Say Cheese: The Early Days of String Cheese
Words By Nicholas Stock
Long before Jason Hann and even Kyle Hollingsworth called themselves members of String Cheese Incident, Michael Kang, Bill Nershi, Keith Moseley and Michael Travis were slogging it out in the Rocky Mountains. Formed in the far west town of Crested Butte, what began as a series of random musical encounters, has evolved into a jam institution. Not much is really known about the early days and what is written references their light gigging and playing mountainside shows for lift tickets. In fact, while I was working as a stock footage coordinator I came across some vintage footage from CBMR and put together a short video.
In a 1998 interview with Keith, he states, “We were a four piece in the very beginning, started in Crested Butte, Colorado – where we were all ski bumming it… (We) started doing some après skis and happy hour stuff and we decided we might be able to make a career out of this if we got serious about it.” And that’s exactly what they did; over the next few years they moved from a glorified wedding band to a relentless touring machine. The main way that String Cheese set themselves up for success was by keeping artistic control over their material. By forming SCI Fidelity in 1996 and releasing their own albums they were able to keep themselves from being gobbled up by the industrial music complex, which is a trait that continues with them today. In the early days they booked their own tours, recorded their own albums and picked their own management.
Recordings from 1993 and 1995 are nonexistent on The Archive, but a few shows start showing up in 1995 after the band moved to the Boulder area. One such show is from November 12th, 1995 at the Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery. Listening to this show is like stepping into a time machine and looking at a snapshot of a band just finding its footing in the scene. Classic tracks like "Mouna Bowa" feel stripped down and much more acoustic. In fact the entire show sticks very much to SCI’s bluegrass roots, veering off into pyschadelic jam, reggae, and rock only sporadically.
String Cheese Incident Live at The Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery on November 12, 1995.
SET I: Sittin’ On Top of the World, Mauna Bowa, Bigger Isn’t Better, When Will I, Congo Square, Chili Dawg, Evangeline, Little Hands, Blackberry Blossom*, Legends, Land’s End, Happy Birthday Jessica, The Chicken**, Texas, Eat My Dust
*with the Double Diggs household of 8
**with vocal jam
“Out with the tables in with the dancers.” Bill Nershi
They take the time to talk about various songs before playing them, explaining origins and reworkings. It’s enlightening to listen back to the stories now, because many of the songs they are extrapolating on are so ingrained in the Cheese catalog. The show is very much a family affair with loose crowd noise and even a rendition of Happy Birthday for a woman named Jessica. This show also features a few sit-ins including Jaime (I assume Janover) on didgeridoo and Joe Jogerst on accordion. Travis focuses much more on the hand drum than he does currently or even when I began seeing SCI in 2001. The highlight may be Billy discussing how he wrote "Texas," based on an experience in Fredericksburg on the way to Jazz Fest. Overall this show has everything you could want for an early Incident. Of course, over the years they have developed into an electro, grass, fusion group, but it’s nice to take a step back to see where the Cheese came from and to celebrate it.