Business Unusual

The String Cheese Incident's sunny music has earned it fans all over the world. Its six companies have earned millions.

The same could be said of the SCI machine. "No one's getting rich here," says Brooks Elliott, SCI's tape cataloguer who supplements his pay by doing maintenance work in the SCI offices. "But I don't really care at this point, because I'm so dialed into this job that it's not a concern for me." His goal is to fill the holes in the String Cheese tape catalogue. "It's become a mission for me; I want to complete the puzzle," he says. "I'm possessed." A few doors away, two smiling staffers are fielding calls from String Cheese fans looking for accommodations for their next Incident. (Madison House Travel also books travel arrangements for Leftover Salmon, Leo Kottke, Chuck Morris Presents and others.) In another room, a staffer is cheerfully taking ticket orders. Down the hall, David Hamilton is angling for radio time for String Cheese, trying to place SCI songs and taped interviews on non-commercial specialty shows around the country. "It's a cool family atmosphere here," Hamilton says. "And I like the sense of keeping the machine rolling, away from The Man and Ticketmaster and things like that."

"We could have been a great band that nobody ever heard of," says Kang of his band's approach, "but we took an active role in finding the right people to help us promote ourselves and avoid that. But the heart of all of it is still the music and what we create as musicians. The business helps us create our destiny and do what we want to do, but ultimately, it depends on us being vital creatively."

"It's been a big commitment, our touring and reinvesting and sacrifice," says Moseley. "But now, here we are six and half years down the line, and we're starting to enjoy some of the fruits of our labor. We're not getting rich, but we're playing some nice venues, selling some nice records and feeling like we're pretty established at this point."

They may not seem like captains of industry, but the String Cheese Incident has a Boulder office full of employees.
They may not seem like captains of industry, but the String Cheese Incident has a Boulder office full of employees.

That assessment is sure to sound like severe understatement to working musicians and struggling businesspeople. But if Moseley and his bandmates are downplaying SCI's successes, the band's staffers aren't. Prior to the Telluride gigs, Jesse Aratow spent his days dealing with law-enforcement agencies and city leaders there, troubleshooting to make sure the two sold-out shows went smoothly. He convinced the National Forest Service to open up a closed campground outside the town so that fans would have an "all String Cheese campground" to camp in between shows. The site, Aratow notes, is the same spot where one of the band's members once lived in a van while earning cash playing Telluride sidewalks and small bars. Cheeseheads looking for space there this time around will have to buy a site through the band's travel service. It's an irony that's not lost on Aratow, who once crashed in that same spot with his current employers.

"I know where all this is going. It's going like this," Aratow says, arching his hand straight into the air. "We're on a rocket ship."

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