Say Cheese: Mishawaka 96'
October 6th, 1996
Words By J-man
Excitement runs rampant at MusicMarauders, but our previous excitement pails in comparison to how we feel about our newest column. For me personally, my first psychedelic experiences revolved around SCI and I met the love of my life at String Cheese Incident's three day Red Rocks 2010 run! Cheese runs through my veins and as I try to do this column justice, I think back to the beginning of the band, to a time that seems long past...
String Cheese Incident Live at Mishawaka Amphitheatre on October 6, 1996.
Set 1: Soundcheck Jam, Wake Up, Chili Dawg, Hold What You Got, Unconditional Love, Lester Had a Coconut, Lonesome Fiddle Blues, Take A Little Time, High on a Mountain Top, Remington Ride > Mouna Bowa > I Know You Rider
Set 2: Unavailable
This show properly reflects both the quirky humor and high energy levels of the early years and provides an interesting perspective as to how the band's name came to be, or not. Unfortunately, all that is available is the first set. The recording begins with a crisp soundcheck that quickly turns into the Michael Kang (Mandolin, Fiddle) led "Wake Up." The band was originally a bluegrass/string outfit, but by the time this show occurred, though early, the transformation into a full fledged jamband had already begun. Factors like the extended length of their songs, Kyle Hollingsworth on keys and Kang's sustained ripping on the electric mandolin pointed to the direct intention of their musical expansion. The end of "Wake Up" brings the band's approval from the sound engineer and Billy Nershi (Guitar) announcing that it was his birthday (which of course, it was not) and giving a profile of himself as if for a dating service.
"Chili Dog" brought out an almost salsa groove and a bright combo of electric tones from Kang and slide guitar from Billy. The jam dug deep as modal progressions ascend and descend leaving the rhythm section of Keith Moseley (Bass) and Michael Travis (Drums, Percussion) to keep the compositions together. "Chili Dog" came to a close with minimal crowd noise and Michael Travis introducing Kang as "The best ukulele playing Chinese woman..." "Hold What You Got," tied bluegrass music back into the set once again, but with a clear jam element.
What followed can only be described as complete and utter nonsense as the story of how The String Cheese Incident got their name unfolded. The hilarity mellowed and "Unconditional Love" ensued. "Lester Had A Coconut," brought a Caribbean/Calypso feel with instrumentation oozing with bright notation, chasing each other around the stage rhythmically and melodically. "Born On The Wrong Planet" triggered a funky breakdown with Kang returning to the mic for some additional vocal contributions. Billy's delightful acoustic solo melted into Kang's electric take over and returned to Billy's funk guitar chops. The cues were met with perfection and precision, reflected by a well rehearsed band of musicians.
"Lonesome Fiddle Blues" began with an effect-laden intro that lead into what would be one of the highlights of the set. The climbing duel melodies leveled out with fantastic musicianship from Kang, followed by Billy once again sweeping up on the acoustic, before returning to Kang who had dawned a fiddle. The jam mellowed with Kyle's piano section, as well as Kang and Billy breaking through adding chops and noodling. On the drop of a dime, the progression takes off again with Kyle destroying the keys as he so often does. Eleven minutes later following an intense closing resolution, the song concluded.
"Take a Little Time" slowed the set down with an airy approach. With the song's closing Billy took to the mic, "Alright, that's it for the sensitive shit. Anyone have too much beer out there and they have to give it away? It's my birthday! Jerry, let's party! Come on buddy, lets get down! Who's got a cocktail.? Come on, there is a bar back there, I can see it!" he said while saying hello to folks in the crowd, before settling on a margarita. "And get one for Jerry too, it's his birthday! Jerry what are you drinking?"
Through all of the banter, the following section stands out to me most,"Well... people still think we're a bluegrass band... I'm not sure why," Billy said before insisting that Travis gave him a bluegrass beat and Kyle tickle the ivories. "Yeah, bluegrass. I love that shit," Billy expressed before the band went into "High on A Mountain." The song brought the set full circle with the most traditional bluegrass arrangement of the evening. It was a perfect combination of Cheese's roots/bluegrass sound combined with all of the feel and approach of a jamband.
"Ok, we're all going to take a dunk in the river at set break, are you ready for that?" Billy said, with what sounded like honest intentions and Kang chiming in to say "Billy, you'd better live up to that one."
The instrumental accordion heavy "Remington Ride" kept the energy up as Moseley stepped up for a brief bass solo. The closer of the first set is and will always be one of my favorites SCI songs, "Mouna Bowa." As I sit and listen to this recording, my mind drifts back to sitting in the middle of a field in Tennessee with thousands of happy folks. The clouds danced, turned to fractals and faded away as the sun began to set.
"Mouna Bowa" has always captured and exemplified the magic of Cheese. The beautiful fiddling of Kang, Billy's acoustic fills, Keith's bending bass, Travis' percussion and fills with Kyle's subtle tones creates what many feel is musical perfection. "Mouna Bowa" eventually transitioned into The Grateful Dead's "I Know You Rider," abruptly coming to a close after a couple of minutes to conclude the beautiful recording!
Is this the most quintessential Cheese show? Probably not. Hell, it's not even a complete recording. But the reason that I chose this show was to offer a glimpse into the band at a time when they were still building their fanbase, experimenting with new styles and paving the way for what would become a new sub-genre of music. As far as quality goes, this show is next to perfect. In regards to entertainment, the music and the banter are top notch! Enjoy this slice of Cheese history and stay tuned for all that is to come leading up to and as tour is in full effect!