The String Cheese Incident 12.31.16

1stBank Center
Broomfield, CO

Words By J. Picard
Photos By Doug Fondriest Photography

"The sun came up, the sun went down, again, again, and again..."

The sun was setting on 2016 as Carly and I found ourselves at the top of Coal Creek Canyon at our friends' Matt and Teri Maylen's place. They had been in Colorado for about a year, so it seemed no better time for them to join us for our annual celebration with The String Cheese Incident on New Years Eve! We made our way down the winding dirt road with the city lights in the distance. We stopped at Wondervu Cafe which lies between Golden and Nederland for some top notch Mexican food and margaritas! With our bellies full we rolled down to the Front Range and made a turn towards Boulder, then towards Broomfield. With little to no traffic we pulled onto the lot, parked in VIP next to the West entrance and headed into the venue! The fans were turned up, dressed in all sorts of sparkling shit, greeting one another and gearing up to ring in the new year! It was clear, this is where we wanted to be and we were in for a treat courtesy of three sets from The String Cheese Incident!

We headed in and situated Matt and Teri in the back corner of the bowl so that they could take in the full scope of what was about to take place. The band hit the stage with excitement at the prospect of the evening's affairs! They kicked off the first of three sets with "San Jose!" A few flubs worked themselves out quickly before everything was dialed in and moving towards 2017! "Song In My Head" came next and the crowd was moving as the music was "getting louder!" "MLT" entered the picture with Michael Travis, Jason Hann and Keith Moseley at the helm as the layers built. What started loose became electronic and weird before resolving with precise percussive strikes. A rare "Who Am I" from Untying The Not featured Kyle Hollingsworth's vocals and still broken arm perched on a stool beside him.

"Outside And Inside" began with ripping electric guitar work from Bill Nershi before it resolved with the typical verse. Bill continued his take over for most of the song digging into some interesting stuff before transitioning into the Allman Brothers' "Hot Lanta," a song we've heard Bill perform a bunch with Roosevelt Collier! Kyle's keys were the perfect feature to the composition which was output pretty true to form, including Bill and Michael Kang's dual lead. "Hot Lanta" transitioned into the Grateful Dead's "Deal" which triggered a roar from the near full 1stBank Center. Kang fielded the vocals with the assistance of just about everyone in attendance for a solid sing-a-long. Kyle really stepped up on the track and it was a great close to set number one!

Carly and I gave each other the glance and made haste backstage just in time for the tapping of the margarita keg! Yes, there was a margarita keg! The staff from Mountain Sun Brewery doled the drinks out quickly and efficiently as the small room filled to its breaking point. We grabbed our drinks and headed out to the hallway where we ran into our friends Randy and Steve from Santa Cruz. We spent the majority of the set break catching up and lost track of time, as is often the case when conversing with great people. We disbanded and made it back into the venue just in time for Bill's last "Group Hoot" of 2016!

The second of three sets began with "Close Your Eyes" and a positive message for the packed house. Highlights included some cool slide work from Bill, some ripping electric mandolin from Kang and some sizable bass strikes from Keith. The fitting "Looking Glass" made a rare appearance for the occasion. Bill and Kang's vocals complimented each other well and towards the middle of the jam the music was reaching towards the top of the mountain! "Looking Glass" went into what was referred to as "Time Square Jam," featuring Kang's best Jerry Garcia tone. The jam was really good and was used as an eight minute segue into "Orange Blossom Special," the 1938 classic tribute to the rail that ran between New York City and Miami! Kang's fiddle playing is one of my favorite aspects of Cheese and is often used to get Bill fired up for some flat-picking madness.

"Get Tight" the newer tune from the SCI Sound Lab, Volume I followed, creating a great point for us to step away and grab a glass of red. The classic "Best Feeling" was up next with Kang on vocals and a cool dub mid-section. "Best Feeling" transitioned into a killer version of The Police's "Walking On the Moon!" Travis' vocals were on par with Sting's range and I wondered how many of the younger fans were familiar with the song. The band went back into "Best Feeling" after about five minutes and built towards a synth/talk box heavy dance party before going into the ever-so-heavy and disjointed "Howard." The chaos mellowed and made way for Kang's vocals and the crowd to yell "Howard!" Sixteen minutes after it began and sixteen minutes closer to the new year the song came to a close, as did the second set.

