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String Cheese Incident

From Academic Kids

Missing image
SCI2005.jpg
Back: Jason Hann, Michael Travis, Kyle Hollingsworth, Billy Nershi
Front: Keith Moseley, Michael Kang

The String Cheese Incident, one of the more popular bands of the jam movement of the mid-to-late 90s, formed in Crested Butte, Colorado in 1993, originally playing local gigs at ski resorts in exchange for free lift tickets. The band is comprised of Michael Kang (acoustic/electric mandolin and violin), Michael Travis (drums and percussion), Bill Nershi (acoustic guitar, lap steel guitar, and electric slide guitar), Kyle Hollingsworth (piano, organ, Rhodes, and accordion), and Keith Moseley (bass guitar). During a concert on October 31, 2004, the band announced the official inclusion of a sixth member, Jason Hann, an auxiliary percussionist.

Their music is strongly influenced by bluegrass sounds, as well as forays into rock, funk, jazz, Latin, reggae, and occasional psychedelia. The String Cheese Incident (often abbreviated to SCI) has been described as a democratic ensemble rather than a band, since all of the members contribute their own original compositions to the group's burgeoning library and share the vocal burden on a number of cover versions as well as their own songs. If a de facto leader had to be named, such a title would probably fall upon Nershi, who is responsible for the bulk of the group's original song library.

Contents

The band's evolution

After a few years of playing local ski resorts and private functions, the band agreed that it was time to get serious with regards to their music, and formed the independent record label SCI Fidelity, on which they released their first album, Born on the Wrong Planet. At this point in their careers, the band displayed the motivation to play strong, melody-driven music that allowed room for live expansion and improvisation, but the twelve tracks on the disc constituted an almost anarchic mix of genres that fit awkwardly together. Instrumentals and covers constituted half of the album, allowing much room to display musical virtuosity but very little in the way of lyrical chops. Many time-tested fan favorites that were spawned from this disc are still in the band's regular live rotation, including "Black Clouds", "Land's End", "Johnny Cash", "Texas", and "Jellyfish".

Less than a year later, SCI released a compilation of ten songs, including "Land's End", on their self-titled live album A String Cheese Incident, which chronicles a single concert from the Fox Theater in Boulder, Colorado and adds pianist Hollingsworth to the ensemble (he was not in the band during the recording of BotWP). Despite spanning only one disc and containing only ten tracks, the album clocks in at 72 minutes even (thus, with an average track length of 7:12, displaying their propensity for extended jams), and is widely considered the best CD for new converts to listen to in order to become acquainted to the band's live sound.

Round the Wheel, released in 1998, refined the band's sound and displayed a marked increase in both musical and lyrical maturity, and added Paul McCandless as a guest player on soprano and tenor saxophone, but did not earn them quite the level of notoriety that they would achieve in the next millennium. They remained fairly quiet until 2001 when, with the help of guest producer and Los Lobos frontman Steve Berlin, they released their third studio effort, Outside Inside. This album marked a shift from the band's traditional bluegrass leanings to a more standard rock sound, thus making it the most accessible album to a mainstream audience to that point. The band did not completely abandon its bluegrass roots, however, sneaking in the short 3-minute track "Up the Canyon" at the end of the disc, which has become one of many live favorites.

Bad Reputation

Around this time, SCI began to resemble Phish to an extreme level. Abandoning much of their bluegrass roots, critics of the band felt SCI had seen what was working for Phish, and tried to mimmic them musically. This led to the group being called "Diet Phish" by their detractors. Michael Kang adjusted his guitar tone to an almost identical sound of Phish leader Trey Anastasio. This annoyed many fans, and a good majority of their earlier fanbase fell by the wayside as a new younger group of kids began attending shows.

Without paying their dues for years on the club circuit, SCI began charging ridiculous ticket prices during Phish's breakup period, and also tried to book venues that Phish were headlining just the year before. Because of the trust funds of several band members, SCI would notoriously purchase large amounts of tickets to give the perception that they were packing large venues. They would also purchase truckloads of their new albums to manipulate Soundscan numbers to appear more popular than they actually were.

Also, the band began earning a bad reputation among other bands in the jam band genre, such as moe. (who vowed never to work with SCI again). The band's arrogance and obviously desperate desire to be the next Phish has alienated them from many fans and most of their peers. Many feel the band has not earned the right to jump to large venues and charge fans so much for concert tickets.

