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Words by: Tim Dwenger :: Images by: Tobin Voggesser
The String Cheese Incident Winter Carnival
03.22.07 - 03.24.07 :: The Fillmore :: Denver, CO
This was probably the last Winter Carnival at The Fillmore, and I've got say it's a bit sad. Say what you want about The String Cheese Incident, but they built a 15 year career on always delivering their trademark bouncy sound in a manner that made nearly every face in the crowd break into a huge grin. Whether your passion is bluegrass, funk, or rock, Cheese has something to offer. Sure, the last couple of years haven't offered the consistently stellar performances that were the norm between 2000 and 2003, but we have to remember that these are human beings like you and I, changing and evolving everyday.
Bill Nershi :: 03.24
Last fall, when Bill Nershi announced that he was moving on after the Summer of 2007, a noticeable ripple passed through the SCI community. I got phone calls from friends around the country and began checking in with the SCI website for the announcement of Winter Carnival dates.
When the Thursday show finally arrived, I was greeted by a familiar scene at the corner of Colfax and Clarkson - hundreds of fans milling about, muttering sweet nothings and holding fingers in the air. This may or may not be the end of era, but it was great to see the community pull together in support of their boys.
In traditional Winter Carnival fashion, SCI invited several special guests to join them. Thursday it was The Polyphonic Spree. While their trademark robes have changed to a more severe army costume, their psychedelic gospel sound remains intact. It was a shame that so many fans chose the Colfax shakedown outside over the revival going on inside. I suppose it's understandable, after all, the incident doesn't really begin till Cheese takes the stage and the ritual collaboration begins again.
Kang & Travis :: 03.24
The lights went down and the crowd went through the roof. What a welcome home! Any doubts about a great evening were immediately smashed as the bluegrass stomp of rare opener "Johnny Cash" filled the venue. It's great, old timey songs like "Johnny Cash" given the String Cheese treatment that many of us fell in love with in the first place.
The highlight Thursday came at the beginning of the second set when Polyphonic's Tim DeLaughter and his horn section and chorus joined SCI to add some trippy gospel to the mix. There were some puzzled faces when the band broke into the smooth '70s sound of The Blues Image's "Ride Captain Ride," eventually showing recognition when the chorus rolled around. The lyrics sure were appropriate for the vibe SCI conjures up everywhere they go.
Kang & Nershi :: 03.24
Ride, captain, ride upon your mystery ship
Be amazed at the friends you have here on your trip
Ride, captain, ride upon your mystery ship
On your way to a world that others might have missed
Nershi's vocals were a little rough at the beginning but everyone was warmed up by the time DeLaughter and his disciples took the reins for the chorus. The a capella breakdown at the end had the crowd singing so loudly they almost drowned out the band. I wondered why these two bands waited so long to share the stage.
Keith Moseley :: 03.24
I couldn't make the Friday show, so had to wait two days for another fix. It was a little bittersweet to walk in knowing this might be the last time Boulder's barefoot boys would rock this hall. The evening kicked off with a less-than-stellar set of old fashioned, single mic bluegrass from Chris Thile and The How to Grow a Band. While amazing musicians, their sound didn't fit the evening. To be fair, the audience was on edge, ready to explode, and anything besides an extra set from the headliners could only disappoint them.
At 8:15 the excitement in the venue was electric. Longtime friend, spiritual guide and bookkeeper for the band, Jack Mento, offered an extended introduction that incorporated many of the band's album and song titles. It was a tribute to all the incidents we've shared over the years and a fitting start to the last Fillmore Incident.
I was surprised Nershi waited until halfway through the third night to break out "Smile." A letter home from the road, this song reminds us how hard it is to be in a band that spends as much time on the road as these boys have over the past 15 years, and perhaps offered some clues to Nershi's departure.
Michael Travis :: 03.24
Maybe they had a good cry back stage or maybe they put the party hats on, but when they came back for set two they were ready to say goodbye to The Fillmore by blowing the roof off the place. And I swear they almost did it. Welcoming Chris Thile, Noam Pikelny, Gabe Witcher and Bryan Sutton up, the boys went back to their roots and picked out "Doin' My Time" and "Wheel Hoss" with a fervor that I hadn't seen all evening. Energy was simply coursing through the band.
Then came the moment that brought me back to Red Rocks in July of 2002 when Michael Travis waved a sequin gloved hand in the air before dropping into "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough." Keith Moseley let us know they were going to continue the tradition of "letting 'Trav do something strange." As soon as the red energy hats were passed out onstage, we were treated to a bluegrass version of the Devo classic "Whip It." Travis did not disappoint, and even added live whip cracks to the song. "Whip It" segued into "Orange Blossom Special" before reprising.
The crowd and band fed off each other in a ferocious and organic way. Every person in the room knew they were witnessing something special. Every flurry of notes or bass bomb was welcomed with deafening appreciation, which was quickly rewarded by more band energy. For most of the second set, the air above us was filled with glowsticks and balloons like it was New Year's Eve. At least a hundred brightly colored balloons bounced around the room for the last 40 minutes.
SCI & Guests :: 03.24
To be honest, I'm not sure if it was the music or the crowd on Saturday that gave me "the fever" again. I had it bad several years ago, and I am glad that the boys brought it back even if just for a moment. If they're gonna go, they might as well go out with a bang. If these shows at The Fillmore were any indication, they clearly intend to.
The SCI Faithful :: 03.24.07 :: The Fillmore, CO
03.22.07 | Fillmore Auditorium | Denver, CO
Set 1: Johnny Cash, Round The Wheel, Black And White, Farther, Black Market > Mouna Bowa, Close Your Eyes
Set 2: Ride Captain Ride*, Best Feeling > Can't Stop Now, 45th of November, Solution, Joyful Sound, Way Back Home
Encore: Outside and Inside > Jessica
*with Polyphonic Spree
03.23.07 | Fillmore Auditorium | Denver, CO
Set 1: Search, Lost, MLT, Up The Canyon, Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms, Shine, Big Shoes, Rain
Set 2: Bumpin' Reel, The Way You Do The Things You Do, Desert Dawn > Black Clouds > Drums > Desert Dawn, High On A Mountain Top, Little Hands, Pack It Up, Miss Brown's Teahouse
Encore: This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody), Dudley's Kitchen
03.24.07 | The Fillmore Auditorium | Denver, CO
Set 1: Restless Wind, Cedar Laurels > Rhum 'N Zouc, Midnight Moonlight, Eye Know Why, Love Is Like A Train, Valley Of The Jig > Smile
Set 2: Doin' My Time*, Wheel Hoss*, Whip It* > Orange Blossom Special* > Whip It*, It Is What It Is, Galactic > Shine
Encore: Piece Of Mine, Sittin' On Top Of The World > Texas
*with Chris Thile on mandolin, Noam Pikelny on banjo, Gabe Witcher on violin, Bryan
Sutton on guitar
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