The Scene: When I walked up to eTown Hall on Saturday night there was none of the usual commotion of a String Cheese Incident show. There were very few people outside the venue, there were no fingers in the air that I saw, and I didn’t see a single person selling beers or grilled cheese. In short it was a bit disorienting to someone who has seen SCI 80 or more times in the last 15 years. I walked right in the door, got checked off the list, and set out to explore the intimate venue after grabbing a complimentary New Belgium beer and a bite to eat at the lavish reception that was being held downstairs.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, this wasn’t just your average SCI show, this was a benefit to raise money to support the rebuilding of Colorado trail systems and other outdoor recreation areas damaged by the September 2013 floods. Dubbed “Rock The Trails,” the event brought together Outdoor Industry companies like GoLite, REI, Zeal Optics, Spyder and more with local organizations including the Boulder Chamber, CU Outdoor Club, Wildlands Restoration Volunteers and the City of Boulder. The fabulous crew of eTown welcomed us all into their near perfect eTown Hall and played the role of gracious hosts for the evening.
Though the event wasn’t publicized in advance outside a select group of invitees, a few hardcore fans had made it in the door and were a welcomed sight up along the lip of the stage as they danced, sang and pumped their fists in the air for the duration of the performance. Further back in the room there were a few familiar faces from Boulder’s String Cheese Family, but for the most part this was a private industry party . . . and if this night was any indication, these folks know how to throw a party and do great, selfless work while they are at it!
String Cheese Incident: After a couple of presenters educated us all a little bit on the organizations involved with the event and the devastation caused by the floods, the boys took the stage and opened the show with one of my all time favorite SCI songs, a very fitting “100 Year Flood.” They took the opportunity to jam the tune well past the 10 minute mark out as they got locked into step as a band. Though they have only played a couple shows this fall, the jams flowed well and the song built to a nice peak that focused on some nice interplay between Michael Kang’s electric mandolin and Bill Nershi’s acoustic guitar before yielding to some Jazzy keyboard work from Kyle Hollingsworth. There seemed to be a little bit of confusion as the band prepared to segue into Hollingsworth’s “Can’t Wait Another Day,” one of the few “new” songs the band played during the performance, but Kyle soon took the reigns and the band followed him into the sing-songy tune.
An early highlight of the show came in the form of a “Born On The Wrong Planet” sandwich that featured the relatively rare “Pretty Polly” as the meat. It was a treat to hear this elusive tune in the intimate confines of eTown Hall and judging by the reaction in the room when the melody emerged from the fog of a spacey and ambient jam and Nershi stepped to the mic to utter uttered the words “Polly, pretty Polly will you take me unkind” I wasn’t the only one who appreciated it. Though this version was unfinished, the very well developed tease of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall” that followed as the band slipped back into “Born On The Wrong Planet” made up for it and had the whole room dancing.
The band then served up a typically tropical feeling and “Cheesey” take on Jean-Luc Ponty’s “Mouna Bowa” that featured Kang on fiddle before inviting the patriarch of the eTown family to the stage. eTown founder and host Nick Forster took over lead vocals on the Blues standard “Trouble In Mind” and improvised a verse about the rain before switching from guitar to mandolin as the band laid down their version of the Bluegrass traditional number “Big Sciota.”
After Forster said his goodbyes and left the stage the band laid into the key heavy “MLT” before cranking up the energy in the room with a monster version of “‘Round The Wheel” that Nershi dedicated to a good ski season in Colorado this year. Midway through the song’s jam Hollingsworth took things in a very funky direction and eventually landed on a “Crosseyed and Painless” tease that elicited huge cheers from the crowd and Kang grabbed onto as well a few minutes later. The band closed out their set with a relatively abbreviated version of what has become one of the band’s jam staples over the last year or two, “Colorado Bluebird Sky.” While that would have been more than enough, the band had one more up their sleeves and delivered a great version of “Shine” as the encore of this memorable show.
Stage Presence: B
Set/Light Show: B