Words by Tyler Hammer :: Images by Sewell Hatcher
The String Cheese Incident :: 12.31.05 :: Concourse Exhibition Center :: San Francisco, CA
One minute I was twirling in the feel-good spell of Michael Kang's violin as it soared with the African hospitality of "Mouna Bowa;" a few moments later I found myself walking through a glowing jellyfish giddy with delight, only to have my ears pull me towards the heavy, primal beats being pounded out by drummer Brian Viglione of The Dresden Dolls. A few steps down the path I became hypnotized by a talking corn-on-the-cob puppet spouting out the wonders of bio-diesel. If I didn't know any better, I would have tried to pinch myself awake, but this was New Year's Eve – Sea of Dreams style.
Michael Kang :: SCI :: 12.31.05
With a kaleidoscopic variety of music, games, psychedelic art, costumes, puppet shows, circus acts, onion art tables, and belly-dance performances, this New Year's party stretched the limits of my senses. Sure I've been to festivals before – but not like this one. This New Year's bash charted into unknown waters - waters where the conventional "jam band" scene seemed to grow up a little bit and evolved into something new. Indeed, as advertised, this surely was a New Year's Eve-O-Lution.
As a night of daring cultural convergence, the folks at Madison House and Peak Experience Productions joined forces with long-time art/event promoters Anon Salon (creators of the Sea of Dreams NYE events as well as Burning Man Decompression). The night was billed to be the most over the top event the West Coast has ever seen. These production companies seemed to have said to themselves, "What if we brought seemingly different cultural communities together and had them ring in the new year? What would happen then?"
SCI :: 12.31.05
With a hodgepodge ensemble of bands like The Dresden Dolls and Yard Dogs Road Show playing alongside The String Cheese Incident and Luna Groove, the night brought together people from a variety of musical tribes. In all, there were over 27 bands, DJs, and entertainers – many of whom I never would have imagined playing under the same roof. Yet despite our apparent differences, everyone got along fantastically. The positive energy was teeming. Everyone came to celebrate something we all have in common – an affinity for diversity, acceptance, art in whatever form it takes, and of-course the love of a good time. Was it all peaches and cream? No, not quite. But then again, what show really is? But I tip my hat to the promoters and entertainers who had the vision to try an experiment such as this. Experimentation is, after all, the lifeblood of the music scene we all know and love.
Sea Of Dreams :: 12.31.05
As with any festival, there was simply too much going on to take in all the music. I will do my best, however, to give you a few snapshots of what I did manage to see in this Sea of Dreams.
Yard Dogs Road Show :: 12.31.05
With a penchant for the naughty, nastier side of Vaudeville entertainment, the Yard Dogs Road Show wowed all those in attendance with their burlesque circus antics. A wildly insane collection of horns, drums, guitars, singers, dancers, and god knows what else, the Road Show started off with a dark and sultry performance of some very mischievous prison girls dancing on stage. As with all their performances, the music tends to take a back seat to the zany characters on stage and their stories. Yet, the offbeat drums, nimble guitar riffs, and bellowing horns created a hobo-style blues music that should be appreciated in and of itself. After 45 minutes of mayhem, the show climaxed with a man shoving a three-foot razor-sharp sword down his throat right after it sliced through an orange.
The headliner for the night was, of course, the String Cheese Incident. Keith, Michael, Billy, Travis, Kyle, and Jason definitely knew this and seemed up to the challenge. Although, the set list was sub-par (with some very notable exceptions), the boys seemed ready and willing to turn up the energy. Starting at approximately 10:00 p.m., SCI opened with a safe bet in "Outside Inside." A nice transition then rocked the audience out of their pants with the slam-jamming bluegrass song "Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms." As with most of their bluegrass favorites, Billy stole the spotlight as he weaved his fingers around the guitar, much to the delight of a frenzied crowed. The rest of the set was solid, ending with a long-time favorite "It Is What It Is." After a brief set break, SCI came back onstage to meet the festival attendees ready to ring in the New Year with them.
Jason Hann :: SCI :: 12.31.05
The atmosphere was electric, and the mood festive. SCI perfectly matched the vibe as they opened with "Rhum 'n' Zouc." As we counted down the final moments of 2005, a colorful procession of giant jellyfish, oversized African masks, extravagantly costumed stilt walkers, and more weaved their way through the crowd, adding to the carnival-like atmosphere. In what has become a New Year's tradition as of late, SCI broke into "Rollover" at the stroke of midnight. Within the obligatory jam they worked in a very nice "I Want to Take You Higher" that definitely managed to take the crowd to a higher plane. Things then settled down a bit, until DJ Lorin Bassnectar made his presence known. Midway through "Way Back Home," the boys explored their newly discovered electronic side as Lorin laid down some heavy break-beats. (I have to say this was the best showing I've seen from Cheese's electronica side.) The highlight of the night was clearly a great ending to their second set with "Little Hands" > "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" > "Texas" > "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" > "Texas." After a heart-warming "Little Hands," Cheese was joined by Amanda Palmer on keyboards and Brian Viglione on percussion from Dresden Dolls and Patrick Cress of Telepathy on saxophone for an eerily beautiful tribute to Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd with "Shine On You Crazy Diamond." I stood transfixed and spine-chilled as Cheese and friends nailed the song to close out the set.
Amanda Palmer & Kyle Hollingsworth :: SCI :: 12.31.05
After Cheese's set, the entire party was focused on one person for the first time – DJ Lorin (Bassnectar). I can emphatically say he didn't let anyone down. Warming up the turntables at about 2:00 a.m., Lorin kept the party going until after 4:00 a.m. with some slammin' break-beats, psychedelic trance, and downright cool music that had everyone moving in a sea of positive vibrations. With such wide-ranging samples like "Last Splash" from that old-school band The Breeders to "Dirty Harry" from new sensation Gorillaz, Lorin demonstrated his musical prowess. He commanded the attention of everyone left standing and launched us all into 2006 on the highest of notes.
Bill Nershi :: SCI :: 12.31.05
The night was a wild success for most everyone involved. Sure there was the music – and I most certainly enjoyed that - but to me, this New Year's was more about the Eve-O-Lution of the scene itself. It was about searching out new kinds of music, intermingling with people from different tribes, and trying something completely new. Jerry Garcia once remarked, "The only problem with so many Grateful Dead fans is that they are only fans of the Grateful Dead." I'm thrilled to have been a part of a festival that acted on Jerry's sentiments!
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