Have you ever felt so comfortable somewhere that you could swear you were being hugged by the air surrounding you? Has the music ever fit so well with your thoughts and with your surroundings that you were certain that little piece of Earth upon which you’re standing existed for exactly that moment?

Has it ever happened for three days in a row?

August 10th - 12th, the String Cheese Incident and that magic cloud that surrounds them settled upon Horning’s Hideout for three nights of high-spirited revelry to close their summer tour. The event, billed as "String Cheese Summer Camp," was another brilliant collaboration between the Cheese and Peak Experience Productions of Portland - the same team responsible for the past two String Cheese New Year’s Eve events at the Portland Convention Center and the first Horning’s Incident last summer.

Horning’s Hideout is the idyllic campground set in the forested hills just west of Portland, Oregon. It’s home to Bob Horning and countless company picnics and weekend retreats throughout the year. The entrance to the Hideout is tucked a few miles off the highway and looks innocent enough to the uninformed passerby, but the instant you pull off the road and begin the long, windy descent into the Hideout, it’s obvious this is not your average campground. As the rest of the world rises above you, you can feel the weight being lifted off of your shoulders. Lower and lower you curl, every rotation of the shuttle bus’ tires bringing you further from the mundane responsibilities and trivial worries of everyday life and closer to the maelstrom of dancing, laughing and positive energy that is The Incident.

Finally, the end of the road arrives, and it strikes you - you really are on another planet. Or maybe you’re on a deserted island in the middle of the ocean. No matter how you choose to characterize it, you are completely isolated from the rest of the world - stranded with a few thousand party aficionados with nothing to do but enjoy the company of your friends, both new and old, until it’s time to make your way to the evening’s show. For any music fan who has ever dreamt of a beautiful place to do what he or she most enjoys doing, it’s Heaven on Earth.

The weekend was packed with activities for children of all ages. One hill was host to both Yoga and Hula Hoop instruction in the same afternoon. An arts and crafts tent, complete with supplies, was available to budding artists all weekend long, and when the sun went down, the Blacklight Maze and Disco Tent kept the impressionable masses entertained. It was an abnormally hot Oregon summer weekend, but campers kept cool in the beautiful swimming hole complete with rope swing and paddleboats. Cold, communal showers were another good source of relief from the heat.

This year’s event was considerably larger than last year’s, as anyone who attended both could easily tell. The amphitheater appeared near capacity but was never unmanageably crowded. Lines for beer, food, and restrooms remained surprisingly short all weekend, and water trucks supplied all of the campgrounds with ample drinking water several times each day.

Overall, the music felt more driven and inspired than last year’s performances, but the defining element in the weekend’s setlists is their uniqueness, especially Saturday night’s festivities. According to FriendsOfCheese.com, the band’s most prevalent fan website, the list for the third set reads, "Rivertrance > Jams > Land’s End Reprise," and it lasted at least an hour. It’s a shame more setlists don’t include the plural form of the word "jam". The set concluded with a brief message - "We’ll be right back with some more music," thus setting the stage for the musical highlight of the weekend, the fourth set.

A fourth set - unbilled, unexpected and absolutely unforgettable. The thought alone is enough to drive the early-morning online setlist checker out of his or her chair. Those who considered making it to Horning’s this year wondered how they could have decided against it, and others smiled, content to know their friends were witness to it. Members of The Motet played the entire set and Tye North took over on bass early in the set. Jans Ingber’s (Motet) vocals breathed new life into "Use Me," and "Blackberry Blossom" blew minds. The set closed with a warm version of "Lean On Me," again sung beautifully by Jans, that lead everyone back to the campgrounds with an excuse to throw an arm around a friend and sing in unison.

Always eager to keep things interesting for both themselves and the audience, the boys opened Sunday evening’s show with an acoustic set that included fantastic versions of both "MLT" and "Black Clouds." The second set closed with an especially uplifting "Shine," whose chorus seemed to echo the spirits of so many as the weekend’s music neared an end. "Shine Your Light!" they sang, arms in the air, smiling from ear to ear, resolved to pursue the dreams that popped back into their heads over the course of the weekend. "Fearless," the Pink Floyd song from the album Meddle, struck deep before "Sittin’ On Top of the World" gave the masses one last glorious excuse to slap their knees and hop in place.

In addition to the eight sets that the Cheese performed, weekend revelers were treated to Saturday afternoon sets by The Motet and Charlie Hunter . Members of both bands sat in with the Cheese to compose the soundtrack for Saturday’s late night sight-and-sound spectacular, complete with fire dancers and countless electronically enhanced props. The Motet also played an intimate afternoon set Sunday on the shore of the swimming hole.

Ask anyone who was there and they will tell you, "Horning’s is all about the vibe." There’s just something about this band and its following. The vast majority of the crowd understands that sharing is fun and that smiling is contagious. They communicate with knowing nods and smiles that speak volumes. As somebody squeezes past, the brief interaction of a slight touch on the shoulder, back or elbow says "Isn’t it wonderful to share in this beautiful experience?"

For months leading up to the weekend, many who attended last year’s event wondered how the band’s rapidly expanding fan base would affect the feel of the Hideout. But by midday Saturday a collective sigh of relief could be heard from both the fans and the members of the band’s camp as they realized that growing at such an alarming rate is not something to fear, as long as everyone involved continues arriving with an open mind, a positive attitude and the desire to make new friends. It’s fun to wonder what might come from many more years of doing exactly that.

Words and Photos by
Adam Kaye
JamBase | Portland
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[Published on: 8/27/01]

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