Cheese A Tasty Alternative
By Matthew CharlesVail residents be prepared: when the String Cheese Incident rolls into town, a few thousand of their fans will be with them. College kids in colorful tie-dye, Rocky Mountain ski bums, silver-haired hippies from the beatnik generation, even the occasional business professional will all gather together to experience what some hail as the best live act of the new millennium.Guitarist Bill Nershi and mandolinist Michael Kang formed a solid partnership with each other in 1993 after finding they could make enough money to support their skiing habit by performing for people waiting in lift lines.After adding bassist Keith Moseley, percussionist Michael Travis, keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, and a name, the band was soon a staple of the aprs-ski party circuit in Telluride and Crested Butte. Playing an eclectic mix of bluegrass, folk, World Beat, Afro-pop, electric rock, country, jazz, and other gouda sounds, the String Cheese Incident frequently turn songs into half-hour epics of extrapolative creativity that keeps fans grooving in alter-consciousness.The String Cheese Incident owes the entirety of their livelihood to the singular dedication of their fans, whom have been steadily increasing in number since the band began touring nationally in 1997, and are now heirs apparent to the jamband throne.This grass-roots style was popularized around the 60’s by bands like the Grateful Dead, and was considered psychedelic by many because of frequent twists and turns and the spacey feeling it created within listeners. Drugs such as acid and marijuana were often used to compliment that feeling, attracting hippies across the nation to take part in communal jamband celebrations.After Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995 and the successive disbandment of the Grateful Dead, many jambands including Phish, Widespread Panic, Leftover Salmon, and Moe have appeared on the music scene to fill the void of the dearly departed. Phish had the largest following of jamband fans of all generations after the Dead, but a hiatus in 2000 and off-and-on status since then had fans looking elsewhere. Many are finding the Cheese a tasty alternative.The ballooning size of crowds at String Cheese Incident shows means more than just increased ticket and record sales. In the past, jambands and venues unable to manage unruly communal crowds were forced to cancel shows, battle lawsuits, and some went extinct prematurely. The members of String Cheese Incident understand that the crowd they inherited has the same potential for destruction, and have taken it upon themselves to make their shows as safe and fun as possible for all comers.”There are more young people coming out, more people doing longer stretches of tours now than there have been,” guitarist Bill Nershi explains. “But I’m really proud of our crowds and the way they handle themselves. We’re hoping the people who have been following us for a while will help us educate the newcomers about the scene. We don’t want any weird drug scene going on and will try to keep that under control. The buzzword is responsibility.”To help in their cause of promoting a healthy, undisruptive concert atmosphere, the band recruited a legion of volunteers through their Web site. Calling themselves ‘Pirates’ after one of the Cheese’s songs, the 4,000 plus members promote String Cheese Incident shows in whatever town or city the band passes through by hanging posters, handing out fliers, and spreading a general good vibe about the show. Pirates also help keep an eye on concertgoers during events, and aid in the cleanup effort after shows have ended, all for meager rewards of tickets and merchandise.Pirate treasureBut organizing the Pirates is not the only thing the String Cheese Incident have done for the good of the cause. A glance at their Web site (www.stringceheeseincident.com) reveals that this band cares more about their fans, their environment, and their music than many that have come before them.For the fans, the band created Madison House Travel, a web-based travel agency where concertgoers can easily buy tickets, get discounted rates on airfare and hotel rates, and can even help create a multiple-date, multiple-state agenda for the most dedicated followers.For the environment, the Footprints Foundation was created to give aid to each and every community the band passes through. Of Footprints, bassist Keith Moseley says, “We’ve done food and book drives, worked with recycling groups, aid domestic violence organizations anything we can do to help out. It’s a good time to do this in the world and take a look at what’s really important.”And for the music, String Cheeses Incident has always encouraged concertgoers to bring their own sound equipment to record live shows, ensuring a healthy catalogue of bootlegs for fans to trade at shows and on the Web site. The band also carefully documents the set lists from all of their shows to help with the accuracy of the tapes.With their own independent record company, SCI Fidelity Records, String Cheese Incident has released 5 studio albums. The latest, 2001’s ‘Outside Inside’, is an example of a leading jamband putting together a tight studio album that saves most of the actual jamming for the live shows, increasing its accessibility from a larger audience.’Outside Inside’ accomplishes what 1970’s ‘American Beauty’ accomplished for the Grateful Dead. Both albums are meant to be showcases of each band’s singing and songwriting abilities not their ability to deftly break off into tangents. It worked for the Grateful Dead, as three cuts from their album, ‘Friend of the Devil,’ ‘Truckin,’ and ‘Box of Rain,’ each received considerable radio play and brought the Dead a whole new segment of fans who thought the band didn’t play anything except long and spacey jams. Many tracks from ‘Outside Inside’ stand to do the same for the Cheese.But fans of the original jamming flavor need not feel left out. Late last year, the band released the ‘On the Road’ project, a live CD series of more than 40 different concerts played on the 2002 tour. These three-disc sets are all available on the band’s Web site for a reasonable price and, along with the full regiment of String Cheese originals, feature the amazing array of fun cover material the band has been known to play. Songs like Steppenwolf’s ‘Magic Carpet Ride,’ Dylan’s ‘Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,’ and Led Zeppelin’s ‘Ramble On,’ have never sounded so cheesy or so good.The String Cheese Incident will play on Monday, March 17, and Tuesday, March 18 at the Dobson Arena in Vail. Jamband fans of all ages are invited to attend, but be careful if you plan on making this psychedelic experience more psychedelic. Vail police has issued a statement warning concertgoers that there will be increased security to control the drug usage and vandalism problems that have occurred in the past. Have a blast, dude.
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