The String Cheese Incident

by Frank Goodman

I was talking to my hippie niece's husband, brother Dave, on the phone not too long ago in Portland. When my niece Grace had gone into labor with her first child the day after the terrorist attacks, her dad and I jumped in a car in Music City and beat it out to the West Coast but quick. Got there in time, too, everything turned out perfect.

"Whatcha listening to, there? Sounds good." "String Cheese Incident," he replied. Sounded like a more bluegrassy Dead thing, I liked it. Made a note to look into it. When summer started coming on, I thought more about the very cool jamband thing that seems to be rolling through the nation. Phish seemed to be on hiatus, and some other acts were on the consequent rise, especially SCI.

I like the way the bluegrass festivals are welcoming in the jamband action, what a smart cross-pollination. Not only is it turning on the jamlovers to more bluegrass acts, some of these jambands have actually come from bluegrass themselves. Especially the String Cheese Incident. Their guitarist, Phil Nershi, actually plays acoustic all night, and does plenty of good lead work on it. Violinist and electric mandolinist Michael Kang gets a lot of the jamlight and is a monster, but Nershi is an understated but very accomplished player. The whole band is strong, for a handful of ski bums that spread their Colorado popularity across the hippie nation in the last 10 years and five records.

The enviable journey of The String Cheese Incident has aspects of both a hipster fairy tale and a solid business plan. Not only do they own their own record company that has sold over 150,00 records, they have their own ticketing agency (that sells tickets at reduced service fees for a growing number of bands) and their own travel agency that books flights and accommodations for their fans, other bands, and their fans... And their merchandising is predictably together: I think I counted about 25 different t-shirts available with the SCI logo prominently (but always tastefully) displayed. These guys mean business, literally.

But what turns me on is the spirit in which it's all done. It's about good vibes, it's about fun, and all that is really believable and palpable at an SCI concert. I saw one recently at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, courtesy of Madison House Inc., their booking and management company (thanks to Carrie for all her help).  continue