Thursday 07/05/2012 Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO
Arriving at Red Rocks, I felt a mix of emotions; an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and memories, comprised with anticipation and eagerness. The day had finally arrived and soon the first of three shows at this amazing venue would be underway! Soon enough, as I strolled the parking lot I was bombarded with familiar faces everywhere I turned, accompanied by heartfelt hugs and Cheesy smiles from a crowd of not just fans but family, who were all just as happy to be there as I was. Standing in line to get in, I heard the first notes of Sometimes a River, a great way to start the weekend of on a solid foundation. I got inside and found my space as Keith’s song was coming to a close. Kyle Hollingsworth’s song Lost segued into the instrumental Cissy Strut, and then right into Pygmy Pony. Nershi’s tune Song in my Head had everybody bouncing to its catchy groove. At one point in this set between songs, Keith Moseley briefly delved into the countless loss of homes and property in the state of Colorado by the ravenous wildfires that were devastating several areas of the state simultaneously. He told us that volunteers would be coming through the crowd with fireman’s boots, and that we were invited to donate money by putting it into the boots. This money would help the firefighters and the people who had been displaced and otherwise affected by the tragic fires. This once again demonstrates the philanthropy that String Cheese has always been involved in. These six men are not only fantastic musicians, but also good people who are fighting the good fight. When the boot came around, I put money in the boot, and many others were compelled to do the same. We were all praying for rain, but we wouldn’t realize how powerful our prayers would be until the following night.
By the time the first chops of Cedar Laurels were being strummed, we were full-blown in the midst of a Cheesy adventure. The crescendo of that song with Kang on the fiddle and the tempo on overdrive had the whole crowd bouncing, and I was dancing so hard I lost a hat pin that I felt come loose and heard “ting” on the cement but never recovered. This seamlessly transitioned into a beautifully executed cover of Paul Simon’s Under African Skies accompanied by an exquisite jam and then straight into an always strong Colorado Bluebird Sky, one of my personal favorites of the newer songs, to finish off the strong set.
Second set began with Kyle’s new song Let’s Go Outside. Miss Brown’s Teahouse to follow was full of energy, and the full crowd sang along to the chorus in unison. Instead of a funky jam, the band went straight into the jazzy Herbie Hancock cover Chameleon. Kyle’s keys sent us soaring into space, and without skipping a beat the band brought us right back into Miss Brown’s, which finished by repeating the last few notes of the song until a full-blown jam had ensued. This jam slowed down and became Rhum ‘n’ Zouc, with Kang on the fiddle raising all of our collective vibrations to a place beyond words. Next came the song Struggling Angel, penned by Keith Moseley for a friend who had been lost along the way earlier in the year. This brought tears to my eyes and led me to a place of inner reflection, having known that struggling angel along with so many others in the crowd. A poignant song done well, with an instrumental melodic interlude that was matched note for note by both Nershi and Kang. Next, a tempo and tone that sounded just like Rosie convinced me that indeed that was the next song to come, but alas it was a tricky tease that turned out to be Solution. I have heard this song played two different ways in the past, and this was yet a third version, which brought a freshness to the song to go with the thoughtful lyrical prowess of Michael Kang. Sand Dollar started off slow and mellow as always, and gained momentum and energy until it crashed upon us like the waves of the ocean, accompanied by Billy on slide guitar. Always a beautiful instrumental tune, this particular version was especially stunning. The outro turned into a drum jam between Travis and Jason, which included yet another Search tease, the second of the night. The drummers dueled back and forth for a while, and once the rest of the band came back on, the first notes of Desert Dawn were upon us.
There had been a lot of chatter about the dubstep jam that was accompanied by this song at Electric Forest, of which I had not attended but had heard much commentary, mostly about the “Desert Dubstep”, and mostly negative at that. There was much buzz as the band approached the jam, would this be a repeat of Electric Forest? Then the drop happened, and as the loud womp enveloped the patrons, a visual scan of the crowd revealed a small percentage getting down, but by and large it was sour faces, legs that had previously been dancing standing still, even fingers in ears, and I do not exaggerate, some people heading for the aisles to evacuate the scene. I have loved this band for almost 13 years and have traveled to some 25 states to see them perform their art, and I can positively say that was the worst five minutes I have ever experienced at a String Cheese show, hands down. The rest of the weekend found much focus of conversation on what exactly happened during that now infamous Desert Dawn. I spoke with countless people on the subject, I heard many varied opinions, but only two people enjoyed what they had heard. Other reactions ranged from mild displeasure to overwhelming anger, disappointment and even feelings of betrayal and pain. One friend who has seen well over 100 shows was questioning whether she wanted to go to Horning’s Hideout. In her words, “They brought the darkness from Electric Forest, and now it looks like they will bring it to Horning’s, and I won’t be able to take that.” Another female friend used the word rape when recounting her experience, and she did not use the word lightly. It seemed to her that a level of trust that had developed over many years had suddenly been violated. Yet another friend said, “It seemed appropriate at Electric Forest, almost a joke, but when they played it at Red Rocks, it wasn’t funny anymore.” This person had seen over 250 shows, and said he had never had an experience like that before. These sentiments represent the vast majority of opinions drawn from a large cross-section of people I conversed with on the subject.
To have so much focus on a meager 5 minutes of an entire show really shows how affected loyal fans were. The best way that I can personally explain it is that a song like Desert Dawn taps into veins of love and light from deep within an individual, opening up the heart chakra to receive divine energy from the loving universal consciousness. Once those pathways to the heart had swung wide open, the receptive and vulnerable heart was stomped upon by tones and energies that simply do not belong in the String Cheese Incident, not the one I have known and loved for so many years. I am all about exploration into different musical genres, and one of the things that I love and respect most about this band is their ability to take musical risks. When taking a risk, sometimes you fall flat on your face. Clearly this is what happened with Desert Dawn, and I sincerely hope that they learned from their mistake and don’t repeat it again. Ultimately, I love this band and will continue to spend my time and hard-earned money to see them. I feel like I have developed a personal relationship with the music they create, and no relationship is perfect, but it is important also in any relationship to admit when you are wrong, and to make efforts to remedy those shortcomings. Will they continue on this dark path they have started to tread, or will they go back to beaming us with arrows of love shot from above? Unfortunately I, along with many others, will find myself cringing every time I hear Desert Dawn for a long time to come, and I never in a million years thought I would ever be saying those words. Enough said.
The short break before the encore found the crowd chattering vivaciously about how that set had ended. It was definitely time for some bluegrass. Eureka! The band seemed to have gotten the hint, as Billy said into the microphone something to the effect of, “We’re going to come back to Earth now with some bluegrass,” which caused an explosive uproar of applause from the crowd. Whiskey before breakfast was refreshing and played beautifully and cleanly. The night was finished off by a raucous Outside Inside, written by Billy Nershi, who I feel had dibs on the encore due to the finish of the second set. Overall a great show, in the words of Jeffrey Lebowski, “Some strikes and some gutters,” but no matter what my criticisms entail, I will always be back for more, because I love this band with all my heart.