The String Cheese Incident Plays Pure, Cultured Folk Rock

“I’ve never seen these guys before, but I heard they were awesome,” seemed to be the catch phrase at Friday night’s String Cheese Incident concert at the American Theatre. Still on the underside of being “popular” by today’s standards, String Cheese was still able to blow away its nearly sold-out crowd.

String Cheese, made up of Michael Kang (electric and acoustic mandolin and violin), Bill Nershi (six string acoustic guitar), Keith Moseley (four and five string electric bass), Kyle Hollingsworth (piano, organ, Rhodes and accordion) and Michael Travis (drums, congas, djembe, talking drum and percussion), are masters of improvisational music. Their repertoire consists of bluegrass, folk, Latin and Afro-pop all woven together with a base of traditional American rock.

The show opened with a three-song medley, including a band-descriptive “Sand Dollar,” that was cut short due to a broken snare drum. However, this did not ruin the already developed groove. Hollingsworth quickly caught on to the time needed to repair the drum and started an impromptu “Hold Your Head Up” that the rest of the band soon joined and turned into a nice bluegrass jam. After this, Nershi announced that the next song would be their last of the set so they could properly fix the drums. They would soon return with a much longer second set.

After a nice, breath-catching break, Cheese returned with a set to boggle the minds of the audience. Early in the set, the band broke out its knee-slapping “Johnny Cash” that brought the crowd right back to where they had been left at the set-break. This soon wove its way into the highlight of the show. Breaking out their classic American rock roots, the band segued into Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” A valiant attempt was even made at the difficult vocal lines originated by Jimmy Page. Other highlights of the set included “Dixie Chicken,” and a guest appearance by all members of Ozomatli, a Latin-rap band, for a two song encore. Ozomatli had opened for Santana, who played that same night at the Fox.

Overall, String Cheese Incident provided their crowd with something for everyone. While keeping a Grateful Dead-like background, Cheese explored all their categories of music, leaving the crowd exhausted by the end of the show. They continue their tour with a show tonight in Columbus, Ohio then move to the East Coast for shows in Florida, North Carolina and a two-day stand for New Year’s Eve in Portland, Oregon. Here they will be joined by Keller Williams, Calobo and The Zen Tricksters. The band is labeling this New Year’s Eve run as something that will “encompass a `world-music’ theme on a scale of grand proportions.”

String Cheese is no stranger to playing with the greats either. In August they joined Phil Lesh, bassist for the Grateful Dead, when he brought his “Phil and Friends” to Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colo. In June, the band returned to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival as a headlining act. And last Sunday they joined Santana, The Bluerags and Bela Fleck Bluegrass Sessions for a show benefiting the Friends of the Smoky Mountains National Park.

If you are a fan of bluegrass, reggae, jam bands or other roots genres and are interested in hearing what String Cheese has to offer, but don’t have the time to catch any of the shows, “the albums speak volumes,” according to the band’s web-page. It is these albums that distinguish the band’s craftsmanship. They have just released a live double album and in 1998 released “Round the Wheel,” which has become the band’s best seller. However, if you do have time to catch a live show, the band recommends this as the best way to experience an “Incident,” as they are commonly referred to.

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