The band started promoting Outside Inside through extensive touring in late 2001 and early 2002. Then, during the summer of 2002, like Pearl Jam, the band released live 3-CD sets of all 19 shows that they played in April of 2002 on their spring tour. In this regard, they are believed to have taken a cue from Phish's Live Phish series and stepped up the formula a notch by releasing every show instead of just select concerts. Not stopping with the spring tour, SCI has released nearly every song from every concert from every tour through the present, barring those where technical difficulties or contractual guest artist complications are involved. Christening the series On the Road, the shows are released on the SCI Fidelity label for fans who do not have the time or means to engage in active tape trading.

2003 and Beyond

The band has profited from this risky venture thanks to its strong, loyal, and rapidly growing fanbase. Originally, the discs were packaged in folding cardboard cases with black-and-white photographs of fuzzy, dubious quality. Beginning with the summer 2003 tour, the band made the switch to the industry-standard jewel case, which also allowed for color photos of higher quality. To cut production costs further, SCI Fidelity recently made the decision to stop producing shows on the CD medium altogether and is offering shows on the mid-winter and spring 2004 tours as downloads only in both MP3 and FLAC formats. They have also continued to profit from charging extremely high ticket prices.

In October 2003, SCI released their fourth studio album, Untying the Not, to mixed reactions from fans who feel that this album is an even more significant falling out from their bluegrass tradition than was Outside Inside. UtN is indeed a strong deviation from their previous rock and bluegrass sounds and shows heavy influence from guest producer Youth, formerly of the band the Killing Joke. Untying the Not is much darker than the band's previous lighthearted studio releases, full of minor keys and introspection on topics such as death, which are most clearly evidenced in the tracks "Elijah" and "Mountain Girl." It also shows significant evidence of the band's recent habit of introducing techno and trance elements into the mix, such as on the track entitled "Valley of the Jig", which is a successful fusion of techno and bluegrass stylings.

The band annoyed the public again by delcaring that Untying the Not was equivalent to Dark Side of the Moon or Abbey Road, which foolishly built a huge reputation that the album could not and did not live up to.

In the summer of 2004, the band was invited to tour with the Lollapalooza caravan by Jane's Addiction bandleader Perry Farrell, and would have received the distinction of being the first jam band to travel on the Lollapalooza bill. However, due to poor ticket sales and lack of enthusiasm, the festival was canceled and their summer tour was re-routed.

In June 2005, the band plans to release their fifth studio album, entitled One Step Close, containing thirteen original tracks with guest songwriting collaborations. The album was produced by Malcom Burn at a studio in Boulder, Colorado.

Discography

Albums

  • Born on the Wrong Planet (1996)
  • A String Cheese Incident (1997)
  • Round the Wheel (1998)
  • Carnival '99 (2000)
  • Outside Inside (2001)
  • Untying the Not (2003)
  • One Step Closer (June 28, 2005)
  • On the Road live series (2002-present)

Videos

  • Pura Vida (2001, VHS)
  • Evolution (2001, VHS & DVD)
  • Bonnaroo Live (2002, DVD)
  • Waiting For the Snow to Fall (2003, DVD)
  • Live at the Fillmore Auditorium, Denver: March 23, 2002 (2003, 2-disc DVD)

External links

  • Official website (http://www.stringcheeseincident.com/) - contains individual biographies, sample MP3s, tour dates, and details on SCI's various charitable causes (known as Gouda Causes, in keeping with the band's cheese theme).
  • Friends of Cheese (http://www.friendsofcheese.com/) - the most comprehensive SCI fan site on the Internet, keeping a detailed archive of song lyrics and past setlists as well as keeping up-to-date on SCI touring information and upcoming albums
  • SCI On the Road (http://www.sciontheroad.com/) - the direct source of all On the Road live sets available for purchase since the band's spring 2002 tour
  • SCI Fidelity (http://www.scifidelity.com/) - the website for the band's independent record label; in addition to distributing their own albums, many other artists' and bands' albums are distributed on this label, such as Keller Williams, Umphrey's McGee, and the Yonder Mountain String Band.
  • Live shows at Archive.org (http://www.archive.org/audio/etreelisting-browse.php?collection=etree&cat=String%20Cheese%20Incident) - provides literally hundreds of free and legal downloads of complete String Cheese Incident concerts from 1995 to the present
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