The String Cheese Incident at the Palace Theater

By Janet Wolfe

The String Cheese Incident is a tale of a food fight at one of our city's finest venues but is, in fact, a group of musicians from Crested Butte, CO who played the Palace on April 25, and 26. Having had a demo copy of one of their CDs (which I played when I guest-hosted on WFPK) I wanted to see what this band could do live. The short answer is that they are at the top of their game, mixing bluegrass and jazz into what I would call "jazzgrass," and what Sam Bush and Bela Fleck call "newgrass."

SCI has a following that travels across the country with them, though one not as enormous as the crowds that Phish and the Grateful Dead encountered during the last two decades. Consequently, the house was only about half full both evenings. As an aficionado of the Sixties' music culture, I felt at home when the hippies invaded Fourth Street, selling hemp jewelry, veggie burritos and anything else you could possibly want. The whole event reminded me of the Grateful Dead shows in the mid-1980's and Phish concerts during the early 90's, when the tickets were still available, the music was outstanding, and the crowds were small and friendly.

The String Cheese Incident players are masters of bluegrass who stir in some sizzling Latin American salsa, find a groove and captivate the audience. The first night included a very sophisticated 25-minute instrumental jam, plus, they said, two cover tunes: "Hey Pocky Way" and a fiery version of "Voodoo Child." Even though the songs were new to my ears, they were most enjoyable. I so was impressed with the drummer, Michael Travis, who played congas and drum kit simultaneously, that I brought a drummer friend of mine with me the second night.

The band usually plays two sets in a typical evening, but, because they really enjoyed the digs and the acoustics of the Palace, it went on longer. The second night opened with a special acoustic set that was clean and precise.. The night's selections included "Galactic,". Restless Wind," "Come as You Are" and "Good Times Around the Bend" from their 1998 release, Round The Wheel, performed with intense energy.

The piano player, Kyle Hollingsworth, played a mean accordion, while the drummer doubled on nose whistle. Michael Khan, violinist and electronic mandolin, can fiddle with the best of his contemporaries. All members of the band shared singing responsibilities equally and they played as well live as in the studio. They have a new CD coming out this month called Outside Inside, which you might want to check it out. I picked up their live release Carnival '99, which is a find for any SCI collector. This might be the first time you've heard of The String Cheese Incident, but it certainly won't be the last. +