This was an incident that thousands had waited for.
Back in 2009, every member of String Cheese Incident, save for keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, was at FloydFest with one band or another. No semi-String Cheese Incident developed that year.
A decade later, the full band, celebrating 25 years of Colorado ski-country-born jams, hit FloydFest 19 Voyage Home’s Dreaming Creek Main Stage for two Saturday headlining sets. Two main stage sets is a first at FloydFest, but that’s how the String Cheese is pulled.
And FloydFest wanted to pull the cheese. You know a band has fans among a festival’s organizer’s when the CEO’s wife introduces it. Chastity McBroom, FloydFest boss John McBroom’s better half, did the honors for the first set.
SCI’s super affable guitarist Billy Nershi thanked her as the band launched its first set, an hour-long affair that began with a band signature song, “Round the Wheel.” The 6/8 Latin feel merged into a samba and a disco-funk groove, with instrumental solos all around, before sliding back to its original groove to close, clocking in at about eight minutes.
That laid-back opening was the rule through the first half of the set, with the band mining Afrobeat rhythms as well. But I had to roll. D.J. Williams and his band, Shots Fired, was at Hill Holler.
Williams was a FloydFest regular in its early days. He lived in Richmond back then, and his band, The Projekt, always brought good jazz/funk and good vibes. The band in those days included bassist Todd Herrington and Gordon “Sax Man” Jones.
Nowadays, Williams lives in Denver, an emerging funk capital, and his Shots Fired project has a long cast of rotating musical characters. At Hill Holler, Jones and Herrington were back with Williams, along with smashing drummer Lamar Moore, trumpeter Joey Herrera and keyboardist Calvin Brown.
Williams is here to play guitar with Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe tonight, and it was so cool that FloydFest’s Kris Hodges put him in the Hill Holler. The one-off version of Shots Fired, after getting loose during the opening number, was a tight funk/rock unit throughout, with a splash of one-drop reggae in an instrumental.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been to FloydFest, so I’m honored that you’ve welcomed me back,” Williams said, thanking the crowd for supporting his ventures over the years.
It was a light crowd at first, not surprising given the monolith jam band across the way, but it grew well as more people walking past caught the greased up, dynamically diverse and soulful music coming up the holler.
Chupacabras, the spaghetti-western-meets-surf-meets-Afrobeat band, was playing the Throwdown tent. This horn-blasting, percussion-driven act includes drummer Kris Hodges, FloydFest’s co-founder and still the guy who books the wildly diverse and cool lineup every year. Chupacabras is no southwestern myth. The band is for real, and lots of people buzzed about it, many unaware of its connection to the festival’s roots.
Finally back at the main stage, I caught the tail end of the Incident‘s 90-minute second show. The band, which had been tight and flexible earlier, was now pumping more uptempo, late-night jam material - reggae and space-funk-meets-Irish-reel in the mix - ending with a rousing version of its bluegrass adjacent “Colorado Bluebird Sky.”
Ultimately, SCI is not my thing, but so many dancers were loving life down there, I couldn’t hate on it. Nothing that makes so many people happy can be a bad thing. Well, maybe some things, and some people, but not the Cheese, man.
The traditional line of folks making their way to Hill Holler for the post-main stage music found a thick crowd there, for the fourth annual Buffalo Mountain Jam.
Keller Williams and Leftover Salmon, led it, as they have since the beginning, and it was a tour de force of musicians from around the festival sitting in on songs they had never played together before.
It was a “you have to see it to get it” deal, very adventurous, with cool surprises. As Saturday bled in to Sunday, the jam had a sweet highlight worth recounting here. Willams led the band through “New Horizon,” a Jeff Austin song that first emerged from Austin’s Yonder Mountain String Band era. It’s a truly sad song, and that’s fitting, as Austin died, unexpectedly, on June 24.
Beloved mandolinist and band leader Austin was no stranger to FloydFest. He played there with Yonder, and he played there as part of Williams’ Grateful Grass. Austin led his own band in a main stage set a few years back, in which I was completely occupied with the otherworldly banjo mastery of Danny Barnes.
His loss will be deeply felt in the jam community for a long time to come, and Leftover Salmon mandolin man Drew Emmitt played a break in Austin’s honor on the Jerry. Garcia number, “Like A Road Leading Home.”
Otherwise, it was pure, devil-may-care joy up on the bandstand.