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Happy Hootie fans can catch the band in Primm

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Hootie and the Blowfish, from left: Darius Rucker (singer), Dean Felber (bassist), Mark Bryan (guitarist) and Jim “Soni” Sonefeld (drummer)

I am a Hootie and the Blowfish fan. There, I said it. There should be some sort of support group for people like us: Uber Catchy ‘90s Sing-A-Long-Song Lovers Anonymous. Growing up in South Carolina, I had little choice but to jump on the Hootie bandwagon. My aunt sang with them in the choir at the University of South Carolina and my uncle plays golf with them, though I’m pretty sure I would have been a fan even without the family connections. Who doesn’t sing along when “Hold My Hand” comes on the radio? Their songs were the soundtrack of my adolescence and I’m looking forward to reliving that when I make the trek to Primm this weekend to see them live at the Star of the Desert Arena.

My most recent Hootie experience happened here in Vegas when they came to the Silverton last year. My boyfriend surprised me with the tickets and I was really looking forward to sharing one of my favorite bands with him. That week he got a call from a local radio station saying he had won a spot on a party bus to the world renowned Chicken Ranch in Parhump and was amazed since he had never officially entered the contest (or so he says). Of course it was on the same night as my beloved Blowfish concert. He felt he could not possibly give up a chance to visit the brothel (it’s a historical landmark he argued) so I told him to ride the party bus there and I would pick him up. It should have been the best of both worlds but instead my directions grossly underestimated the time it took to travel to Parhump and we managed to make it to the show in time to catch the last two songs. Heartbroken, I vowed to catch the next Hootie show and even if it is in Primm, I’ll be there.

I was able to catch up with Jim Sonefeld, drummer for Hootie and the Blowfish, as he was traveling to Charleston, S.C., on the very road I used to live on:

Las Vegas Weekly:When you were students at the University of South Carolina, did you ever think you could make a living playing music?

Jim Sonefeld:Well I never even thought of making a living in music, let alone with Hootie and the Blowfish because I was thinking about soccer and girls and maybe a real job somewhere but not as a paid musician.

LVW:When were you able to quit your day jobs and pursue music full time?

JS:It seems like it wasn’t until about 1992 when we actually did that.

LVW:Were you still in college then?

JS:No I was done; we were all done then. We did college and the band then jobs and the band and then we did just the band.

LVW:What was it like being catapulted into fame after the immense success of Cracked Rear View?

JS:Blurry. It was very blurry, I’m glad somebody took pictures. I can look back and prove to myself that I was there for all that.

LVW:So it was kind of a whirlwind?

JS:Yeah well it’s funny you know, it seemed- not in a boastful way- but it seemed like a natural climb because we had worked hard in the ‘80s, we grew our fan base, we sold a lot of CDs on our own, we had proper management and we were growing So when we went from big clubs to theaters then quickly up to amphitheaters, it was cool. It didn’t seem like something foreign or something we didn’t earn.

LVW:Can we expect some more Vegas gigs in the future?

JS:Well we do our fair share of corporate gigs out there but those aren’t usually publicized. Primm is our next one and we’re going to take some time off after this little West coast run.

LVW:Do you still have a connection with the Silverton?

JS:Our deal with them was a three-year deal where we did a couple of gigs a year and that ended last year and we didn’t renew it. It was a nice home away from home. We were hoping they would get a proper venue in there. Maybe in the future, when they keep building, they’ll have a big theater or something we can get back to.

LVW:So is the Shady Grove Lounge at the Silverton closed?

JS:It’s not the Hootie and the Blowfish Shady Grove Lounge any longer, I don’t know what it is -- maybe it’s the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Café now.

LVW:What brought about the decision to do Burger King commercials? Some of your fans felt it was selling out to corporate America. How do you feel about this?

JS:You know, I encourage anyone and everyone to try it if you like it. It was just [lead singer] Darius but there was a lot of like and unbelievable amount of hubbub about it. To me it was just an opportunity, something fun and different and so it didn’t seem like a big deal but apparently there was a decent contingent of Hootie fans who didn’t like him expressing himself in that manner. They want their Hootie just the way it used to be I guess.

