By: Carmel O'Farrell (@carmelocorn)
The String Cheese Incident continues to trek their own path in what seems to be a fractioned music industry. With more focus on quality over quantity, Cheese has cut back their touring schedule in exchange for multi-night runs at destinations like Red Rocks.
The touring lifestyle just isn't for everyone and String Cheese fans seem more than happy to accommodate a little travel in exchange for a good time.
What the band saves in gas clearly goes towards production. Cheese pulled out all the stops -- their light rig was on another level for this Red Rocks show. A massive circular screen resembled a setting moon behind the drum kits and two smaller circular light rigs sat to the upper right and left of the stage.
Lasers illuminated the crowd throughout the weekend, providing a portal into the Incident while video projections doused the rocks with colors, patterns, and programmed imagery.
If there was an overall theme to the weekend, it was Colorado being celebrated at every turn. The opening acts all three nights -- as well as the special guests throughout the weekend -- all call Colorado "home."
In fact, String Cheese has played Red Rocks more than any other venue with the weekend's shows being their 33rd, 34th, and 35th shows at the natural amphitheater. Conscious Alliance was also on site auctioning off a piece of abstract art entitled "Colorado Bluebird Sky", named after the well known String Cheese tune.
As far as the music goes, Cheese hit all the right notes.
Friday's show was highlighted by high energy dance music, perhaps expected with Cheese coming off of two weekends of Electric Forest. The first night's set opener "Believe", the title track off SCI's latest studio album. Honestly, the record contains a variety of songs that had yet to win me over... but that was until I saw them live.
Most of the music on Believe hadn't seen the shining faces of a String Cheese crowd before the record was released. Out in public, they've found their legs, with the crowd's reaction pushing them to maturity.
True to form, String Cheese mixed plenty of old in with the new. Friday saw the return of "Parkers Blues" bookend by "Ms. Brown's Tea House", which eventually segued into the Weather Report classic "Birdland" to end the first set.
Right about then was when the rain started and it didn't stop until the end of the second set. By the time Cheese busted into relentless version of "Valley of the Jig," the ponchos were out and crowd was ready to weather the storm.
The band seemed inspired by the rain and even got industrial at times as wind tore through the mountains in Morrison.
The night's encore started with a drum jam led by Michael Travis on cowbell and featuring members of the night's opening act, Jyemo Club, as well as Cheese's percussionist Jason Hann. String Cheese then covered "Don't it Make You Wanna Dance" to end the first night of the run.
Saturday was a sold out show and as the spaces between fans eventually filled to their maximum concentration, fans everywhere were being challenged by their own egos. It was a scene where gypsies thrived and the clean cut kids gets their shoes dirty. Luckily, the tension was quickly dissolved by music and the first set on Saturday aligned the energy of the diverse, packed crowd.
The band spread out their first set on Saturday by showcasing every facet of themselves.
The styles that each member of String Cheese brings to the table could be the most eclectic combination in the jam scene. There is hardly any genre this band won't touch. The crowd was right there with them, too, happily singing along to a cover of "Ophelia" and the aforementioned "Colorado Bluebird Sky" to end the first set.
By the second set on Saturday, most had suspected something was about to go down.
SCI is known for going all out and "over the top" during special events. So when Kyle Hollingsworth and Jason Hann came on the stage wearing black trench coats and holding loaded neon green squirt guns, everyone's eyes were glued to the stage.
The Mission Impossible theme song blared in the background as the rest of the band dropped from the rafters above the stage like spiders forming a web -- legs and arms flailing a la Tom Cruise circa 1996 -- until they finally landed (safely) on the massive Red Rocks stage. The crowd roared with delight as we have all come to expect such absurdity from The String Cheese Incident.
Second set was all about Big Head Todd Park Mohr who joined Cheese for "Forever Man" and "Hot 'lanta," covers originally by Eric Clapton and The Allman Brothers Band, respectively. They jammed for a solid chunk of time, shredding licks like they were trying to tear the place down.
The rest of the set flowed like a current, peaking with "Howard" and finishing off with "Just One Story" to bring the set to a close. Finally, Saturday night ended with the bluegrass classic "How Mountain Girls Can Love," delivered in a distinctly String Cheese fury.
