String Cheese Incident: A Colorado Tradition
Words & Photos By Nicholas Stock (www.phatphlogblog.blogspot.com)
No band epitomizes Colorado jam more completely than the String Cheese Incident. What began deep in the heart of the Rockies has come full circle, becoming a true jam band tradition. Continuing our discussion of the big bands in jam, this week we take a look at the amazing journey of SCI.
Hailing from Crested Butte and Telluride, the original incarnation of String Cheese formed in 1993 and has continued to represent Colorado jam ever since. Playing ski resorts and small private functions, they took to playing in earnest in 1996. The band had a slow start, taking an organic approach to their rise though the jam ranks. Staring SCI Fidelity that same year, they put out their first album Born on the Wrong Planet and hit the road to support. Playing over 500 “Incidents” from 1998 to 2001, touring was never the issue. It was during this era that they solidified their jamgrass sound but also where they began branching out into rock.
In 2003, SCI Ticketing sued Ticketmaster for violating antitrust laws. Basically it came down to them not being happy with only being able to sell 8% of the tickets to their shows. The lawsuit was settled in 2004 but again it showed their dedication to the SCI fan base by at least attempting to fight the high service fees and the monopolization of ticket sales in the U.S. SCI Ticketing changed its name to Baseline Tickets and continues to operate within the industry today.
With the release of Untying the Not, the elements of electronic music began to seep into their sound by 2003. And things went on well with some seminal tours such as The Big Summer Classic with Umphrey’s McGee, Yonder Mountain String Band, and Keller Williams as well as others. But by 2007, different ideas about the direction they should take as a band led them to announce their plan to break up. With shows in New York, Oregon, and San Francisco, String Cheese capped off their run with their “final” shows at Red Rocks. I was at those last shows and I can say it was a bittersweet experience. It was a lot of fun because everyone in attendance knew that once it was over, that was it. And for a while, that was true.
Eventually the bug got back in them and in 2009, after two years without an incident, they came back to play one show at Rothbury. With one additional unannounced sound check show at The Ogden, they were definitely rusty but the elements that made String Cheese special were still very much present. Since then they have played a handful of shows and just announced the Roots Run Deep tour which will take place on the East Coast and in the South for a nine show run. This is the most exciting news in recent memory for the SCI family. It will give them a chance to really get back into an extended run, and here are those dates:
November 25, 2011 Thomas Wolfe Auditorium Asheville, NC
November 26, 2011 Fox Theatre Atlanta, GA
November 27, 2011 Georgia Theatre Athens, GA
November 28, 2011 Ryman Auditorium with Acoustic and Electric sets Nashville, TN
November 30, 2011 Lyric Opera House Baltimore, MD
December 1, 2011 Tower Theatre Upper Darby, PA
December 2, 2011 The United Palace New York, NY
December 3, 2011 The United Palace New York, NY
December 4, 2011 Orpheum Theatre Boston, MA
So to wrap this up, I would like to talk about my first SCI show which was a co-bill with Phil & Friends and Les Claypool’s Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. SCI was the meat of this sandwich show as it was a chance to see them at my former home venue, Alpine Valley. The show they played that night would change my perception and gave me yet another band to be passionate about. They opened with an awesome “On the Road,” and here is the rest of the setlist from PT:
String Cheese Incident Live at Alpine Valley on July 14, 2001.
SET I: On The Road, Mouna Bowa, Turn This Around > Restless Wind, Way Back Home, Windy Mountain > White Freightliner Blues, Joyful Sound > Land’s End
ENCORE: Miss Brown’s Teahouse
I remember getting to the lot early and the fact that it immensely hot outside. We just hung out all day and made new friends. I was struck by how open and inviting the SCI fans were. People just seemed so friendly and happy to share not only whatever goods they had but also their deep knowledge about the band as well. This was the first time String Cheese had played Alpine and it was a solid outing, giving them a good foothold for additional Midwest shows. The “On the Road” was strong, but the “Mouna Bowa” was just beautiful. More than any other that SCI performs, this song epitomizes what I love about their sound. Kang’s fiddle work on this number is just mind melting.
After fighting through some sound issues, SCI pushed through to create a solid Incident in the blazing Wisconsin sun. The “Joyful Sound” into “Land’s End” to close out their set still sticks with me as one of my favorite musical moments at Alpine Valley. All in all, it went by way too quickly and it left me wishing they were playing another set. String Cheese definitely got their claws into me that night in Wisconsin, and despite the last few years being somewhat rocky, I still have high hopes for their continued success. And I truly believe they have amazing potential and deserve their spot at the top of the jam heap.