TREKKIN' FROM THE FOX TO THE ROCKS

We had a funny dream (after not winning tickets to String Cheese Incident's "Golden CD Incident" when we purchased Untying the Not) that we might get lucky in the second-chance drawing. And sometimes dreams do come true. In crazy Willy Wonka style, we set off to Colorado with anticipation of a three-day musical adventure in the Rockies beginning with SCI's Boulder show at the Fox Theatre for 500 of their most faithful fans.

Bill Nershi and Michael Kang :: 07.08.04 :: The Fox
Green-haired Oompa Loompas dancing on stage began the evening's adventure as "Willy Wonka" introduced the band. This all-request show (from fan's e-mailed requests) kicked off with "Born on the Wrong Planet" and continued with several blue-grassy favorites including "Salt Creek" and "Blackberry Blossom." "Tom Thumb's Blues" ended the first set, while more than 100 wanna-attendees still milled outside on 13th Street, catching scattered notes of the show. (The more resourceful ticketless fans listened to the show from the back alley.)

The second set kept all fans whirling as "Land's End" wrapped into "Round the Wheel" and beyond. Partway through, Bill Nershi welcomed the crowd to his cheese factory. "You are about to enter the nerve center of the cheese empire, where dreams become fantasy and fantasy become dreams," he said, serenading the fixated Friend Of Cheese with the "Oompa Loompa Song." The magical evening of synchronized synergy and non-stop dancing ended with a touching tribute, "Restless Wind" before the afterparty with DJ Harry commenced.

Chris Robinson and Audley Freed :: 07.09.04 :: Red Rocks
With barely enough time to recuperate, the next day we headed off to Red Rocks, the incredible natural amphitheater near Golden, Colorado. Chris Robinson & The New Earth Mud kicked off a raucous 45-minute set with "Hot Buttered Biscuit Jam." Robinson's newly reinvented group performed several songs from their new album This Magnificent Distance, including his self-proclaimed "storm-a-coming" tune "40 Days" and "Girl On The Mountain," a throwback to 1960s psychedelic lyrical poetry. The addition of Rob Baracco on keyboards added a new dimension to the group's sound as they ended their too-short set with "Lazy Day" and "Omaha," songs more introspective than prior ventures.

Red Rocks Rainbow and Michael Kang :: 07.09.04
The excitement was intense as String Cheese opened their first Red Rocks set with "Shine." Fans, dressed in sparkles and capes, danced in the aisles as Michael Kang sang "Black and White," left unfinished as they transitioned into "Boo Boo's Pikanik." The title of the new song "Look at Where We Are" seemed chosen to reflect on the amazing venue, while the magic of "Birdland" launched a rainbow to the right of the stage between the monolithic rocky outcroppings. I imagined the red rocks as they appeared 800 years ago while Kang and Nershi sang "Little Hands," which morphed into "Dudley's Kitchen Jam." Warren Haynes, the man who always sounds good according to Nershi, joined the boys for the encore of "MLT." As the skies above the rocks darkened, turning them various shades of blue and gray, SCI launched into "Cheap Sunglasses," a first-ever ZZ Top cover, and ended with an energetic "Smile."

Red Rocks Crowd :: Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes :: 07.09.04
Cheese fans seemed poised for more danceadelic music as the Allman Brothers Band took over the stage with a fierce "Mountain Jam" while Derek Trucks and Haynes traded guitar leads back and forth. After strong renditions of "Midnight Rider" and "Stand Back," Barraco joined in for the Derek & the Dominoes song "Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad," before Kang stepped in to add his fiddle for "Franklin's Tower."

Gregg Allman and Warren Haynes :: 07.09.04 :: Red Rocks
As an amazing lightning show began high above Red Rocks, the band slowed things down with the 1967 tune "Melissa" and the ever-touching "Soulshine" with vocals by Gregg Allman. The fan's energy level was soon heightened again with "Statesboro Blues." After "Dreams," the Cheese infused as Kang joined in on mandolin, and Kyle Hollingsworth came in on keyboards for a huge "Southbound." Coltrane's "Afro Blue" began the encore leading to a "Mountain Jam" reprise, and wrapping into "Whipping Post" to end night one at the Rocks.

