When String Cheese Incident announced their summer tour plans a few months back, it was hard not to notice all the three-nighters they had on the bill. Red Rocks Amphitheatre (of course), Horning’s Hideout, Electric Forest. SCI has landed and kept itself near the top of the jam-madness world long enough to sustain these nearly stretch-weekend sieges, and just about any working franchise prowling the interstate highways these days would mortgage its soul to have that luxury, but we asked keys player Kyle Hollingsworth how the band approached these gigs.
It’s more than just having a deep repertoire, isn’t it?
“You know, that’s a good question, I’m just thinking about that now that you ask,” he says.
“Obviously, we try to do no repeats over the whole weekend, each show will be a unique experience. And, certain circumstances, we’ll be doing, ah, like acoustic sets for example. The first festival will be Electric Forest [Rothbury, Mich.], and we’ll be doing an acoustic set there. But to answer your question, we basically just try to get a feel for each night. And on top of that, we’ll have all our theatrics and the whole Incident part of it.
“But we do walk in with a setlist, for sure. … We read the crowd in the sense that we feel the energy, and we’ll make choices on songs from there. And of course, jams are always pretty much up in the air. Anything can happen.”
We still had a BBC Beatles documentary stuck in our heads from the night before, a tightly compressed history piece presumably timed to coincide with the nothing-burger milestone of Paul’s 70th birthday. The script emphasized that the band really started unraveling after deciding in 1966 to quit the road and stick to the studio.
It’s probably perilous to use the Beatles as template for anything in the contemporary business of music, except maybe for the fact that the road is at least as important now as it was 40-something years ago, especially since people don’t really buy records anymore, and SCI, particularly, have solidified their repute as first-rate live performers. So we ask Hollingsworth about the whole road thing, band cohesion, keeping it fresh, especially in light of the timeout they took not long ago.
“Well, we’ve been back together at this point a year and a half, maybe two years,” he says. “I think in the beginning there was a little bit of a struggle. At this point, we did a whole fall tour of the East Coast, and that harkened back to the old days, we just felt the cohesion come together. Especially by about the eighth day, when you’re all sleeping in the bus together, and you’re like ‘Oh my God! I need space.’ Just when you feel like you really need the space, all of a sudden it comes together. They’re the best shows. When you’re ready to move away, that’s when the best shows happen.”
A little counter-intuitive, isn’t it? “It’s a really weird thing. You just start reading each other. ‘Oh, that’s it,’” he says.
The band also successfully executed a no-sales-charge, direct-sales program for a portion of the ticketing for each of their summer shows, a milestone dear to their hearts and representing something of a closure to their scrape with Ticketmaster extending back to 2003.
You won’t hear any lingering static from Hollingsworth on that subject.
“Yes, it’s great,” he says. “We have nothing against Ticketmaster, we just want to be able to sell tickets. We weren’t really in a fight with Ticketmaster, we were just fighting for the ability to sell tickets. That’s it.”
And it’s not all gates and hula-hoops and bus fumes. Just last week, the band released a new studio single, their first in years, a bouncing, keys-heavy Caribe-confection called “Can’t Wait Another Day,” and hinted of a new disc later this year.
Hollingsworth and Co. are even re-discovering the sometimes-muted charms of rehearsing and just plain goofing around in the forest, something that Hollingsworth, the once-aspirant forest ranger, still gets a charge from.
“We’ve been heading up there to Billy’s house, which is just outside of Nederland,” he says. “Other than the fire smoke, an amazing place to rehearse. Yesterday we did some rehearsing, then we went for a hike and some climbs among the rocks, then went in and played some music again. It’s nice to be hanging with the guys again.”