm conditions under Lakewood's awning. The band pulled out a singalong cover that Rucker once recorded, "Wagon Wheel." Early in the show, Rucker reeled about the influence R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck had on Hootie's career before diving into a cover of "Losing My Religion" that unexpectedly fits perfectly with Rucker's wailing drawl.
Hootie's show wasn't just fan friendly, but family friendly. The band kept their act G-rated, although the smokey lawn at Lakewood — unsurprisingly — wasn't. If your kid has a taste for 90s rock, they might have appreciated Hootie.
With any show at Atlanta's classic outdoor, south side venue, aim to be there as the gates open and you might make it by the first act. The line of cars to get into the main gate and parking lots adjacent to the stadium moved single-file for hours before and after the show began. There was a dense crowd of fans filing into the main security gate at Lakewood up to when Hootie & The Blowfish took the stage.
The Group Therapy Tour with special guests Barenaked Ladies has a few stops in the southeast before heading west. The tour's last U.S. stop is at the band's birthplace in Columbia, South Carolina.