“So, are you ready for your first Red Rocks show?”
“Oh, yeah, I’ve been waiting to see Cheese here for so long, man!”
“You ready for those stairs?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty fit.”
“You think you are until you climb up there.”
This was the conversation we heard outside the porta-johns in the lower south lot of Red Rocks Amphitheatre
on the first night of String Cheese Incident’s Rocks N Roses three-night run
, which started July 15. Meanwhile, another guy standing nearby, smoking a cigarette with a giant styrofoam slice of cheddar cheese on his hat, was still reveling in the Colorado band’s two-night Dillon run, until his friend told him to “finally shut up about it.”
From there, we made our way up to some great seats around the 45th row, but not before a shocking revelation: “No hoops allowed at Red Rocks this year,” a security guard said. Keys player Kyle Hollingsworth had told Westword
just days before that folks should bring their hoops, and the band’s gigs are famed (at least among hoopers) as the only shows at the storied venue where you can take them in.
Hoopless, we sat down just as Yonder Mountain String Band
was ending its opening set with a flourish: Allie Kral battling with her fiddle through an intricate exchange with Nick Piccininni’s mandolin. While we watched, we saw the “fit” guy battling his own way up the stairs with the huff-and-puff of any Red Rocks noob. This venue has a way of humbling you.
It was 8 p.m., which meant there would be about thirty minutes before Cheese took the stage. The sun was starting to settle, but the air remained hot and heavy, which is unusual for Red Rocks. (It’s supposed to be even hotter tonight.). We filled the time with people-watching, always worthwhile during an SCI set break. Cheese fans definitely wear the best hats, from jellyfish configurations that drip sparkly tendrils over the wearer to pinwheel toppers; we also spotted Mario Kart-shaped mushroom hats that light up and a carnelian cap with a trout sticking through the top. One woman's enormous N-95 mask (the only mask we saw at the crowded venue) could have worked as a hat, but she kept it around her face the whole time — and we can’t really blame her: Everywhere you turned, there was a white wook with dreadlocks — a notoriously anti-vax specimen. The woman was not entirely health-conscious, however; every now and then, she'd take down her mask to suck down a cigarette or two.
Soon, the screens showed the band members — Hollingsworth, Bill Nershi (guitar), Michael Kang (mandolin/violin), Keith Moseley (bass), Jason Hann (percussion) and Michael Travis (drums) — making their way through the legendary Red Rocks tunnel covered with signatures from rock stars past and present. The bandmates huddled, their hands touching in the middle, then they raised their arms with a flourish and headed out to the stage to a rupture of applause.
SCI started the set with a "Mouna Bowa," a tight jam sprinkled with bluegrass and djembe. Security guards were getting down, kids danced on their parents’ shoulders, wooks’ dreads split the air. By the second song, the crew behind us was engaged in a classic Red Rocks “picnic”: digging into what looked like a half ounce of shrooms. An older, moon-eyed gentleman with aged gray dreadlocks had run up the stairs to stop one row below us; we had seen him earlier, but now his eyes and grin were wider, he was dancing with a little hop-in-place jig not unlike how a South Park
character walks, and he'd somehow acquired a hot pink headband and glow sticks now springing from his ponytail. As Hollingsworth began an explosive keys solo, the elder thrust his arms in the air and scampered farther up the stairs.
Halfway through the set, we took a bathroom break. A woman there had her tits out, covered only with an ample amount of glitter; she explained that she had lost her shirt — she didn’t know how. As she began trying to cover herself with toilet paper, laughing the whole time, a security guard came in and gave her a roll of duct tape with which to cover her nipples.
Courtesy String Cheese Incident
Things got a little dark as we made our way back to our seats. The problem wasn't the band’s signature swirling rainbow lights, which cascaded beautifully as they always do, casting rose patterns on the rocks behind the stage. But a guy in front of us had, as they say, “too much too fast.” While that term usually refers to LSD, this poor dude's nostrils were ringed with what could only be construed as ketamine, and he flopped backwards, then forwards, finally rolling on the ground and kicking multiple people. The woman with him looked pissed, and then about six medics came over. They were able to take him away after about a five-minute struggle and a search for his lost flip flop.
(Folks: If you’re going to a show with ketamine, or with a friend who’s planning on using ketamine, please also bring some Pixie Stix or just plain sugar. A quick pour, and the dreaded “k-hole” disappears fairly quickly. No one gets hurt, and no one gets arrested. Boobs go over better with security than ketamine.)
That dark episode was brightened by such hits as “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” and “Sirens,” to which the entire crowd sang along with a resounding bellow that reinforced the overall positive, bonhomous ethos of SCI. As expected, during the first Cheese brought on the entirety of Yonder to cover Grateful Dead's "Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toddleloo," and Kral again brought down the house her fiddle once more.
All in all, it was a rocking good time as SCI continues its most finely-tuned year yet. Catch SCI again tonight with Leftover Salmon
, and then tomorrow with a mystery friend.
Yes, that announcement came this morning: Phil Lesh, the Grateful Dead bassist who was slated to play with SCI for the Phil Lesh Incident on Sunday, has contracted COVID and can't be there. “Luckily, a fantastic new plan has quickly come together,” the band hints on Instagram. “A really good friend has graciously agreed to join the party on Sunday and play with us. The show will now be three sets, and will start promptly at 6:00 pm. We plan to honor the music of the Grateful Dead during the night, and look forward to an amazing Incident. What is that saying about not missing a Sunday show?”
Never miss a Sunday show!
String Cheese Incident, July 15-17, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 West Alameda Parkway, Morrison. Tickets are $50-$225.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to correctly identify Yonder Mountain String Band's current mandolinist. Our apologies for the error.