Stealing the title from Disney World, Morrison, Colorado quite possibly became the “Happiest Place on Earth” last weekend as String Cheese Incident took over the world’s only naturally formed open-air amphitheater for three days. Large smiles and loud screams (read: “Wooo!”) covered the faces and escaped from the mouths of the outrageously costume-clad fans, hungry for a taste of what they’d been missing. Many a Cheese-head has been waiting for them to come back to the road since they stopped touring after the summer of 2007. Since that final run at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, they have played only two shows, both in 2009 at Denver, Colorado’s Ogden Theater, and at Michigan’s now-defunct Rothbury Music Festival. With people traveling from all over the country for this latest Incident, it’s rather fitting that the event should happen here again, where the band can welcome their fans to their home turf.
Judging from the energy with which the band came to the stage blasting their (appropriately chosen) bluegrass number “Can’t Stop Now”, it would seem that they are more than ready to pick up right where they started. And it’s a good thing, too: when guitarist/vocalist Bill Nershi left the group in 2007 to pursue his own projects, he was leaving what was possibly the most popular and talented group still playing in the jamband scene at the time. They’ve found a way to mix their bluegrass leanings, which tie them tightly to their Colorado roots, with the psychedelic improvisation that has kept them progressing both as individual musicians and as a whole throughout much of their touring career.
Even a band such as the String Cheese Incident, known for their high-energy and tight-knit jams, could have been forgiven had they played with a little rust on the edges for their first concert in almost a year. But such forgiveness was not necessary: the sextet could hardly be stopped as they burned through covers like Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” and segued directly into the classic bluegrass number “Lonesome Fiddle Blues” (SCI’s version includes a brief reggae interlude). Kyle Hollingsworth turned his keyboard into something resembling Peter Frampton’s talkbox during a cover of The Eagles’ “Rocky Mountain Way”, and bassist Keith Moseley walked his bass up and down the stage as Michael Kang used his electric mandolin as a fierce weapon against Nershi’s guitar in a duel during the set-closing “Outside and Inside” (the battle ended in a “split decision” after countless rounds). As fans stumbled around the venue during the set break, hardly anybody could be heard saying a negative word about what had transpired.
And that wasn’t all. The second set raged nearly as hard as the first one, though perhaps with one downfall – that being the attempted cover of MGMT’s “Time to Pretend”, a tune that this generally anti-pop crowd does not love. Even though the energy died down rather drastically at that point, the audience was able to enjoy it for what it was: a well-known song that’s easy to dance to. But, the vibe quickly went back to its previous state, one of happiness and joy, as the song gave way to the Townes Van Zandt tune “White Freightliner Blues” before moving slowly into the fan-favorite “Rivertrance” – a seventeen-minute recreation of the traditional “Riverdance”. John Coltrane’s “Impressions” was later covered as well, resulting in a thirteen-minute energy roller coaster. The original String Cheese song “’Round The Wheel” was followed by “Shine” to close the second set.
As an encore, the appropriately titled “Brand New Start” may not have left the crowd with the same high energy that the rest of the show had delivered, but certainly served as a signal for good things to come. With the String Cheese Incident refreshed and re-energized, we can only hope to see more tour dates on the calendar in the near future.