Kyle Hollingsworth moved to Boulder in the mid-’90s to become a forest ranger. Instead, the Baltimore transplant "hooked up with a weird band with a strange food name," he says, and suddenly he was the keyboardist for the String Cheese Incident.
"So, yeah, I joined a band called the String Cheese something," Hollingsworth jokes. "The band was kind of unknown at the time. I was jamming a lot with drummer Dave Watts of the Motet, and Dave kind of indoctrinated me into the local scene; he had this sort of musical commune. I started playing with people like [SCI mandolin player] Michael Kang, who was also new to town at the time, and a bunch of musicians like the guys from Phish would swing by, and we were hanging out and playing. I was in a band called Durt at that time. We opened for SCI at a show, and Kang asked me to sit in, and then I ended up going on tour with them."
Hollingsworth hasn't looked back. The String Cheese Incident celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, punctuating the event with three Red Rocks concerts, on July 19, 20 and 21.
The group's longevity blows his mind.
"I became part of the band two years after it started, so I'm still the new guy 23 years later," Hollingsworth says. "It's amazing that it's still together after 25 years. It's pretty cool that we're able to keep it together and we're still playing great music. This whole year has been one big 25th-anniversary celebration, and we have a lot of cool stuff planned for Red Rocks. Among other things, we did an album with our friend Keller Williams twenty years ago called Breathe, and we're going to play that album with him in its entirety during our Saturday show. I think we've played Red Rocks more than forty times now.
"We first played there as part of Reggae on the Rocks," he recalls. "We were one of many bands playing that day, and we were nervous. We didn't get any special treatment. I think everyone got an apple and maybe a piece of bacon. But with every passing year, we started getting nicer catering and nicer backstage accommodations. Forty years in, it feels really comfortable. The tricky part is the weather. Thunderstorms can soak all the keyboards, and lightning can pose a threat."
During the course of his Red Rocks career, Hollingsworth has shared the stage with a range of well-appreciated artists.
"In 1999 I played with Phil Lesh and Friends," he notes. "There I was, on stage playing 'Terrapin Station' at Red Rocks in my home town with Phil, Steve Kimock and a bunch of amazing musicians. It was an all-time high."
The Cheese, which has its own fervent fan base, continues to create new music, dropping several tracks online recently, including "The Big Reveal" in late June.
"We have a space in Louisville that we call the Lab, which is the SCI sound Lab," Hollingsworth explains. "It's where we record, and we're constantly making music there. We've been releasing new singles for the past year, and we just released another one that dropped last week. The latest one is a little bit Daft Punk and a little bit LCD Soundsystem — it's danceable. Our singles vary. Some are Americana, some are electro, some are kind of indie. We're just doing whatever comes to our minds. We have a wide range of influences in the band. We all respect each other's taste, so each song is going to be different."
Hollingsworth, who is a renowned home brewer, has crafted a special beer for the group's upcoming local shows.
"I've been home-brewing for over 25 years," he says. "I started mixing my two passions — beer and music — together. I approach both art forms similarly, using some improvisation. Once you get the basics down in both music and brewing, it's kind of about the finesse and what you bring to the final product. I might bring some strange malts or hops, or a new yeast strain, and kind of look for something unique.
"I approach the keys the same way," he explains. "I always like to find new angles when I'm playing live."
Hollingsworth has collaborated with around thirty breweries. Some, like Stone Brewing, are national. Ahead of the band's Colorado shows, he made a beer with Oskar Blues.
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"I actually went there and helped them create the brew itself. We came up with a great IPA called SCIPA, which translates to 'String Cheese IPA,'" he says. "What I like about it is that it's what I've been wanting from a beer recently, which is less of a sweet maltiness and more of a drier finish for the summertime. It still has a high-ish ABV — about 7.0 or so — but it's not a big, sweet malt bomb. It has a light finish and is very nose-forward. It's coming out for our upcoming shows in Dillon and then at Red Rocks, and its distribution will begin in the fall.
"It's fun to pick something I'm so passionate about on the side and bring it to the bigger band," Hollingsworth concludes. "Some of the guys in the band aren't that into beer, but it's my shtick, and I wanted to bring it to the mothership. So, as always, expect the unexpected, and never miss a Sunday show."
The String Cheese Incident 25th-anniversary celebration, 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 19 and 20, 5 p.m. Sunday, July 21, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, 18300 West Alameda Parkway, Morrison, $51.75 and up.