The rare band gets through a long history with all of its original members still onstage. For Colorado jamband The String Cheese Incident, that’s the case through 25 years. String Cheese, instead of replacing members, has simply added a couple.
The band’s willingness to grow and change musically has made it one of the country’s premier jam acts. Its standing through a quarter century is such that it is still capable of doing a three-day run at its home state’s national treasure, Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The band will headline FloydFest for the first time, and in a first for the festival, String Cheese Incident will play two sets — one an hour long, and the other 90 minutes, at the festival’s main stage.
It will be SCI’s FloydFest debut, but not the first time that band members have been there. In 2009, guitarist Billy Nershi was part of the Emmitt-Nershi Band; fiddler/mandolinist Michael Kang was there with Panjea; and drummer Michael Travis and percussionist Jason Hann performed as EOTO. Only keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth missed the fest that year.
Band co-founder Nershi said he looks forward to returning with String Cheese, particularly since Floyd-Fest delivers a different set of genres than most festivals the band plays.
“A lot of the big festivals that we do kind of go toward the electronic side, and what I remember about FloydFest is that it’s a little more rootsy,” Nershi said. “There’s more bluegrass, and it feels like you’re playing in the South. The style of music that you’re going to hear down there is gonna be more acoustic, more Southern rock, more bluegrass.
“For me, I love it, because it opens up the door to a lot of the kinds of music that I like to play with String Cheese, to do a set that’s a little more geared to that style.”
Not that The String Cheese Incident is, or ever really was, a bluegrass band, despite what some loose histories recount.
“People always would say that we were a bluegrass band, but I think that was more because of the instrumentation,” Nershi said last week from his home in Denver.
“There was a bit of bluegrass being played, but it was always kind of like newgrass, [David] Grisman kind of stuff. Even back then, we would do some Afrobeat and Latin music. I think it’s easy to just lump it up and say it’s bluegrass, because I was playing acoustic guitar and Mike was playing mandolin and fiddle.”
With an expanded lineup — Hollingsworth came on in the mid-1990s, and Hann joined in 2004 — the sonic palette has grown, Nershi said.
“Kyle has a jazz background, as far as he went to school for jazz piano,” Nershi said. “He’s got a certain style that goes beyond jazz — funk, Latin, and now more of these kind of rock anthem tunes he’s been writing. So his presence has definitely changed us from the very early days, with the bluegrass/newgrass stuff that we were doing.”
Hollingsworth has his own act scheduled for a FloydFest set (see accompanying story).
“Jason brings his own talents on percussion, and he has a real good knowledge of a lot of different styles of music, particularly African,” Nershi said. “His djembe playing is probably his greatest skill, I would say. He and [Michael] Travis have been doing their EOTO thing, which is electronic. Jason has been programming drum tracks with the band. We started doing some electronic music soon after he joined the band.”
SCI has released three singles recently, covering much stylistic ground.
The most recent, “All We Got,” has disco, electronic and Afrobeat vibes. “Bhangra Saanj,” which preceded it, features the band Beats Antique and mines Indian classical music. The first of them, “I Want You,” features Dobro man Andy Hall of Infamous Stringdusters. Nershi wrote “I Want You,” a country-rock number that summons up feelings from the 1970s.
“We bought a studio together out here in Colorado that we’ve been rehearsing at, recording at, and also serves as a place to keep our gear,” Nershi said. “Everything’s under one roof. We made a commitment to each other to do a lot of writing and recording together, so that things don’t get stale for us or for the fans.
“I think with bringing material in and writing material and ideas in general, we’ve stayed pretty open to try out different things and not be inclined to say no too quickly to any idea. That’s why we play so many different styles of music in the course of a night, and our recording has been the same way.”