Tag Archives: Michael Travis

The final Incident: SCI at Red Rocks

String Cheese Incident 
Red Rocks Amphitheater
Morrison, Colorado
August 12, 2007
 
Words/Photos by Thomas Walsh

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Try as they might, there was no way the parking attendants were going to hurry anyone out of Red Rocks’ parking lot the night Bill Nershi departed the String Cheese Incident.  Elated yet tranquil, the audience had been through such an emotional peak that evening, it was simply impossible to leave at a moment’s notice.

If the parking attendants had been there to witness what the SCI community had just experienced, then perhaps they would understand.

Maybe they would understand if they knew about the giant octopus squirming above the amphitheater during the opening acoustic set.

Or maybe the fan-orchestrated slideshow the band watched throughout “Rhum N’ Zouc” would make them smile.

Maybe the fans could have mentioned Keller Williams’ hula-hooping his way to center stage, or the second encore for which the crowd faithfully pleaded, welcoming “Texas” to the historical footnotes as the last song The Incident ever played.

Or perhaps the parking attendants would have understood things on a more personal level, a more emotional level.  Because, more than anything else on August 12th, each and every fan attending String Cheese Incident’s final show, the final “Incident,” got peace of mind.  They got the closure they’ve long since awaited.

The finality of Cheese didn’t really register until the start of the third set at Red Rocks.  Granted, the audience knew this was the last time SCI was going to be playing together for the foreseeable future, but when creatures with eight tentacles are floating overhead, the mind really isn’t in touch with any sort of “reality.”

The party continued throughout the second set, especially when Keller Williams shared The Best Feeling In The World.  The amphitheater was bursting with so much excitement; Keller postponed his vocal delivery, causing the crowd to erupt with even more euphoria.  It was like 9,000 kindergarteners had been told that recess was extended fifteen minutes!

But by the time the third set started, the end was apparent, and String Cheese Incident knew it too.  They had no reservations about making the message clear either.  The lyrical content of songs like “Restless Wind,” “Looking Glass,” “Rhythm of the Road,” and “Shine” took on deeper meaning, each with purposeful intent.

There was no denying the truth anymore.  And if somehow the message wasn’t getting through, the music was just as reflective of the sentiments that evening.

The band extended the jam in “Shine” just a little further than one of them originally intended, pulling Michael Kang’s leading mandolin back into the melee before they all ransacked the climax together.

Afterwards, there were tears.

 

 

For those still unphased, an incredibly intimate jam out of Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” occurred during the first encore, a jam so delicate it surely woke up anyone who was not conscious of Cheese’s waning mortality.  The train was pulling out of the station, and the band wanted us all aboard for the finale.

“Good Times Around the Bend” could not have been a more appropriate choice for closing out SCIt’s career.  “The roller coaster has got to roll to the bottom if you want to climb to the top again.”  Even in the face of overwhelming reality, The String Cheese Incident had taken everyone to the top again, however bittersweet this last trip had been.

And now, looking back up at an amphitheater whose lights had been turned off, the SCI community realized that it got what it wanted.

They had closure.

So perhaps the best thing would have been to tell those parking attendants that one of the most beloved bands in America had just closed their last show with unparalleled style and grace.

That the catharsis everyone experienced during the last two hours was still running strong, and that the calm, peaceful mood in the air was a fleeting experience, and that nobody wanted to let go anytime soon, heartbreaking as it was to hold on.

Hopefully they would understand.

 

 

Set 1: Lester Had a Coconut, Long Journey Home, I’ve Just Seen a Face, Walls of Time, Panama Red, Hobo Song, Stingray

Set 2: One Step Closer > Rhum n’ Zouc, Sirens, Come as You Are, Indian Creek, Best Feeling* > Fuel for the Road*, Way Back Home

Set 3:  Restless Wind, Piece of Mine, Looking Glass > Drifting, Rain, Rhythm of the Road > Bumpin’ Reel > Shine

Encore:  Fearless, Whiskey Before Breakfast, Good Time Round the Bend

Encore 2: Texas

* w/ Keller Williams

Berkeley’s Greek Theatre bids farewell to the Cheese!

 

String Cheese Incident
William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre
Berkeley, California
July 21 & 22, 2007

 

 

After August 12, 2007, the String Cheese Incident (SCI), a beloved band 15 years in the making, will be no more.  But before that fateful day arrives, SCI will give many concerts in some of their favorite and most frequented venues across the United States.

Fresh off the plane after performing at the 10,000 Lakes Festival as the replacement act for scheduled headliner Trey Anastasio, SCI performed two shows at the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre.  Nestled into the lush green hillside of the University of California – Berkeley campus, the venue known locally as the Greek Theatre gives off a warm, welcoming energy to all who enter her gates.  Tall, venerable eucalyptus and pine trees surround the venue, which dates to 1903 and some college kids are even lucky enough to have a view inside from their dormitories.

