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POP : H.O.R.D.E. EXPANDS ROCK'S HORIZON : Allmans, Big Head Todd, Blues Traveler Make a Day of It at Irvine Meadows

July 28, 1994|MIKE BOEHM | Mike Boehm covers pop music for The Times Orange County Edition.

Like the original horde commanded by Genghis Kahn, the one spearheaded by the band Blues Traveler is about to reach its goal of galloping across an entire continent. Luckily, this one brings a more peaceful vibe than the great Kahn's Mongols did when they were head-chopping their way through Asia. But with the Allman Brothers Band and Big Head Todd and the Monsters joining Blues Traveler in an instrumentally adventurous vanguard at the top of the bill, this musical H.O.R.D.E. has some fearsome chops as well.

The H.O.R.D.E. Festival's all-day encampment at Irvine Meadows on Saturday marks the West Coast debut of a phenomenon that has been growing since the first tour of H.O.R.D.E. (for Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) in 1992.

"The first tour was basically just a group of friends getting together and deciding to do some dates," recalled Blues Traveler's manager, David Frey. That two-week jaunt along the East Coast involved Blues Traveler and Spin Doctors--brother-bands that emerged from the same high school in Princeton, N.J.--as well as Phish and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

Last year H.O.R.D.E. gained in numbers and range in a 25-city tour by Blues Traveler, Big Head Todd, Widespread Panic, Col. Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, the Samples and Allgood--a lineup defined by its members' allegiance to the jam-band tradition established by such '60s and early-'70s forebears as Cream, Traffic, the Mothers of Invention, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers Band.

This year's H.O.R.D.E. spreads to 32 cities and acknowledges that tradition with the reinvigorated '90s version of the Allman Brothers in the headlining spot. Besides playing those early-'70s standards, their scheduled 2 1/2-hour show-closing set will draw from "Where It All Begins," easily the strongest Allman Brothers album since the band's 1990 comeback.

Blues Traveler's scheduled 1-hour, 45-minute set should include several selections from "Four," their album due out Sept. 13. The band, which features the distinctive harmonica swirls and philosophic lyrical musings of singer John Popper, is still in the cult-following ranks but is looking to follow the path of Spin Doctors, whose career took a major commercial jump after the inaugural H.O.R.D.E. tour.

Big Head Todd and the Monsters, scheduled for a 90-minute set, also have prospered since their initial H.O.R.D.E. appearance a year ago: The Colorado trio's 1993 release, "Sister Sweetly," has gone gold on the strength of near-constant touring and solid album-rock airplay. The band hasn't recorded a follow-up, but "In the Morning," a new song from the "Blown Away" film soundtrack, shows that leader Todd Park Mohr hasn't lost his touch with the mid-tempo lyricism that complements the versatile band's more fiery blues-rock excursions.

Sheryl Crow, who has enjoyed success with her debut album, "Tuesday Night Music Club," lends a singer-songwriter sensibility to the proceedings. She is penciled in for a 45-minute set on the main stage.

Like Lollapalooza, H.O.R.D.E. features a midway-style concourse with such attractions as a virtual-reality "LSD flight simulator," a traveling exhibition of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia, arts and crafts booths, forums for social action and political organizations and, for the physically adventurous, a bungee trampoline and a surfboard variation on the old mechanical bucking bull ride.

Also like Lollapalooza, H.O.R.D.E. will expose less-established talents, most of which will play 30-minute sets on a concourse stage. The newcomers, in order of appearance, are the 2 P.C., Jambay (which starts the main-stage proceedings at 1 p.m.), Ugly Americans, Cycomotogoat, Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies and April's Motel Room. The second-stage shows will take place only during set-change breaks on the main stage, and audio from the second stage will be piped over the amphitheater's sound system so that the entire audience can get a taste of each band.

The tour's producer, Peter Barsotti of Bill Graham Presents, points as well to a promising new element: workshop performances featuring some of the featured artists.

The workshop is a venerable, much-loved staple of the folk and bluegrass festival circuit, allowing fans to listen and, often, ask questions, as performers gather on an intimate, remote stage to demonstrate and talk about their music. Barsotti says he got the idea from working on this year's version of Peter Gabriel's W.O.M.A.D. festival, which features an array of on-site workshops.

The H.O.R.D.E. workshops were launched last week at the Chicago festival site, seven dates into the tour. Blues Traveler's Popper gave a blues harmonica demonstration, with help from Sheryl Crow and members of her band and the Screamin' Cheetah Wheelies. Allman Brothers percussionists Jaimoe and Mark Quinones gave a drum workshop.

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