Blues Traveler Proposal in Port St. Lucie
by Todd McFliker
Listening to the magic sounds of Popper as I properly popped the big question.
It was early October when I noticed an advertisement that changed my life. Flipping through the pages of the new RAG Magazine, I spotted the full-page ad for the Blues Traveler concert at The Mojo Room three weeks later in Port St. Lucie. Right away, I got emotional, bought tickets and started preparing to surprise my better half, Mary. And if fate would allow them to recreate either “Alone” or “Hook” by the iconic blues singer, John Popper, I will properly pop the big question to my sweet Mary.
The last time we saw Blues Traveler was at two sold-out nights in Fort Lauderdale’s Culture Room in the fall of 2006. They were phenomenal. Burning time backstage with Popper after the first performance, Mary mentioned how upset I was that Blues Traveler never played one of my personal favorites, “Alone.” And before I knew what was going on, he immediately started singing the opening verse to just the two of us. I said I love you. She began to cry. She said she needed a friend. I said I’ll try… I had to walk away. I was too choked up. It was a beautiful day in both our lives.
The Mojo Room is a fantastic place. It’s an old Publix that was converted into an enormous venue. There's a giant platform in front of an even bigger floor with two fully stocked bars on each side. The club was full of laid-back thirty-somethings just wanting to enjoy Blues Traveler’s chill vibes. Following Lisa Bouchelle, a talented vixen with just an acoustic warming up the Room, the boys took their stage. By this time, I had secured a front row spot to stand on the general admission floor. Popper appeared dressed in all black, from his jeans, button-down and signature hat, to the frames of his thick glasses.
Blues Traveler mixed their popular singles in with rare material dating back fifteen years. In between the singer’s cigarettes, we heard “But Anyway,” “Mountain Song” and “Gina,” just to name a few. During some twelve minute jams, every musician impressed with extended solos. Toying with his harmonica, the passionate Popper clenched his eyes, tilting his head up as he sang the heartfelt ditties to hundreds of spectators.
No, we didn’t get to experience “Alone” this time. But we did eventually hear the evening’s obvious highlight, “Hook.” Mary told me she had to run to the ladies room. This was a sign. I knew he’d play one of the special tunes I had been anxiously awaiting while she was gone, just like when the ladies of Lez Zeppelin dedicated “The Rain Song” to “the queen of all my dreams” in New York City. And sure enough, Blues Traveler began a slower, unorthodox version of the modern classic, “Hook.” I was losing my mind waiting for Mary to reappear, which she did relatively quickly. As Popper vocalized his poetry, I wanna bust all your balloons. I wanna burn of all your cities to the ground, I squatted down. A small crowd circled around. Someone tapped Mary to turn around and have a look. Seeing me on one knee, she thought I had hurt myself. But I quickly asked her the golden question as I held up the diamond ring. Mary freaked out. I stood up and my flabbergasted partner embraced me for about five minutes. Tears fell. Without oral verification, I knew her answer was a positive one. And so did the receptive crowd all around us.
After my big moment, a sloppy local fellow named Sean wrote out and tossed a note to a band member explaining my proposal. The message was large enough for the bass player Tad Kinchla to notice what was up. He passed the news along to the rest of the crew. Then Popper handed me a harmonica and shared some powerful news: “Wow in the space of this show, someone proposed to someone right over there. Did she say yes? That’s the important part. Well, she’s not sure… Oh, she did she said yes everybody. It’s helpful to know before you announce it because what if she said no? Congratulations you guys. You have to name your first five kids after each of us.”
Just then I handed Popper a photo of Mary and him from the Culture Room. He held it up, announcing “This is a picture of me seducing his fiancée. I’m keeping that,” he advised me. “Obviously I didn’t get very far. Our clothes are on, come on. Usually when it's photograph time, I’m naked. Now they’re picturing us naked and I’m sure they are picturing you more than me,” he explained to Mary. Then he changed the subject. “I know this has nothing to do with your wedding, but why am I wearing a shirt like Charlie Brown?" And his cooperative mates began creating the familiar instrumental from Peanuts. “Well you guys have been awesome and congratulations and we’re really psyched,” he continued. “To the happy betrothed couple in St. Lucie. You’re really awesome.” Now a handful of spectators and even the bartenders were buying us beers and kamikazes for a few more hours. Nice. It’s just too bad we had that 90 minute road trip in front of us.
Out back by Blue Traveler's trailer after the jam session, we got to chat a bit with guitarist Chan Kinchla. The smiley rock star explained that he had no idea what had happened until Popper talked about our engagement. All he saw was the crowd up front going berserk when I stood up. Chan assumed that a miracle must’ve taken place, like I was getting up from a wheelchair for the first time. The story sparked a conversation about Popper impressing his massive audience from a wheelchair for their annual 4th of July gig at Red Rocks back in 1992.
While Blue Traveler was loading up onto their vehicle, the friendly Popper was still at the bar getting his drink on. The intoxicated rock star had two young women hanging all over him. There were three bouncers surrounding the celebrity as well. Mary and I approached the sloppy drunk to give him a copy of my published book. Popper is quoted in the conclusion under one of my photos of Blues Traveler at the Culture Room. The silly singer grabbed my work, autographed it and handed it back. I had to tell him it was his, a gift from me. He extended loving words, hugs and kisses to congratulate both me and my fiancée.
Thank God I bought a live CD of the event. I received a good sounding cut of the unforgettable experience 20 minutes after it ended. It’s perhaps the best $15 I ever spent. After all, most of the evening was a blur for both of us after the big question was popped. According to the Best Man, audio technician Chris Cimaglia, selling decent-quality recordings of concerts started with the Allman Brothers back in the ‘70s. Cool. But there’s one thing I need to clarify today. The bride-to-be has to remember a crucial detail: I get both of the puppies in a legal prenup, or the whole shin-dig is off. But let’s just push that aside for the time being. Mary, I love you with a passion that you just don’t know. You are a woman among women. You are alone, even if you’ll always be stuck with me… as your husband.