 

Saturday, July 21

 

Upon entering the classic Roman outdoor amphitheatre mid-afternoon on Saturday, July 21, concert attendees noticed the unique open-air loading and equipment area on stage, the large combined capacity (8,500) of the floor, as well as seating and grass sections.  Opening acts the Disco Biscuits and Sound Tribe Sector Nine (STS9) were allowed rather long sets, filling in the floor area with their fans.

As SCI took the stage, an ethereal glow enveloped the area as the sun passed behind the columned background of the stage.  Thousands of ecstatic, colorful Cheese fans gave a loud welcome to the band as they began to play the jubilant Jean-Luc Ponty song “Mouna Bowa.”  The song was a perfect opener for the evening, complementing the ideal temperate climate and lighthearted energy of the crowd.

Bringing out the Stevie Wonder classic “I Wish,” SCI elevated the energy into a groove only a Stevie song could inspire.  Moving into bluegrass, Billy Nershi led the band with crisp, quick vocals on “Love is Like a Train” with Kyle Hollingsworth pounding out some saloon-inspired piano.

The very elegant Latin jazz influenced Hollingsworth song “MLT” was absolutely flawless (even with Nershi grinding the air with his hips) making the crowd focus on the quality musicianship of the band.  Giving Cheese fans a (figurative) dose of ecstasy, SCI played a ridiculously fast-paced version of the traditional bluegrass song “I Know You Rider” with percussionist Jason Hann playing a washboard, into Bob Marley’s “Stir it Up” and back into “I Know You Rider” to close the first set.

Unfortunately during the second set some audio-related problems could be heard randomly through the speakers, but by the end the problem had been resolved.  The first highlight of the second set came during “Desert Dawn” when Aron Magner and Jon Gutwillig of the Disco Biscuits joined SCI, adding electronica and distortion elements into the mix of the 15-minute version of the song.

The second highlight came with fan favorite “Way Back Home” into the instrumental “Birdland,” which displayed Hollingsworth’s abilities on keys, Keith Moseley’s steady funky bass rhythms, and Michael Travis’ perfect time on drums.

Up on the highest level of the amphitheatre – the grass area – another world opened up to fans.  Backlit by the silver shining crescent moon, dozens of hula hoopers displayed their graceful dance.  The band played tribute to their friend and sometimes musical guest Keller Williams with a solid performance of “Best Feeling,” which blended back into “Way Back Home.”

During both sets, Hann was all smiles, bursting with positive energy and making a real connection with the crowd.  SCI ended the show with the fan favorite “Search” displaying Michael Kang’s mastery of the violin.  The crowd couldn’t have been more satisfied, giving loud applause and shouts of approval, but then again, most in attendance were also looking forward to the next show.

 

Sunday, July 22

 

Showtime on Sunday, July 22, was much earlier with the contemporary bluegrass group Hot Buttered Rum String Band (HBRSB) taking the first opening slot around noon.  Nershi came on stage with his acoustic guitar for the band’s final two songs, “Honkeytonk Tequilia” and “Cumberland Blues.”

The floor area filled as the seasoned second opener, Railroad Earth (RRE), took the stage following HBRSB.  The band, with their heartfelt lyrics and delicate bluegrass sound, always touches audience members in a rather unusual way.  Nershi, on his electric guitar, joined RRE on their last song, “Mourning Flies.”

The sun was high and the air was hot as SCI took the stage on Sunday afternoon.  The energy of the crowd and band was intense and quite different than on the previous evening.  Murmurs of hope for a bluegrass-focused show could be heard amongst the crowd.  SCI opened with the mellow “Shine,” allowing the crowd and the guys a chance to ease into the glorious day.

Cheese fans were treated to some of their favorites such as “Jellyfish,” “Black Clouds,” and “Farther” during the sets.  Throughout the show, SCI invited members of the opening bands and later the entire bands up to share the stage with them, heightening the onstage energy to a level most in the crowd had never experienced before.

Watching each band member’s mutual adoration and appreciation of one another’s talents was almost enough to make onlookers tear-up.  The culmination of the show and various collaborations came at the end of the second set when SCI announced that they were going to have “A Hot Buttered Railroad Incident.”

SCI couldn’t figure out where HBRSB members had disappeared to saying, “No, it’s the Hot Buttered Guys who are all drugged out and wasted.”  Once they emerged, the never-before-seen Incident played a bluegrass version of the classic Christian tune “Whiskey Before Breakfast” about which Nershi commented, “This is what you call a cluster pluck.”  The intense breakdown jam at the end was too fast to keep up with dancing.

The Incident went right into The Carter Family tune “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”  With so many people onstage, Nershi or Kang signaled to the individual musicians for their solo parts.  The multi-vocal harmonies and insane interweaving of instruments proved that a huge group of immensely talented musicians can come together with precision.  SCI thanked the other bands and played “Smile” as the second encore of the show.

