Whatever Happened to the Acts From the First H.O.R.D.E. Festival?
You have to admit, the ‘90s were great for touring festivals. You had a wide array of rock oriented festivals to choose from with Lollapalooza ushering in the touring festival craze, Ozzfest bringing something heavier and Warped Tour serving the punk and skating communities. And then there was the H.O.R.D.E. festival.
H.O.R.D.E., which stands for Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere, was founded by Blues Traveler in 1992 as a way to bring greater exposure to the bands in their scene as well as providing a solution to a touring problem they had faced.
With amphitheaters often reserved for more commercial acts over the summer, Blues Traveler were interested in finding a way to break beyond the club circuit. Singer John Popper recalled to Guitar World, "In the summer, we'd all go out and draw maybe one or two thousand people. And there are no places outdoors that small, so we'd have to play indoors, which sucked. Then a couple of us got together and wondered 'What if we all went on tour? If we each drew our usual two thousand people, we might draw enough to fill a big shed (amphitheater). So from the outside, it may have looked like there was this big movement happening, but really, it was just a bunch of bands thinking about how to survive.”
From there, calls were put out to several bands who faced a similar dilemma at the time, and the idea to bring together their respective audiences for a concert big enough to fill an amphitheater was born. And, in many ways, this was the type of platform needed to bring attention to a new wave of jam bands that would come to thrive over the next era of music.
The first H.O.R.D.E. tour was only eight dates, with four East Coast shows scheduled for July and four shows in the South taking place in August. But, it was viewed as a success and the H.O.R.D.E. festival would continue to grow in future years.
But whatever happened to the bands that took that initial chance and bet on themselves to bring this style of music to the masses? Let’s dig in below:
Where Were Blues Traveler Before the First H.O.R.D.E Tour?
Though not yet a household name in the pop culture world, Blues Traveler had secured enough clout leading into 1992 to consider launching their own festival. They formed in Princeton, New Jersey in 1987, releasing their first self-titled album in 1990 featuring the single “But Anyway” and scored a buzz-generating sophomore set titled Travelers and Thieves in 1991. They had also earned support from late night TV host David Letterman who championed them during their appearances on his talk show.
Where Were Blues Traveler After the First H.O.R.D.E. Festival?
Though on a much smaller scale than it would eventually become, the initial H.O.R.D.E. festival run was viewed as a success and it gave the band a bigger platform for future success. They continued to build their following with 1993’s Save His Soul, but it was 1994’s Four album that gave them their commercial radio breakout with the singles “Run-Around” and “Hook.”
After 1997’s Straight on Till Morning, the band got sidetracked for a few years. Singer John Popper had emergency heart surgery, then took a hiatus during which he released a solo album. Meanwhile, bassist Bobby Sheehan died of an accidental drug overdose in 1999, and it would be 2001 before they returned with the Bridge album.
By this point, H.O.R.D.E. had run its course, but Blues Traveler would remain one of rock’s most consistent bands, with eight more studio albums spooling out over the next two decades.
Where Were Spin Doctors Before the First H.O.R.D.E. Festival?
While Blues Traveler may have headlined, Spin Doctors were probably the biggest band on the bill with the most commercial success at the time. The group’s 1991 debut, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, was well on its way to 5 times platinum sales status, thanks to the early 1992 hits “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong” and “Two Princes.”
Where Were Spin Doctors After the First H.O.R.D.E. Festival?
There was a quick over-saturation on Spin Doctors, but not at the point where H.O.R.D.E. launched. The band benefitted from the inescapable hit single “Two Princes” just as the tour began. But their reign as alt-rock darlings was short-lived as the follow-up 1994 album, Turn It Upside Down, barely made a dent commercially. And by the time their third album arrived in 1996, they had parted ways with founding guitarist Eric Schenkman.
After their fourth album, 1999’s Here Comes the Bride, the band split with Mark White and the dismal returns continued. The group then had another significant setback when singer Chris Barron suffered acute vocal paralysis. By the spring of 2000, the singer had recovered and the original core lineup reunited.
Two more albums would follow in the years to come, with Nice Talking to Me and If the River Was Whiskey, though it’s been since 2013 that they last released a new record.
Looking back on the inaugural H.O.R.D.E. festival, singer Chris Barron told Relix, "For all those bands it was a moment to look around and say, 'Hey, we’re not just standing on a cliff somewhere screaming out into any empty canyon. There are people out there who want to hear this kind of music. There are other bands that want to play this kind of music and we’re not just these Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman disciples banging our heads against the wall in the dark somewhere. This is actually something that has a place and an opportunity for us to take the music down the road a little further in our own way.'"
Where Were Widespread Panic Before the First H.O.R.D.E. Festival?
After their 1988 debut Space Wrangler, things started to pick up for Widespread Panic. They signed to Capricorn Records for their self-titled sophomore set and also found a fan in actor Billy Bob Thornton who directed their Widespread Panic: Live from the George Theatre concert video in 1991. With that buzz behind them, the group was one of the main draws for the inaugural H.O.R.D.E. festival.
Where Were Widespread Panic After the First H.O.R.D.E. Festival?
1993’s Everyday became the band’s first charting album, cracking the Billboard 200 at No. 184. That was one of 10 more studio albums that followed after the band’s H.O.R.D.E. debut in 1992. In 2016, the band announced that they would break from touring so extensively and they’ve not released an album since. Longtime drummer and vocalist Todd Nance died in 2020 at the age of 57.
Col. Bruce Hampton and Aquarium Rescue Unit
Where Were Aquarium Rescue Unit Before the First H.O.R.D.E.
Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit were one of many acts featuring acclaimed Atlanta musician Col. Bruce Hampton. The jazz fusion collective formed out of a weekly Atlanta jam session with Hampton joined by notable players Jimmy Herring, Oteil Burbridge, Jeff Sipe and Matt Slocum. The first of their two studio albums, 1992’s Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, benefitted from having the H.O.R.D.E. platform to introduce them to a larger audience.
Though not a huge name and still somewhat of an unknown at the beginning of the festival, the respect amongst those on the H.O.R.D.E. lineup for the collective was immense. John Popper recalled to Relix, "They had the reverence of all the musicians. They did kind of embody the spirit of the H.O.R.D.E. movement, at least among us. They were an empire within an empire."
Where Were Aquarium Rescue Unit After the First H.O.R.D.E.
The band went on to record Mirrors of Embarrassment in 1993, and collaborated with H.O.R.D.E. cohorts John Popper of Blues Traveler and Bela Fleck. But, by the end of 1993, Hampton would exit the lineup. The band, then going only by Aquarium Rescue Unit, recorded two more studio albums in 1994 before calling it quits.
They did reunite in the 2000s, issuing 2003’s The Calling album and then pulled Hampton back into the fold for a live Warren Haynes Benefit Concert recording in 2007. Occasional reunions happened after, but Hampton died of a heart attack onstage in 2017 while appearing at a 70th birthday bash concert.
Reflecting on the H.O.R.D.E. festival experience, Oteil Burbridge recalled to Relix, "That whole time was so surreal because the ARU was the first time that we purposefully started a band with no hope, and therefore no intention of doing anything but scaring normal people away. We certainly never expected in our wildest dreams to get a record deal or be invited to be on a big tour. The people in those bands were so kind to us. They were our saviors. They flew our flag far and wide and took us under their wings. For them to believe in the absolute madness that we staked our entire lives on moves me in a way that I can’t really put into words."
READ MORE: 66 Best Rock Songs of the '90s
Where Were Phish Before the First H.O.R.D.E. Festival?
After forming in 1983, Phish began to build their following and were two albums deep into their career with their third record A Picture of Nectar just arriving a few months prior to the launch of the H.O.R.D.E. festival. That record would be their first major label offering, having just signed with Elektra at the time.
Where Were Phish After the First H.O.R.D.E. Festival?
Phish were part of the bill for the first leg of the H.O.R.D.E. festival, performing at the East Coast dates. This served as the group’s first national tour of major amphitheaters.Their star continued to rise over the course of the next year, landing several other major touring bills after H.O.R.D.E.
As we now know, Phish have become one of the most successful touring acts of the last 30 years. Thirteen more studio albums followed their H.O.R.D.E. debut, and they’ve become one of the most beloved jam bands going.
Reflecting on H.O.R.D.E., Phish's Mike Gordon recalled to Relix, "I think that was our first arena gig, which was sort of a nice way to do it. With Phish we always cruised slowly. So even though we normally didn’t team up with other bands to do tours, getting our feet wet in an arena and seeing what it was like without having to carry the show by ourselves, that was a good opportunity for us."
Where Was Bela Fleck Before the First H.O.R.D.E. Festival?
Bela Fleck had a well-established career by the time the inaugural H.O.R.D.E. festival invite came around. The musician, often accompanied by his band The Flecktones, recorded his first solo studio album in 1979. Prior to that, he was a member of the widely-hailed New Grass Revival. Between solo efforts and records with his band, he was nine albums into his career, with the most recent effort, UFO Tofu, being released with the Flecktones earlier in 1992. Fleck may have seemed an odd addition to the bill, but he managed to impress audiences and pull in new fans from the experience.
Where Was Bela Fleck After the First H.O.R.D.E. Festival?
Fleck continued to be one of bluegrass’ most respected musicians. He appeared on the second leg of southern U.S. dates on the inaugural H.O.R.D.E. festival, taking the spot vacated by Phish in the lineup.
He’s had seven more solo albums, seven studio albums with The Flecktones and has played banjo on five studio albums between Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet. He’s won 15 Grammy Awards (with 33 nominations) and is a member of the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
What Happened to the H.O.R.D.E. Festival After 1992?
You can look at 1992 as a test run, with H.O.R.D.E. taking major strides forward in 1993 with a 28-date run taking things “everywhere” beyond the East Coast and Southern markets of the 1992 festival. Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic and Aquarium Rescue Unit returned in 1993 on a bill that included The Samples, Big Head Todd & the Monsters and Allgood, with Phish, the Allman Brothers Band, Melissa Etheridge, Warren Haynes, Dave Matthews and more turning up on select dates.
The festival continued yearly through 1998 with such major acts as Sheryl Crow, the Dave Matthews Band, The Black Crowes, Cypress Hill, Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers, G. Love and Special Sauce, Taj Mahal, Lenny Kravitz, Rusted Root, Neil Young, King Crimson, Natalie Merchant, Beck, Ben Folds Five, Barenaked Ladies, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals and Alana Davis bringing a larger musical variety as the festival continued to evolve.
After the 1998 festival, Blues Traveler decided to pull the plug on the event, feeling that it had grown stale with the audience. “H.O.R.D.E. initially was a way for Blues Traveler to play outside in the summer,” reflected Popper to Gig Magazine in 2000. “That was our objective and we pulled it off the first year. The second year we did it again; the third year we actually made, like, $8,000. The fourth year we started making real money, and then it became this source of income, and I see where you wanna keep it going again. But, y'know what? It's something you should never think has to go on forever. As soon as it doesn't make sense, it should be abandoned.”
He continued, “What happened along the way was a lot of people got to interact with each other, some great music was made, a great vibe, and we all had a ball. That was completely accidental, and the best thing about it. I take no responsibility for it, and so I don't feel that stopping doing it ruins that — that great vibe will happen somewhere else.”