Last week, as part of my freelancing for the Denver Post, I went to see three String Cheese Incident shows at Red Rocks. Cheese is a band I first saw in 1998, first at Telluride Bluegrass on the main stage, then Friday and Saturday nights right after that in the Quonset Hut, which couldn’t have held more than 400 people. Since the band was from Colorado, up through 2003, I basically saw all their Front Range shows, plus the occasional gig in Vail, Crested Butte, or Telluride. The shows were always fun, and even when I sometimes made fun of their tendency to make everything sound happy, including sad bitter songs like “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” the band left me smiling way more often than not.
In the mid-aughts, before their hiatus, the band started experimenting with its mostly bluegrass-based sound a lot. First, Bill Nershi was moved from center stage to far stage right. Then he started playing an electric guitar on some songs. The keys became trancier and more prominent, and with Phish gone on its own hiatus, the crowds got more unruly. I didn’t even go to their last pre-hiatus run at Red Rocks.
Sometimes time away really makes the heart go fonder. When Cheese returned to Red Rocks in July 2010 for three shows, they were triumphant, and it seemed their playful energy was back.
Right before last week’s run of shows, my colleague at Reverb, Colin St. John, wrote a piece on why people shouldn’t go to so many jam band shows. I can’t say he didn’t have some points, but allow me to offer a counter. First, jam band shows often are like family. You have many “show friends” that you see time-and-time again at shows, reveling in the joy of the music. Second, since the bands usually play completely different sets every night, you never know when they are going to lay down THE SHOW, the one that you will be talking about for ages. Last weekend, it was the Friday night show for SCI, the middle night, amidst horrifically challenging conditions. A severe storm moved in, leading to a two-hour rain delay. When the band resumed, most of the fans had stayed, hoping the weather would break and the show could resume. From the opening notes of “Restless Wind” to the closing fun of “Quinn the Eskimo,” the night was amazing, so much so that I bought the download from Live Cheese.
So go ahead, make fun of me for seeing the same band three nights in a row. I’ll always have the last laugh!