LVW:What was the fan response like to Darius’s solo work? Were fans disappointed not to hear Hootie and the Blowfish songs performed at his solo shows?

JS:I’ve seen varieties of Darius’s shows. He did an R&B album some years ago; he does these big band shows where he plays Sinatra music. He’s got a great voice for that. It comes very naturally and now he’s put out a country record; he’s very versatile. And some people want rock ‘n roll Darius and some people want Hootie with the beard and the frickin’ ball cap and the flannel shirt. I lean toward letting somebody spread their wings and express themselves.

LVW:Do any of the other band members play in any side projects?

JS:I just put out a record about three weeks ago as a matter of fact which is why I of course promote spreading wings because I’m spreading mine right now.

LVW:Is that a solo album?

JS:Yeah I wrote all the songs and sing the lead vocals. I’m just frickin’ pumped. I put off a record for some years because I didn’t know who I wanted to produce it and I didn’t know what I was supposed to sound like. I’m just so proud and psyched. It’s fun and it’s a little different from the Hootie stuff. It’s progressive and it’s got some new sounds. It was just a blast making the damn thing.

LVW:What brought about the drastic haircut?

JS: (Laughing) Well there are many reasons I suppose. I was going through a part of my life where I wanted some sort of change and seeking to find out- seeking in general- seeking to find out who I am and what’s important to me and that’s one of those things that got dropped off along the way. It was not important to me; in fact it was important to me to drop that sort of persona and really reach out and dig down deep inside and figure out what I’m made of. That’s also the reason I put the record out then. That album spells out a lot of what’s been in my heart lately and you get to be my age and s**t, and you gotta say something. You can’t just go off like it’s the ‘80s or ‘90s. It’s 2008 and who needs that damn hair?

LVW:Do people still recognize you guys?

JS:They recognize us in general, especially Darius, as usual. I tell you the best thing about cutting my hair is I don’t get recognized. And not that I was hiding but I want to be James Sonefeld, not just the Hootie drummer dude with the long blond hair from the ‘90s. There’s nothing wrong with that guy, well actually there was a lot wrong with that guy but there’s a time like I said to spread your wings and do something different.

LVW:Are you still with Vanguard records?

I don’t even frickin’ know; how lame is that?

LVW:I didn’t see you listed on their Web site.

JS:It’s a great label. We put out a CD and a DVD with them but we don’t have plans to get back in the studio right away so I don’t even know if we’re under contract with them or not.

LVW:Do you all still live in the South?

JS:We all live in South Carolina. I live in Columbia still and the rest of the guys are in Charleston.

LVW:What is life like after your big rush of fame? Are you living a relatively normal life in the suburbs or are things still crazy?

JS:I personally struggled a little bit with that. Just balancing everything. Balancing fame and balancing fleeting fame and then balancing some semblance of a normal life. When you start having kids and a family it just changes your perspective a little bit.

LVW:Has everyone settled down with a family now?

JS:Everybody’s got kids. We have a varying degree of marriages and failed marriages. That was one of the things that started colliding for me- the fame, the fortune and all that colliding with family and everything in between and I came out on the other side a lot happier and with no hair. And my kids are great.

LVW:What can we expect from the band in the future? Any plans for upcoming albums?

JS:I think right now it’s a good time for everybody to work on their solo albums and to get back and do a studio album there’s really gotta be a big amount of desire. You really gotta want it and have some music that’s really brimming at the surface. And we don’t have that right now. And that’s fine cuz we’ve been spending time, Darius in the country world, and me trying to become a lead singer, which is fun. And so we don’t have plans right now. The band is not broken up by any means; we just haven’t booked a studio date yet.

LVW:Any thoughts on the west coast tour?

JS:It’s really far away. I don’t want to look at it like it’s the last time we’re going to be there for so long. I look at it as just a great chance to see all our fans on the West Coast again because we will be taking a break. The places we’re playing are fun. We don’t get to Nevada much to do public shows so it’ll be great especially in Primm to see the public out there.

Hootie and the Blowfish at Star of the Desert Arena in Primm Aug. 23, 8 p.m.

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