Kyle Hollingsworth Talks The Lebrewski Cruise, SCI, Solo Band & More

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Welcome to another edition of The Art of the Sit-In, where we mix it up with the scene’s most adventurous players and hear some stories from the road. For more, check out our recent interviews with Tim Reynolds, Eddie Roberts, Jorma Kaukonen, Jeff Sipe, Eric Gould and many more.

Words by: Chad Berndtson

Of course something called “The Lebrewski Cruise” is a good idea, and of course Kyle Hollingsworth is the man to host such an event.

Hollingsworth at this point in his career is known almost as much for his love of — and work in — beer as he is for his many musical associations, not least his nearly 20 years in The String Cheese Incident. But The Lebrewski Cruise, which takes place March 1 – 5 aboard the Norwegian Pearl and embarks from Miami, is something Hollingsworth likens to the vibe from Jam Cruise, except with beer — the love of, the brewing of, the pairing with, the discussion of and the drinking of — as the star.

Hollingsworth caught JamBase up on what to expect at the Lebrewski Cruise — including the music piece of it — as well as The String Cheese Incident’s upcoming tour, and his own plans with the Kyle Hollingsworth Band and other collaborations.

JAMBASE: So your love of beer and work in beer is well-known but The Lebrewski Cruise is an interesting idea. How did this come about?

KYLE HOLLINGSWORTH: [Cruise company] On the Blue came to us — they knew who I was and that I love beer and they said to me, “we want you to help us put on a beer cruise.” I loved the idea. So we got to brainstorming: is the music the star of the cruise or is the beer the star of the cruise? We decided the beer is the star of the cruise and that people would get really excited by all of the beer options and beer-related activities.

JAMBASE: Did you play a big role selecting the music lineup?

KH: Not so much. We were more on the beer end, though we certainly suggested bands we knew, and I got [Michael] Kang and Jason [Hann] from String Cheese on board. It’s a pretty mixed lineup.

JAMBASE: In that case, what went into the beer selection process?

KH: We went through a lot, and settled on five key breweries that we wanted to have on board, including Lagunitas and Left Hand and Stone, some of whom I’ve made beers with. We had to make some hard choices on whom to try to have there, but it was fun to be able to do this and conceive of who could be part of this.

JAMBASE: Given your interest in beer is so well-known, do you spend time interacting with fans who are also brewers or who have that same interest?

KH: I definitely run into them occasionally. It’s my passion, and there probably hasn’t been as much cross-talk with music as I want. I more often run into brewers who also happen to be big fans of String Cheese — the people at Sweetwater [Brewing Company] are like that. What I do get is great and interesting recipes from fans, some of whom aren’t necessarily brewers but are just passionate about beer.

JAMBASE: What’s an example of an interesting beer recipe you received from a fan?

KH: There’s one I’m making with Cigar City Brewing that involves habanero peppers. That’s cool. I have to say I’ve never successfully seen a good beer recipe that involved cheese, though plenty have come to me.

JAMBASE: So you’ll be performing throughout The Lebrewski Cruise as well?

KH: Correct, three sets. I haven’t quite figured out how that’s all going to work yet because I’m also kind of the cruise host and will be involved in a lot of the daily events and activities.

JAMBASE: Turning to your various musical commitments, you’ve just done a few Kyle Hollingsworth Band dates. More plans for that band this year?

KH: Yes. We are going into the studio in a few weeks to record some new material and recently released a new song on SoundCloud. We want to be productive with this band and I’m taking chances where I can. String Cheese is working on a lot right now and of course that naturally takes away from the solo projects we’re all doing. I’m also producing the Hot Buttered Rum record. And my wife is always reminding me, as I play shows with my band, and record with String Cheese, and I go on this boat to, you know, see the family once in a while! [laughs]

JAMBASE: What were your favorite String Cheese experiences from the past year? I keep hearing, for example, it was one of the better Hulaweens.

KH: Yes, we had great shows there. We played with Sam Bush and then by the last night of it, that third one, the last show, we just let everything go. That was my favorite moment.

JAMBASE: How do you think you guys have evolved, especially since you came back from String Cheese’s hiatus?

KH: Good question. I think we’re evolving somewhat because people now go and explore outside String Cheese with side projects and bring in those new and creative ideas. Billy [Nershi] plays more electric guitar now, for example. When you’re a band like ours and you’ve been together for a long time, there’s a bit of a hump where you just have a hard time being together. The time off and that space we took was very much needed — we came back feeling stronger as a group, and made it through the rough patch. I am sure there will be others, but we’re right now in a very good space.

JAMBASE: When I spoke with Jason Hann for this same column a while back, he talked about what goes into your themed Incidents, and between Lauryn Hill and the Doobies and everyone you’ve done a lot of these now. Who would you like to craft an Incident for that you haven’t yet?

KH: You know about eight years or more ago we spent time with Paul Simon. I remember working through a bunch of material and having a very intense moment where I was there playing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with Paul Simon, and it was just, wow. We had some plans and then right after that, like the next week, he just wasn’t ready to commit, he was really busy. So Paul Simon would still be up there. We’ve been teasing for a while the idea of doing one around Steve Miller. A Talking Heads show would also be epic.

JAMBASE: I remember hearing rumors of how close that Paul Simon collaboration came, at one point.

KH: Yeah, we were in rehearsals, feeling each other. He was all psyched to do some shows, he had come to Colorado, he said our name on the radio, he was getting a lifetime achievement award. It just didn’t happen.

JAMBASE: Speaking of other interesting things you guys do in Cheese, Billy said in a recent interview you were thinking about all-acoustic sets again?

KH: We were talking about that for our upcoming tour in March. I don’t think it’s going to happen this time around, but it was so much fun doing that when we did it, and we did it again at a festival last year. In some ways it’s easy — we love the bluegrass aspect of it, and we come from a lot of that music. But I’d also love to challenge ourselves and do big songs like “Rollover” or “Howard,” more of our epic songs as an acoustic band. No matter what, I’m totally into the idea. We want to make sure we do it right and that we can stretch out in the format the way we want to.

JAMBASE: So I need your good sit-in story: you with some other band or someone with one of your bands. What comes to mind?

KH: The first one that comes to mind is that it was The Allman Brothers for two nights at Red Rocks [July 2004]. I was asked to sit-in on “Southbound” and sat right next to Gregg Allman. That was an epic moment. It was “come on over here and sit right here,” and he was all probably like, “who’s this guy, can he play?” And me I’m just sitting and laughing there: I’m playing piano next to Gregg Allman. There are some keyboard players and other players out there who are just not friendly to be around onstage or offstage and this wasn’t that at all. It was totally great. (Ed. Note: Kyle and the rest of SCI will perform with Gregg Allman at this year’s Peach Festival.

You mention sitting-in and collaboration and I do want to go back to The Lebrewski Cruise because I think that spirit is going to be there. When I say the beer is the star what I mean is there’s going to be tons of activities around the beer being the star: food pairings, and brewing beer right there on board, and opportunities for people to hang out and mingle with experts as beer fans and music fans. That’s the thing that’s going to make it feel like Jam Cruise. On Jam Cruise, you have Michael Franti or whomever just walking around, there as part of the group on the boat. This is stars of the brewing industry — they’re going to be hanging around, out and about. That spirit will be there.

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