Hootie and the Blowfish: Southern Comfort
WHERE THE HELL is Moshiach?” asks Darius Rucker. Along with the other three members of Hootie and the Blowfish, the 29-year-old singer is traveling to a gig on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. As the highway winds through the Allegheny Mountains, the road narrows and traffic backs up, giving Rucker a chance to examine the bumper sticker on the car ahead. He reads: MOSHIACH IS COMING! BE READY FOR MOSHIACH! Then: WELCOME MOSHIACH! “
“MOSIACH IS COMING ,” Rucker tells guitarist Mark Bryan, who sits beside the singer in the front of a rented Buick. “Call ahead and put the man on the list. Moshiach and guest.”
NO ONE IN HOOTIE AND THE BLOWFISH is sure just who Moshiach is, but they’re certain he’s important maybe very important. Maybe even God. To them it figures that God would show up at a Hootie concert in the middle of the week in the middle of America. That’s just like God. After all, Hootie have sold 5 million copies of Cracked Rear View, their major-label debut. They have a stranglehold on the charts, they pick up followers without half trying, and they are often scorned by the critics, which is something like what happened to God, no matter which one you’re talking about. “Tonight’s our night,” says Rucker as traffic picks up. “Tonight we put on the best damn show Moshiach ever saw.”
FOR HOOTIE, fame came as an odd development in the course of a road trip — like a flat tire or a mysterious hitchhiker. When they set out a year ago to promote their album, they were just four guys, two vans and a goofy name. By the time their two new custom coaches, complete with bunks and Sega video games, rolled into Pittsburgh in late June, they were rock stars. In addition to seeing their CD go multiplatinum, they have scored two hit singles (“Hold My Hand” and “Let Her Cry”), become a thread that runs through VH1, met with President Clinton and been anointed David Letterman’s favorite band. They have also made more money than any of them had ever previously seen; the band will probably pay more in taxes this year than it earned the year before. “It’s pretty amazing, and in some ways I like, feel guilty about it,” says Bryan, 28. “There are so many other bands that I listen to and think, “This band is great, and no one knows who it is. This guy can play better guitar than me, and these people can write better songs than us, so why do we get to sell 5 million records?’ ”
PERHAPS TROUBLED BY SUCH SELF-DOUBT, Hootie and the Blowfish seem slow to acknowledge their success. Like a frugal man who comes into money late in life, the band members (Rucker, Bryan, bassist Dean Felber, drummer Jim “Soni” Sonefeld) haven’t figured out how to part with large sums of cash. Their tour of America has been a tour of roadside motels and fast-food joints — the sort of dives that for most bands signal the beginning of the end. And even as Hootie and the Blowfish appear in USA Today and Time, they’re lost in the beer-for-breakfast recklessness of a college band far from home. Late one night, Greg Humphreys, who heads Dillon Fence, Hootie’s opening act, stumbled up to the check-in counter and slurred, “I’m with Homey and the Goldfish. Can you let me up?”
“I guess we haven’t let fame sink in,” says Sonefeld, a 30-year-old with a sharp, angular face. Because the band has been on the road for most of the first year, he says, it has experienced success only secondhand: in the thrill of hearing its songs on the radio; in a sea of faces who know every word to every number; in the random, desperate fan who thinks touching Hootie is the same as disturbing the universe. “It’s been this phantom thing that just caught up with us, and we’re still trying to figure what it means,” says Sonefeld. “More than anything, we’re afraid of becoming rock stars.”
For years, Hootie and the Blowfish survived anonymity. The question now becomes, Can they survive fame?