Thursday, October 19, 2000

Not so incidental

String Cheese Incident moves up bluegrass jam band ladder in wake of Phish

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Last time I checked, Kentucky still had “Bluegrass State” on its license plates, but Colorado is catching up fast.

        Musically speaking, that is. There's a new wave of bluegrass jam bands that all bear a “made in Colorado” label: Leftover Salmon, Runaway Truck Ramp, the Tony Furtado Band, Yonder Mountain String Band and the String Cheese Incident.

    What: String Cheese Incident
    When: 7 p.m. Friday
    Where: Taft Theatre
    Tickets: $20 at Ticketmaster (562-4949) and Taft box office; $25 day of show
        All of them have been making their way to Tristate stages, part of an eclectic national jam band scene that also includes rock acts such as moe. and Ekoostik Hookah and funk groups like Fishbone and Deep Banana Blackout.

        String Cheese Incident, from the Boulder area, is quickly rising to the top of the heap, with a national tour that brings it to the Taft Theatre Friday. When Phish announced it was going into hibernation for a while, SCI's stock rose even higher, and many say the five-man band will be the next big thing in jam bands.

        SCI keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth isn't so sure.

        “It's a wild thing, I don't exactly know what's going to happen,” he says by telephone. “I think a lot of the jam bands, including Leftover (Salmon) and moe. and everybody are going to see some fallout from this. I don't know if we, in particular, are going to see more than anyone else.

        “Phish brought many different types of people in. Some people will come to us for what we do, and some people will go to moe. for what they do, and some people who like bluegrass will go to Leftover. I think it'll filter out eventually.”

        The versatility of SCI should work in its favor. Sure, the band plays bluegrass and features Michael Kang's blazing mandolin solos, but Mr. Hollingsworth has sharp enough rock-improv chops that former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh picked him for his band on a recent tour.

        “We did eight shows with him — us, moe., Gov't Mule. And Phil Lesh took different members from each band to make his band. I was the only keyboard player, so I got to do the whole thing.”

        Mr. Hollingsworth, 32, is a trained jazz pianist, but he moved to Colorado from Baltimore “for the mountains. At first, I thought maybe I'd be a forest ranger. Then I said, "No, I'll stick with music.' And then I hooked up with these guys.”

        He's been part of the band for the past four years, wrapping his keyboards around material as diverse as bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe's venerable “Shenandoah Breakdown” and the Meters/Neville Brothers' Mardi Gras party anthem, “Hey Pocky Way.”

        Both can be heard on the most recent SCI CD, Carnival 99, on the band's own label SCI Fidelity (available online:

        The band is particularly excited about its just-finished CD, due out early next year and recorded for the first time with an outside producer, Los Lobos saxman Steve Berlin.

        “It was kind of challenging at times to kind of let things go and let the producer take some creative control,” Mr. Hollingsworth says. During two weeks of recording at a home studio in Austin, Texas, the band was able to think about nothing but making the album.

        “We were able to get away and be focused on the album. We'd wake up and we'd be right there, ready to record.”

        Like many indie bands, SCI controls its business, retaining ownership of its recordings while distributing them through a larger label (in its case, Rykodisc). The band hires an outside publicist to work the music press and keeps in touch with fans through mailing lists and the Internet.

        But unlike the Dead Heads and the Phish Phanatics, SCI doesn't have a catchy moniker for its followers. “Incidentalists, maybe?” Mr. Hollingsworth lamely offers.

        Even without a name, there are a lot of them out here, and with Phish off the scene, their numbers are sure to grow.

        “We get a wide range, from people who are mid-teens, 15-16, going up to older fans in their 50s and 60s coming out to our show,” says Mr. Hollingsworth. “That's another thing we want to work on with the influx of the new, younger generation potentially coming from Phish. We want to keep our scene well-rounded.”

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