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.