Screenshot of Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers covering Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” on YouTube.
Written by Hannah Borenstein
A concert for a fan is a singular event. We show up to the nearby venue, then dance, sing, and nod our heads for a few hours, and finally head back to the comfort of our own homes. But for the musicians, touring is a nomadic journey involving large chunks of time moving from place to place away from family, friends, and familiarity.
But Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers decided the time spent traveling should be filled doing what they do best – playing music. Hailing from California, the band’s iPhone-recorded videos, coined as the “Van Sessions,” have gone viral after gaining the attention of over 2 million viewers on YouTube. Their tour is continuing into the next winter and as they travel to the east coast, fans are anxiously awaiting what they will cover next.
“When we started doing longer tours with more extended drives, our bass player, Steve Adams, started bringing along a ukulele to play,” Bluhm said. “We had been wanting to work out ‘Tonight You Belong To Me’ from the Steve Martin movie, The Jerk. Once we worked it out, we thought it would be fun to post it so our friends, family, and fans back home could see how we pass the time on the road.”
The ideas for which covers to play usually derive from a particular interest of a band member or through surfing through Billboard charts of the ‘80s and ‘90s. They have showcased their versatility through Van Sessions-versions of everything from The Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin Man,” Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby!”, to Madonna’s “Material Girl,” and many other hits.
“I think the Van Sessions help the band’s camaraderie in that we’ve just completed a challenge together,” Bluhm said. “It’s fun to dissect songs from our childhood and really learn the ins and outs of the songs we choose.”
One of the most recent videos, a cover of “I Can’t Go For That” by Hall and Oates, in which Bluhm kills a kazoo solo, received over 1 million views since the March 23rd upload.
Users posted a range of positive responses such as, “What an absolutely incredible voice. She has ‘it’” and “Totally creative… and a great way to pass the time while driving.”
However, to some, the band’s enthusiasm was concerning in regards to their safety. One user wrote, “The keyboard player is not buckled up. Otherwise, Great Video!”
But to Bluhm (who is wearing her seat belt throughout the video) the concerns are trivial: “I’ve been singing and driving since the day I got my license at age 16. I’m pretty sure everyone sings and drives… at least I hope so.”
According to her, there were no real intentions for the Van Sessions other than to have fun and share something with loved ones back home. Many users are urging the band to make a CD of their Van Sessions and play them at concerts (which they frequently do), and although there are downloads available, the band has greater enthusiasm for their original music.
“We’re very pleased that people are enjoying them as much as we enjoy making them,” Bluhm said. “As fun as the Van Sessions are though, we mostly want to share our original music with people, which is obviously what we are most passionate about.”
Whether the derivation of popularity has been related to specific fans’ inclinations to a cover, or the refreshingly voyeuristic experience of social media, the Van Sessions have allowed viewers a new and special connection to the band.
Their unique idea has allowed those close to Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers to more fully understand the band’s total experience as they travel from venue to venue. The Van Sessions offer an opportunity for fans to partake in their natural camaraderie both on the stage and on the road by providing a glimpse into their journey.
Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers will be continuing on their tour well into the winter and their record Driftwood will be re-released on July 18th. For more information, visit their website: http://www.nickibluhm.com/.