Chris Robinson and Audley Freed :: 07.10.04 :: Red Rocks
Chris Robinson & The New Earth Mud opened night two at Red Rocks with "Mother of Stone," a whirly tune from This Magnificent Distance. Robinson's serene smile was infectious as he transitioned into "Boney Maroney" and "If You See California." After thanking the half-full crowd for listening to them today, Robinson shouted out "people get ready to ride" as he launched into the song by the same name (Ride). While it was certainly hot, this opening set ride was way too short, albeit very enjoyable, with comfortable, repetitive lyrics, and spirited guitar interplay between Robinson and guitarist Audley Freed.

Gregg Allman and Oteil Burbridge :: 07.10.04 :: Red Rocks
The crowd felt the love in the air as the Allman Brothers started their second show with "Revival." Ancient songs, including "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Statesboro Blues," joined newer tunes from Hittin' The Note--"Old Before My Time" and "Desdemona." Robinson joined in for Dr. John's "Walk on Guilded Splinters," mixing the high energy with dark, muddy emotion. After "Hot Lanta," the audience sang along to "Night They Drove Old Dixie Down."

Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes :: 07.10.04 :: Red Rocks
Wicked guitar work ensued between Trucks and Haynes on "Black Hearted Woman" before Thom Doucette joined the group for "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl." We were high in the Red Rocks, not the Alps, but they added a little teaser of "My Favorite Things." A 20-minute version of "In Memory of Elizabeth Reed" preceded the encore of "One Way Out," with Freed and Doucette sitting in.

Journeying to the top of the amphitheater, a steep hike cloudward, we discovered the commercial and non-profit world of the venue. Scattered among the food booths and the HeadCount table (the non-partisan group which stresses the importance of voting and participating in American democracy) were representatives of Rock the Earth, a new non-profit organization dedicated to improving the earth "one beat at a time." Created to work with the music community on environmental issues of importance to both bands and fans, the president and Executive Director Marc Ross stressed, "If the energy, resources, and talent within the music community could be brought together on important issues of concern, it would be a powerful force that could help level this currently uneven playing field in which the corporations are winning and we, as a society, are losing."

Kyle Hollingsworth and SCI :: 07.10.04 :: Red Rocks
Feeling this power of music, we ventured back stageward as Nershi yelled to the crowd, "Are you ready for a little psychedelic hoedown?" The Incident broke into a weathered "Black Clouds" as Nershi's daughter hooped behind the musicians. Hollingsworth, almost scary in his sparkling cape and Wolfman hair, yelled, "Are y'all ready?" as they released the Talking Heads song "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)."

The sold-out crowd cheered when Nershi commented on how beautiful a thing it is that music can bring us all together like this, as he added, "This is a very emotional place for us to play." The band launched into "Sirens" before Trucks on guitar, Oteil Burbridge on bass and scat vocals, and Marc Quinones on percussion joined in for a sweltering version of Coltrane's "Impressions." Haynes stepped onto the crowded stage to add guitar and vocals on The Meters' "Hey Pocky Way" before SCI reconvened to play "Barstool," as we wished we were swinging in hammocks gazing at the starlit sky above. A great feeling was all around as "Best Feeling" transitioned into a huge jam, at times the group was playing in almost complete darkness with just green glowing lights near the stage and the psychedelic light show flashing across our eyes.

Bill Nershi and Michael Kang :: 07.10.04 :: Red Rocks
The crowd was brought to their feet as SCI broke into the bluegrass standard "How Mountain Girls Can Love" before playing most of "Miss Brown's Teahouse" and the Average White Band's "Pick up the Pieces." The set ended with "Outside Inside," but the crowd's screams brought the band back to end the evening with one final "Round the Wheel."

The dream became real, a time of great music and great friends at great venues. We were all empowered by the diversity and intensity of the musical experience, and smile we did, through all three flights home.

Words by: Randi Whitehead
Images by: George Weiss
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