Hootie & the Blowfish: Rock Band Enters Digital Age
Love them or loathe them, you can't accuse Hootie & The Blowfish of harboring rock star pretensions. Even though their two albums, Cracked Rear View and Fairweather Johnson, have sold more than 16 million copies and made them megastars, Hootie has never been the kind of band to go on drug-induced rampages, spit on fans, or drive their sports cars into motel swimming pools. Their low-key attitude and respect for their listeners stem largely from their years working as a bar band in their home state of South Carolina.
Just as being a rock band in the '70s often meant being wired on cocaine, being a rock band in the '90s often means being wired on the Internet, and Hootie & The Blowfish are no exception to the latter. Their most recent (and interactive) online experience happened on September 10 and 11, when they broadcast audio and video of two entire concerts from Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. Lead singer Darius Rucker believes the rise of the Internet is inevitable. "It's how people are going to communicate, how you're going to see TV, and how you're going to listen to music. We'd like to be around for a while, so we might as well get with the technology now." In true '90s fashion, the band members also contribute pictures and diary entries on their official Web site.
But there's more behind Hootie's Net presence than necessity and an attempt to stay hip - it's also a way to get back in touch with their roots. "As a band coming up, playing the bars, we were directly involved with the fans," says drummer Jim Sonefeld. "This is the closest way we can get in touch now. Sure, you could write a big book, but this is as direct as it gets, there's no bull shit, no separation. It's just you and the fan one-on-one, and that's the way we've always liked it." Before the show, each member of the band spent time talking to fans via an Intel Internet Phone, an experience which Rucker called "a total rush." Sonefeld, who personally answers all of his printed fan mail, envisions a possible future in which fan mail is handled entirely through the Internet, with a personal "Net secretary" to filter questions and type answers.
The band is amazed at the popularity of their site and all the feedback they're getting. "People come up after shows and say, 'Oh, I read your diary entries.' You don't really expect to get feedback from just a Web site. We can't even do chat anymore because we got too many hits, and our servers crashed all the time," says bassist Dean Felber. They're also impressed with all the unofficial Hootie fan pages, although the lack of control on the Net can be a problem. "You can't control all of them, and maybe they're selling bootleg CDs and T-shirts. Or maybe the information isn't up-to-date, or even accurate, for that matter. That can be disappointing," says Sonefeld.
Of course, broadcasting and chatting over the Net can't really compare with the early days of playing small clubs to audiences of 50 or 100. Then again, "I don't think we really want to get back to where we were - if we do, we'd probably break up," says Rucker.
So, how wired is this band really? Felber, the band's most Net-literate member, surfs the Web regularly and checks his email every day, and guitarist Mark Bryan plans on getting a notebook to (among other things) check on his finances back home. Rucker is the resident newbie, however - he visited the Web for the first time last month. "I looked at a Miami Dolphins site and looked at ours, and that was it. It was a joke, I didn't know what I was doing." What about the danger of accidentally ending up on an alt.sex newsgroup? "I was actually looking for that and couldn't find it," he laughs.