Hootie and the Blowfish keep exploring 

The Hootie guys reassemble for expanded Homegrown Concert

Getting off the road felt like a necessity when Hootie and the Blowfish went on semi-hiatus three years ago. Everyone in the band welcomed the opportunity.

"We definitely felt it was time to take a break," says lead guitarist Mark Bryan. "We had been out doing it for 24 years straight, and we all had had kids at that point, and we weren't making nearly as much money touring as we used to. It was time to take a break. It's been great as parents and a great career move for Darius."

While lead singer Darius Rucker has become a bona fide country star, Bryan has used the time to release a solo album (2008's End of the Front) and work with local artists as a producer on studio projects. Based in Awendaw, he also started teaching music business classes at the College of Charleston and managing regional acts.

Drummer Jim "Soni" Sonefield has also released a solo album, 2008's Snowman Melting, and bassist Dean Felber's been doing commercial work in his new home studio in Columbia. But the guys still reunite regularly for golf and fantasy football.

"We haven't gotten together yet to write for a new album," Bryan says. "I want to do it when Darius wants to do it, when he's had enough rest from what he's currently doing. There's no hurry, but I definitely think that will happen at some point."

When it does, they'll have a lot of songs to sort through as everyone keeps writing. Bryan's been sharing many of his latest creations through an e-mail campaign he calls Song of the Fortnight (ctmg.us).

Though he doesn't expect Rucker's recent commercial success to change the heart and soul of Hootie, Bryan wouldn't be surprised if it informs some of what they do.

"He always had a country influence, so it wasn't a big surprise to me," Bryan says of his bandmate's solo career. "You can even hear that influence in our stuff early on. As far as our sound moving forward, we haven't talked about it, but I would imagine it would be similar to how it's always been, where there would be a touch of the country and also some rock and R&B influence as well. The best songs always make it to the top, that's just how we do it."

Hootie and the Blowfish's 1994 breakthrough album Cracked Rear View — their major label debut on Atlantic — sold millions of copies thanks to the singles "Hold My Hand," "Only Wanna Be with You," and "Let Her Cry." In the 2000s, the pace gradually decelerated for the group, though. With Hootie and the Blowfish no longer touring, these annual concerts have become significant events for fans in the Carolinas.

"It's a big to-do now instead of just another tour date," says guitarist Mark Bryan. "Charleston's embraced it, which is wonderful, and we're helping a lot of people with it."

Every summer, as kids prepare to go back to school, Hootie gives them a welcome boost with a fundraiser for the Hootie and the Blowfish Foundation, a nonprofit that funds music programs at South Carolina schools. This year, they've added a second, day-long series of shows to accompany Saturday afternoon's Homegrown Roundup.

Visit hootie.com/foundation for more.

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