We wandered around the concourse aimlessly, running into friends and familiar faces. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry to get situated for the big moment when 2016 would become 2017 and their sins would be washed away. We headed back to our corner of the bowl to ring in the new year with Matt and Teri!

"Alright 2016, fare thee well..." Kang said with a snicker.

The third set began with the band in tuxes and "You've Got The World," which was a fun way to build towards the insanity! Flashlights were visible in the rafters as folks in costumes were taken to their proper locations and strapped in. A huge Kyle solo had the packed house in a frenzy. Upon the conclusion of "You've got The World," it was time. Past years had been insane and involved so many different mind-blowing concepts that one could only imagine what we were in for.

"Just One Story" was it! Kang sang the first verse and then the band took it down low to a valley that would almost require a harness to climb out of. This would be the base for their build towards 2017. Almost seven minutes into the jam dancers appeared on spinning platforms in large head dresses! A minute later, clear confetti snow globes with dancers inside were lowered from the ceiling and aerial acrobats were lowered above the stage with large fabric wings! They were flown over the crowd as the music picked up and from the ceiling in the center of the arena appeared an orb that blossomed like a lotus flower and presented carousel horses with dancers on board. Slowly large balloons were dropped from the rafters as a countdown popped up on the screen. Though a few minutes late, balloons and confetti rained from the 1stBank Center as the place erupted!

Balloons poured down the stairs next to us like a waterfall and in that moment Teri appeared to be in utter shock and Matt was by far the happiest that I had ever seen him. It seemed that balloons had a similar effect on Matt as they did on Bill Clinton! It was complete chaos for a good ten minutes! The song concluded and was followed by a solid minute or two of balloons exploding, people hugging and kissing!

Up next was "Don't It Make You Want To Dance" with Billy's lead vocals and Kang and Keith backing. There was some cool note matching on an ascending line between Bill and Kang that stood out. "Rivertrance" made an appearance with a plethora of electronic sounds and manipulations. Over the course of about twelve minutes, the song featured Kang stretching his wings and sawing away at the fiddle, showing his full ability.

Keith took a moment to point out that the band had been together for twenty three years, thanked everyone and mentioned how special it was that the music could bring together so many great people from all over! Next was "Sirens" with Kyle's clavinet thumping away and Keith's solid vocals. "I just want to say I love you..." resonated throughout 1stBank before a bunch of huge missed notes and some out of tune scrambling led to some dancehall rapping from Jason. "Sirens" dismantled itself and became "Champagne Jam" for a six and a half minute segue. The intensity picked up for one last electronic burst via Kang and "Beautiful." It was heavy. It was electronic. It was the end of set three.

Through three days of diverse material from twenty three years of SCI, I wondered what they would close the weekend out with. To my dismay the first encore was "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)." The sing-a-long ensued and I slowly began to fade. The song was short and poorly transitioned into the now traditional "Sitting On Top of The World." It was by no means the conclusion that I was hoping for, though who was I to complain following the three nights that we witnessed?

The weekend was a lot of fun spent with one of our favorite bands from past and present. We got to experience three nights running the gambit of SCI's catalog and shared smiles and drinks with some of our best friends. We got to thank the band face to face, see them perform a special VIP set and ring in the new year at what felt like home! String Cheese New Year is a reunion of sorts, with folks from all over the country coming together in Colorado to celebrate life, and celebrate we did. Cheese heads were all smiles as 1stBank Center cleared out sending hippies off in all directions to shine on. For us, we headed west into the mountains and took the winding dirt road to the top where we would rest our heads on 2016.

Doug's Photo Gallery

Set One: San Jose, Song In My Head, MLT, Who Am I, Outside and Inside > Hot 'Lanta > Deal

Set Two: Close Your Eyes, Looking Glass > Orange Blossom Special, Get Tight, Best Feeling > Walking On The Moon, Howard

Set Three: You've Got The World, Just One Story, Don't It Make You Wanna Dance, Rivertrance, Sirens, Beautiful

Encore: The Mighty Quinn, Sitting On Top Of The World


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