The String Cheese Incident 7.5.12
Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Words By J-man
Photos By Nicholas Stock
While composing this piece the effects of the weekend's decisions could still be felt. Intoxicating consciousness, blurred objectiveness and many memories escaping into time as incredible moments were too cumbersome to recall them all. A String Cheese Incident three night Red Rocks run is one of the pinnacles of the "Jam band" scene. Part homecoming, part family reunion, part spectacle; This three night run would encompass it all. To say that it came with its challenges would be an absolute understatement. Torrential rain, aggressive law-enforcement, extensive searches at the gates, potential show cancellations and delays all played into the experience. Yet in the end, none of the aforementioned negatives would hinder the overwhelming resolve of passionate SCI fans... for this weekend belonged to them.
The sun shined bright Thursday on lot, obscuring any foreshadowing of the days to come. Familiar faces brushed shoulders with one another as nameless characters peddled their goods in an attempt to make it to the next show. Red Rocks lots are almost always a trip, even more so when a band like SCI is performing. With many folks coming from their respective jobs, the lots were lighter than anticipated, however the lines and searches were not. At the top of the Upper South ramp patrons waited to be searched extensively, delaying many from seeing the opening notes of the show. Inside, the venue filled slowly showing signs of the gate delays in the half empty rows of the amphitheatre.
String Cheese Incident Live at Red Rocks Amphitheater on July 5, 2012.
Set One: Sometimes a River, Lost > Pygmy Pony, Gratitude for Fire Fighters, Song in my Head, Cedar Laurels>, Under African Skies > Colorado Bluebird Sky
Set Two: Let's Go Outside, Miss Brown's Teahouse > Chameleon > Miss Brown's Teahouse, Rhum 'N Zouc, Struggling Angel, Solution, Sand Dollar > Drums > Desert Dawn >
Encore: Whisky Before Breakfast, Outside and Inside
The band appeared to the delight of those in attendance and began with Keith Moseley's "Sometimes a River." Bright tones crisscrossed with Kyle Hollingsworth clavinet crunches before Keith's vocals came into play. The solos and jams that followed would be the first of many that evening. The band took off with soaring instrumentation and fantastic chemistry. The ever-so-groovin', "Lost" followed with Kyle at the helm. Thirteen minutes later the jam became semi-menacing before turning into the Latin sounding, "Pygmy Pony." Then came a very special moment when Bill Nershi spoke of those both affected by the Colorado wildfires and those battling the blaze. Empty boots weaved in and out of the rows and quickly filled with generous contributions from caring Cheese fans.
A standard sounding "Song in My Head" was followed up and overshadowed by a pace-quickening, "Cedar Laurels" that featured Michael Kang on the fiddle. With Michael Travis taking the beat higher, Red Rocks turned into an all out dance party. The jam slowed down and transitioned into a beautiful "Under African Skies," that in itself explored a range of musical options. SCI then transitioned into "Colorado Bluebird Sky" that built and peaked to close the first set of the weekend. The house lights came up and many sat down. Red Rocks became a maze of SCI fans enjoying all of the non-sense that the setbreak had to offer.
Some time later, the boys would return to the stage and begin with Kyle's "Lets Go Outside" with a flowing, near electronic sounding mid-section. In the distance, an orange moon could be seen rising over Denver. "Miss Brown's Teahouse" came next opening up the second set for some great moments. One such moment came with the transition into Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" and Kyle utilizing some dirty tones on the synth. Three minutes later the band went back into "Miss Brown's" with Kang wailing on the electric mandolin, before going right into Jean-Luc Ponty's "Rhum 'N Zouc." The song boasted some fantastic and characteristic Kang fiddle as well as Jason Hann's consistent and impressive hand drumming. This was indeed one of the high points of the show!
What came next was a beautiful moment honoring one of SCI's fallen fans. The song "Struggling Angel" featured Keith's heartfelt vocals and lyrics. It was a bittersweet moment, yet a wonderful tribute. The pace picked back up with "Solution" and some additional funkiness via Kang's mando chops and Kyle's screaming synth.
"Well this is just night one..." Kyle said with a huge response from the crowd.
An extended "Sand Dollar" meandered along before growing exponentially and resolving with a Travis and Jason drum section that blew minds and shook hips. On the drop of a dime "Drums" transitioned to "Desert Dawn!" The solos were heavy and intense eluding to "Desert Dawn" being the set closer, but then something happened in the music. It became intense and reflected the potential for some electronic influences. The composition built and climbed, then it happened... Dubstep. Old school Cheese fans cringed while the new generation of fans went wild for their whomp fix. In that moment, it was clear that SCI would catch a lot of shit for this decision, but ultimately, it was a sign of the times. It wasn't 1996 anymore and we weren't at Mishawaka. As always, the transitions were impeccable as they ventured back into the recognizable riffs of "Desert Dawn."
"You want some more!?!" Billy asked with excitement! "We're going to bring it down to earth here for a minute with some bluegrass."
The house lights came up once again as the the wind gusted. The band began their encores with "Whiskey Before Breakfast." Travis' drumming was lite allowing for the acoustics of the other member's instruments to shine bright. Jason scratched on the washboard as Kang fiddled away. With the music gaining speed like a train out of control, Red Rocks broke into an all out hoe-down. The fans appreciated the raw bluegrass in which they were presented with. It was a stark contrast to the dubstep of the second closer. "Outside and Inside" followed for the second encore. Kang and Billy dug in and played well off of one and other, throwing lead licks back and forth with smiles on their faces. Bliss overtook Red Rocks as folks lost themselves in the music.
What a fantastic end to a great opening night of the run! Sure, the band would receive criticism for the dubstep section and a few minor flubs, but overall folks were thrilled with what they heard. String Cheese played well and left the fans literally begging for more. But alas, there were two more nights of music to be had. With that, the night came to a close and the drain was pulled from Red Rocks, creating a flooding of wide-eyed folks out of the venue and into the lots. It was back to reality... Until the following day.
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