The String Cheese Incident
12.31.06 :: Concourse Exhibition Center :: San Francisco, CA

Words by: Tyler Hammer

Bill Nershi :: 12.31.06 by Josh Miller
New Years Eve is like no other time. Past, present and future coalesce in our consciousness more so than any other point in the year. We look back on the previous year and contemplate the choices we made. We surround ourselves with our loved ones to live in the moment. And, we make resolutions for our next yearlong ride around the sun.

This year's Sea of Dreams Festival, held annually in San Francisco, was a perfect atmosphere for this kind of reflection. Not only did this event allow attendees to indulge in a delicious array of art and music, but it also provided an opportunity for many to reflect upon and enjoy one last New Year's Eve with the original members of String Cheese Incident – who recently announced the upcoming departure of guitarist-vocalist Bill Nershi.

The range and scale of this year's bash was impressive. This indoor festival ran an entire city block, including three unique stages and 27 varied, talented entertainers including ALO, Mark Farina, Pnuma Trio, Indigo Belly Dance, and Goddess Alchemy Project. For a reprieve from the music, one could immerse and entice their minds with a potpourri of other novelties scattered throughout the venue including art exhibits, sculptures, theater, ceremony and circus acts. This celebration was a feast for the senses and I gobbled up every last morsel I could.

Nershi & Kang - SCI :: 12.31.06 by Jay Blakesberg
For the second straight year, the folks from Madison House and Peak Experience teamed up with Anon Salon (creators of the Burning Man Decompression and Sea of Dreams) to turn San Francisco's Concourse Exhibition Center into a "Transdimensonal Temple of Art and Dance". In typical Anon Salon/Peak Experience fashion, the show was designed to encourage maximum fan participation – to offer art and magic both on stage and off.

Before the festivities I had a chance to pitch some questions to the man behind the scenes for this epic costumed circus – Peak Experience's brainchild Johnny Dwork. With this being the 7th annual New Year's Eve event and a much publicized 7 Heavens theme, I asked Johnny if things really were to be as fortuitous as this cosmic order of themes suggested. "We designed this event around a theme that will allow attendees to take a brief respite from our recent earthbound concerns," said Dwork. "We are inviting our audience to attend as intergalactic ambassadors of goodwill with the hope that by the time midnight on December 31st rolls around we will be co-creating a groove of such delicious proportions that beings from across the Universe will want to join us in celebration."

Michael Kang :: 12.31.06 by Josh Miller
In true San Francisco fashion, I saw some of the most outrageous, colorful, decadent and over-the-top outfits the inhabitants of this little blue planet have to offer. With a cornucopia of sights and sounds like this, it was impossible to see everything. However, Bill Nershi's last New Year's set was not to be missed. As 2006 saw its final minutes counting down, the party focused on the main stage where SCI opened their second set with "Miss Brown's Teahouse" and then got feet moving with a tribute to the late James Brown in "Get On Up." SCI then teased a nice, spacey "Star Trek" theme as they readied to beam everyone into 2007. When the clock struck 12, SCI broke into their traditional "Rollover," unleashing a sea of positive vibrations. The ensuing platter of eye candy appeased even the strongest sweet tooth as a vibrant procession of snakes, stars, African masks, geometric balloons, stilt-walkers, and circus artists weaved their way across the floor to the delight of a frenzied crowd.

I could tell that Cheese really had the place heated up when during "Rain" the sweat-soaked ceiling began to drip on our shoulders. Things eventually settled down a bit as they closed their set with a mix of the old and new including, "Farther," "It Is What It Is" and "Black Clouds." While at times a bit sloppy, and not their best performance, the emotions of the evening trumped it all to make for an enjoyable set.

SCI :: 12.31.06 by Jay Blakesberg
When the "Joyful Sound" of SCI's encore filled the air, a pensive, nostalgic feeling permeated the crowd. SCI ended their New Year's Incident with "Birdland" > "Wheel House" > "Birdland" > "Rollover Reprise." As the final notes ended and Billy, Kang, Travis, Kyle, Keith and Jason walked off stage, I couldn't help but feel a bit sad. I posed the topic of Nershi's departure to Johnny Dwork. As someone who has worked closely with SCI and whose production company has become almost synonymous with their most epic Incidents, Johnny had this to say, "We invite this community to embrace the perspective that change opens the way for healthy evolution. Look what happened when the Grateful Dead ended. We all mourned the demise of that scene. But, low and behold, many of us transposed the same type of magic we made with the Dead onto this new scene. And wow, the magic we made together at Incidents was often a vast refinement on the oftentimes ragged beauty we manifested with Garcia and Crew."

True to Johnny's words, earlier in the evening my sense of loss was tempered as I experienced a scene that would prove to be the highlight of my night. The Sea of Dreams culture prides itself on its ability to bring together people of different tribes. "Just like at the Burning Man Festival," said Johnny Dwork of Peak, "many of our participants thrive on cross-pollination of ideas and interfacing beyond one's normal boundaries." No other band performing on NYE embodied this sentiment more than Afropop sensation Zap Mama.

SCI :: 12.31.06 by Jay Blakesberg
Headed up by Marie Daulne, who hails from Zaire, Africa, Zap Mama seamlessly melds African Pygmy music with West African, a cappella, hip-hop, R&B, funk, Cuban and gospel music. Spirits soared with the calypso undertones and sultry harmonizing that are the hallmark of the band. The infectious energy of Marie and her lively entourage of four backup divas sprinkled a heavy does of joie de vivre – a hearty and carefree enjoyment of life – on everyone in attendance. Other highlights of the set included a truly uplifting "African Sunset," "Rafiki," and "Yelling Away."

The African hospitality of Zap Mama's music is a warm, inviting breathe of fresh air. It incites the newcomer, instantly making them feel at home among new and exotic sights and sounds. The feel good groove of Zap Mama and the seductive, smoky voice of Marie Daulne holds huge crowd appeal and I look forward to many more of their shows.

Bassnectar :: 12.31.06 by Josh Miller
Of-course the festivities didn't stop with SCI and Zap Mama. For many, they were just the warm-up to a late night freak fest engineered by breakbeat kingpins DJ Tipper and Lorin Bassnectar. Warming up the turntables at 2:00 a.m., Bassnectar, who "generates amorphous music with conscious intention," assaulted the crowd with his seasoned mix of snarling basslines, abrasive breakbeats, and warped, alien-abducted atmospheres. Sampling everything from the Beastie Boys to Manu Chao and even a 20's era swing-dance throw-down, Bassnectar turned on the hyper drive and took the party into 2007 at warp speed.

For the past two years, this Sea of Dreams Festival is truly unique in its ability to mesh both the Burning Man and jamband worlds. Both communities have an affinity for diversity, music, art in whatever form it takes, and, of course great love for good times. As Johnny Dwork rightly put it, "Perhaps the coolest concept that we can take away from these experiences is there is room for everyone to shine."

SCI :: 12.31.06 :: Concourse Exhibition Center San Francisco, CA
Set I: Can't Stop Now, These Waves, BAM! > Rockit > BAM!, Pretty Polly, Rhum 'n' Zouc, Close Your Eyes > Rocket Man > Close Your Eyes, Desert Dawn
Set II: Miss Brown's Teahouse > Get On Up > Miss Brown's Teahouse > Star Trek Theme > Jam > Star Trek Theme¹ > Rollover > Ziggy Stardust, Rain, Farther, Dub Jam > It Is What It Is, Bumpin' Reel, Black Clouds
E: Joyful Sound, Birdland > Wheel Hoss > Birdland > Rollover

1 with NYE countdown

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