There's probably nothing anyone could say or write that would convince someone who doesn't appreciate jamband music to change their mind about String Cheese Incident. Regardless, in terms of concert tickets sold, String Cheese Incident is perhaps the most popular band ever to come from Colorado, which is saying something. Last night's opening show of a sold-out, three night stand proved why.
Rolling in around 6 p.m. from Highway 285, I saw the twin monoliths of Red Rocks from across the Morrison valley with traffic dotting the entire landscape like ants ready to invade a picnic basket. Obviously a lot of String Cheese fans had showed up early and were already tailgating in full force.
Within a quarter mile of the ticket will call office, traffic was bumper to bumper with carloads of people cheerfully waiting out the traffic jam chugging tall boys and passing pipes packed with the devil's cabbage. Maybe it was the contact high from the smoke wafting from all those Subarus, because in spite of the sweltering heat, there wasn't an ounce of frayed nerves or frustration to be found.
From then on, I might as well have been in a different country. Nearly everyone I met from the massive tailgate parking lot parties to the crowded stairs leading up to lower stage right was from somewhere else. And friendly. And mostly pretty hammered.
One thing I definitely noticed is that although jamband fans might be friendly, they are definitely territorial. Finding a seat anywhere close to the bottom of the general admission section was met with thinly veiled threats to find somewhere else to post up. So up to the top of the stairs I went into the upper decks of the general admission section where thankfully the crowd density eased up somewhat.
While most bands at the popularity level of String Cheese tend to hog the limelight with witless, inane banter between songs, String Cheese instead kept the focus squarely on the music. I for one appreciated how the band left it up to the intelligence of the audience to create their own personal experience from the night: No songs were explained or introduced, no "hey, Red Rocks how we doing out there tonight" blathering, or other gimmicky chit-chat to artificially stimulate the crowd.
As for the music? No one can touch String Cheese Incident's ability to play to a crowd. The songs the band chose took the audience from the shotgun blast country-fied first song, "Can't Stop Now" through the funked out guitar jams of "Outside, Inside" at the end of the band's first set. Other highlights of the show were covers of Joe Walsh's "Rocky Mountain Way" and MGMT's "Time To Pretend," both of which featured the epically talented Kyle Hollingsworth on keyboards.
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What I liked best about the entire show was how masterfully String Cheese Incident paced the show. Songs chosen worked to keep people plugged in and engaged. I also deeply appreciated how you could easily carry on a conversation with someone next to you throughout the whole show due to the relaxed volume levels emanating from the stage.
Also worth mentioning was the hypnautically mesmerizing light show that started halfway through the first set once the sun set, was easily one of the best I've ever seen. The entire show was in a word: relaxing. The cool breeze coming off the foothills served to punctuate really what was an enjoyable, peaceful end to the work week.
CRITICS NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: I grew up in the Boulder area, so I've been exposed to our jamband scene my whole life. Personally, I like the various side projects of String Cheese Incident more than SCI itself, but I definitely think that these guys are some seriously talented players. By the Way: Although the show was sold out, there were less cars in the parking areas than a few years ago when SCI last played Red Rocks. I guess you could chalk that up to less people showing up without tickets just to party in the parking lots this time around . Random Detail: I stood in the ticket will call line with well known electro-jamband musician Jamie Janover, who is in two of the aforementioned SCI side project bands.