Sunday's show started while the sun was still high as curfew was 11pm, an hour earlier than the previous nights. That didn't hold the band back one bit. In fact, a fan-voted first set created miles of smiles as the band sailed through catalog throwbacks like "100 Year Flood" and "Texas."
By this point it was clear that Sunday was going to be the "cheesiest" night of the weekend. Mission Impossible continued to be introduced as a musical theme and between Hollingsworth's fancy top hat and Kang's unstoppable dance moves, we could all tell the band was feeling the proverbial "it" that turns regular concert goers like myself into live music fanatics.
Sunday's second set kicked off with "Rivertrance" followed by the lesser known "Dirk." Cheese then welcomed out Tyler Grant of The Grant Farm for a new tune entitled "Get Tight".
My favorite moment of the weekend came in the form of "Little Hands," a progressive ballad that hit the crowd right in the feels. As the song peaked, Kyle Hollingsworth threw down on the melodica for sweet solo with just a touch of nostalgia for the past. It amazed me that such a powerful sound could come out of such a small instrument. Well done, Kyle.
"Born on the Wrong Planet" was complemented Sunday's set perfectly with Saturn and Mars being visible in the western sky throughout the night.
It got me thinking about all the transitions of SCI and their evolution over the years I'd been seeing them. Even after all this time, they still manage to surprise me by bringing something new to the experience.
For the Sunday night encore, Cheese was joined by Andy Hall & Chris Pandolfi of The Infamous Stringdusters. Michael Kang joked, "If there was a Bluegrass Mafia, these guys would be in it" while the crew fiddled with wires and pedals.
Once technical difficulties were taken care of, the group busted into "Black Clouds" with plenty of string picking to fill the outdoor space with good vibes. SCI then welcomed Tyler Grant back out for a bluesy cover of The Grateful Dead's "Brown Eyed Women." This was the first time Cheese has tackled the GD classic -- there were no complaints.
The band exited the stage and the crowd cheered with all their might, but the house lights never went on.
String Cheese then took it a step further with yet another encore featuring the band's beloved "Rosie" for one last dance party before the weekend was through.
The String Cheese Incident will only be playing a hand full of shows the rest of 2017 including a Chicago Theater run over Thanksgiving weekend and New Years at The Capitol Theater in New York. That means this was SCI's last home state show of the year, which didn't go unobserved by anyone at Red Rocks.
From the openers to the standup comedy that entertained us during Sunday's set break, every artist that performed on that famous stage calls Colorado home.
Guitarist Bill Nershi kept referring to the weekend as a local celebration, which you could feel on every level. After all, there is undoubtedly an element of comfort that comes along with being able to sleep in your own bed.
S1: Believe, Smile, These Waves > Djibouti Bump > Can't Stop Now, Falling Through The Cracks, Miss Brown’s Teahouse > Parker's Blues > Miss Brown's Teahouse > Birdland > Orange Blossom Special > Birdland
S2: You've Got The World, Valley Of The Jig, Windy Mountain > Joyful Sound > Rumble, Outside and Inside > You Wreck Me > In The Hall of the Mountain King > Beautiful
E: Drums (w/ Jyemo Club), Don't It Make You Want To Dance
S1: Climb, Hi Ho No Show, Ophelia, My One and Only, Black And White > On The Road, Colorado Bluebird Sky
S2: Mission Impossible, Forever Man*, Hot ‘lanta*, Jellyfish > Land’s End > Let’s Go Outside > Howard > Just One Story
E: How Mountain Girls Can Love
* = w/ Todd Park Mohr
S1: 100 Year Flood > Can't Wait Another Day, Indian Creek, Resume Man, Galactic > Don't Say > Shine > Texas
Set Break: Josh Blue standup comedy
S2: Rivertrance, Dirk, Get Tight^, Little Hands, Born On The Wrong Planet, Rollover > Soul Shakedown Party > Rollover
E: Black Clouds#, Brown Eyed Women^
^ = w / Tyler Grant (The Grant Farm)
# = w/ Andy Hall & Chris Pandolfi (The Infamous Stringdusters)