String Cheese alum Bill Nershi finds his mountain music roots

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There were a couple of big reasons why the String Cheese
Incident parked its tour bus for good in summer 2007, halting a decade-long run
for one of the jam-band scene’s biggest bands.

Understandably, the musicians needed a break from 14 years
of hard touring — and, well, from each other.

But for singer-guitarist Bill Nershi, the Colorado group’s
gray-bearded, unofficial frontman, there was also a pressing creative issue.

“The direction of the music in String Cheese was
definitely going away from my interests,” Nershi explained by phone last
week, heading from Durango, Colo., to Los Angeles, with his new Emmitt-Nershi
Band.

“As an acoustic guitar player, I’m a little out of my
depth when the music moves toward electronica,” Nershi continued.
“It’s just like, ‘Well, I guess this is cool. But, you know, as an
acoustic guitar player, I’m not sure what my role is. Or even if I have a role
anymore in some of this music.'”

That concern is a distant memory now. After leaving String
Cheese, Nershi found a like-minded musical soul in Drew Emmitt, vocalist and
mandolin extraordinaire for Leftover Salmon. Along with bassist Tyler Grant and
banjo player Andy Thorn, Emmitt and Nershi crank out one specialty: bluegrass —
the improvisation-friendly, newgrass kind.

Mountain music always was a key element in the fusion
approach of the String Cheese Incident, as well as the bluegrassier Leftover
Salmon. But, with other members contributing disparate musical influences —
particularly in String Cheese — it wasn’t the focus.

Emmitt and Nershi had been hoping to work together for the
past five or six years, Nershi said. After finally holing up in a friend’s
house in Estes Park, Colo., they wrote an album’s worth of songs in three days
and realized they truly clicked as musicians.

Since disbanding, the String Cheese Incident has reunited
for a couple of special concerts. But, mostly, Nershi said, his post-Cheese
life has been about spending time with his family and enjoying the new
collaboration with Emmitt.

“It’s great. We’re having the time of our lives,”
Nershi said. “We didn’t know when we started playing if this was going to
be a long-term thing or not. But I think that making the album together has
really shown us that, ‘Hey, this is something that is really working and is a
really worthwhile project to keep doing.’ So the album has really changed our
perspective. And, hopefully, it will change the perspective of the people that
listen to it.”

Released on Sept. 29, the 11-song “New Country
Blues” will sound familiar to longtime fans. Nershi and Emmitt re-recorded
a song from their better-known groups: the upbeat “Restless Wind”
from String Cheese, and the uplifting “This is the Time” from
Leftover Salmon. The CD’s title track also may remind diehards of an old
Leftover Salmon-covered bluegrass classic called “I Ain’t Gonna Work
Tomorrow.” The playing level on the CD is high, but not overtly flashy.
Concerts, however, could be a different story. Emmitt is a smoking mandolin
player. And Grant, the group’s bassist, also happens to be the 2008 National
Flatpicking Champion.

Being a bluegrass group, the Emmitt-Nershi Band doesn’t have
a drummer. But the acoustic instruments create a rhythmic punch that can be
“pretty in your face at times,” Nershi said.

“This band definitely gives me incentive to
practice,” he added. “There’s a lot of really hot picking going
on.”

As expected, the Emmitt-Nershi Band is performing for much
smaller crowds than String Cheese did at its peak. Nershi says he’s enjoying
the opportunity to sign CDs, meet fans and gig on a more personal level.

The Emmitt-Nershi Band’s setlists generally include original
tunes, String Cheese and Leftover Salmon favorites, and traditional bluegrass
breakdowns.

Already, Nershi pointed out happily, “tour hounds”
are following the Emmitt-Nershi Band on tour just like they did String Cheese.
The difference is that fans won’t see a fancy bus rolling up to the venue. The
Emmitt-Nershi Band tours in a van.

“We don’t have a lot of gear, and that’s the beauty of
it,” Nershi said. “It’s less about equipment and having all the gear
and more about just playing your instrument — and the four of us locking up to
create a rhythm together that has power.”

The String Cheese Band: Where are they now?

Bill Nershi (guitar): Touring with the Emmitt-Nershi Band

Michael Kang (mandolin): Working with his environmental and
social awareness non-profit group Our Future Now

Kyle Hollingsworth (keyboards): Touring in support of a new
singer-songwriter, pop-influenced solo album, “Then There’s Now”

Michael Travis (drums/percussion) and Jason Hann
(percussion): Touring in electronic jam band EOTO

Keith Moseley (bass): Has been playing dates with Keller
Williams’ backing band

Via McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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