SCI was much more in touch with the crowd on Sunday night.  Before the second encore, Nershi gazed out at the crowd as the fans stood in disbelief at what they had just been part of and witnessed.  As the night concluded, the crowd felt overjoyed when he said, “You guys seem to think we’re pretty cool. But … watching all you guys just let go and dance your asses off, you are the true heroes.”

 

7/21:

Set One: Mouna Bowa, I Wish, Love Is Like A Train, Sometimes A River, Turn This Around, MLT > Drums > Rain > I Know You Rider > Stir It Up > I Know You Rider

Set Two: Eye Know Why > Looking Glass > Desert Dawn*, The Way You Do The Things Yo Do > Way Back Home > Birdland > Best Feeling > Way Back Home

Encore: Search

* with Jon Gutwillig and Aron Magner (Disco Biscuits)

 

7/22:

Set One: Shine, Little Hands > Dudley’s Kitchen, I’ll Fly Away*, The Walls Of Time*, Black Market > Jellyfish > Black Clouds

Set Two: Piece Of Mine > Bumpin’ Reel, Farther, Long Way To Go^, Sweet Melinda^ > Lovelight Jam > What A Day That Was > It Is What It Is

Encore One: Whiskey Before Breakfast*^ Will The Circle Be Unbroken*^

Encore Two: Smile

* with Hot Buttered Rum String Band

^ with Railroad Earth

 

String Cheese Incident, 7/21-22/07 || Berkeley, CA @ the Greek Theatre

All photos by Keith Berson / keithberson.com

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Carnival Time with String Cheese Incident

The String Cheese Incident

Winter Carnival @ the Fillmore

Denver, Colorado

March 22 – 24, 2007

 

The String Cheese Incident performed their annual Winter Carnival this past week in Denver, and while I was only able to catch 2 of the 5 shows they did, by all accounts the band is playing with a renewed interest in the music that has been missing in years past.  In turn, the audience is responding with an infectious enthusiasm that irresistibly permeated The Fillmore over the course of the weekend.

The Fillmore’s crowd was much more festive than what I’m used to seeing down South.  Costumes were donned, glitter was sprinkled, and color-changing roses were dispersed during Friday night’s intermission.  Combine this celebratory attitude with a well practiced and focused band, and the results were nothing short of explosive chemistry.

Musically, String Cheese proved that if these are indeed their final days, they will end things with an exclamation point.  At times the jams were tighter then they have been in the past, as evident by the techno-driven “Big Shoes” that was more succinct than normal.  Regardless, the band still managed to be cerebral; the Egyptian-inspired jam out of “Shine” was completely original.

We were treated to many a surprise, including a couple of Jerry Garcia Band staples (“Midnight Moonlight” and “The Way You Do The Things You Do”).  However, others were novelty and probably won’t hold up for listeners who did not attend the shows, such as the hysterical Michael Travis-led bluegrass rendition of Devo’s “Whip It” that included costumes and red hats.

But even though the chemical reaction between attentive band and joyful crowd made for some of the best music I’ve ever heard String Cheese produce, a shadow looms over my thoughts when I look back on my experience in Denver.  Despite the undeniable positive aspects of this year’s Winter Carnival, or rather, because of it, I cannot help but wonder why Bill Nershi would withdraw from the band at a time when they just seem to be getting things back together musically.

Obviously the answer is on a personal level that only Nershi can truly understand.  He must do some soul-searching on his own before he continues any further.  And I for one completely respect and support this decision.  If Nershi needs to take some time off from The Incident, than by all means, go right ahead; we all saw what happened to Garcia when personal time took a back seat to upholding a juggernaut.

But no matter how often I reassure myself that Billy must go do his own thing, I’m left “banging my heart against some mad bugger’s wall.”  Even if he wants to get away from the huge crowds and continued electronic experimentation SCI drifted into the past couple of years, there is something unsettling about his decision.

While playing acoustic bluegrass in more intimate settings with Honkytonk Homeslice can and hopefully will be very therapeutic for SCI’s unspoken leader, there is still a certain adventurous spirit that only The Incident can harness. 

It’s the kind of energy that Michael Kang unleashed at The Fillmore during his electric-Celtic jam in “Valley of the Jig,” or the unexpected accordion solo Kyle Hollingsworth did masterfully before launching into “Little Hands” beautiful midsection.

It’s even the sincerity of Nershi’s own “Smile” and musical build up before its refrain that pulls on the heartstrings just right.

Whatever Nershi’s intentions, we all wish him the best and support the decision he makes.  I just hope it is the best decision. 

With only a handful of months remaining, our time with SCI is limited.  If the band continues with the vigor they displayed during Winter Carnival, we’re in for some spectacular performances.  And when Billy ventures off on the road by himself, I just hope he knows we’re tending the light for him at home.