Colorful individuals of all ages made their way into Stubb’s BBQ on Red River and 8th Street in the historic downtown Austin. It was night one of a sold-out three-night-run from the genre-defying supergroup The String Cheese Incident, and downbeat was a little more than an hour away.
We had been waiting patiently since they announced their “Spring Cheese” tour earlier this year; waiting for a shot or three of that unmistakable vibe.
String Cheese brought an army – a circus of sparkle-faced, grinning crazies in outrageous dress drinking, smoking and blowing bubbles as the evening turned to night. They’re far too big a group for Stubb’s—and Stubb’s is by no means a small venue—but time and time again, String Cheese rolls through Austin and sets up camp at the legendary BBQ venue.
As the sun dipped lower, anticipation grew higher. A sea of bodies bathed in blue light pressed up against the unmanned stage. Sizzling. Smoking. Waiting to exhale. Then, a thunderous release as the players graced the stage and opened the run with a quite appropriate “Can’t Wait Another Day.”
Big highlights from night one included an extended “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” with a tongue-in-cheek “Chameleon” interlude into, “Beautiful,” as well as synth-drenched festie favorite, “Rivertrance,” rounding out a seamless “Outside and Inside > Just One Story > Rivertrance” odyssey. And let’s not forget the nod to hometown hero Willie Nelson with a little “On the Road Again” for an encore.
Night two was a particularly special night. String Cheese Incident’s new full-length album, Believe, officially dropped that very day, and was available in various formats at the merch tent. It was only fitting that the band open the second night with the title track, “Believe.”
A few feet away from the stage, a girl looked on with some funny-looking binoculars. I tapped her on the shoulder. “What is that?” She got excited, put the binoculars around my neck and said, “Wait for the lights to go nuts!”
When I put them on, I understood completely. It was a binocular kaleidoscope, morphing in shape and color to light and dance. A friend of hers named Leif Colson makes them with the Colorado Kaleidoscope Company. “I get lost in those,” she said.
The rest of night two brought more new tunes to celebrate the new album, as well as some top-shelf jams. We were treated to an unexpected cover of The Doors’ “LA Woman” slingshot into “Remington Ride,” and the highly appropriate “Texas/Whiskey River/Texas” sandwich out of “Naïve Melody” absolutely killed. The band ended with a rare Bob Marley cover “Could You Be Loved,” and the second night came to a stunning close.
Now, the third night… the third night had few words. Extended jam after extended jam, the SCI played on. The three nights rose to an unforgettable climax during set two, when out of the aftermath of “Land’s End” came a familiar melody. To hear any group play Led Zeppelin well is a treat. To hear String Cheese Incident play “Ramble On” is a full blown experience — one nobody expected. The final set of the run wrapped with a much anticipated, deliciously long “Rosie.”
And that was it. Show’s over, folks. Time to go home and get on with your everyday lives. Ha! You try pushing a thousand plus people out of Stubb’s after “Ramble On” and “Rosie.” We were loud. I mean loud. And of course String Cheese was happy to oblige – with a double encore. Concluding the run, we got another Bob Marley tune, “Stir It Up,” nested within an up-tempo bluegrass “I Know You Rider.”
I know, that sounds weird, right? Those songs are too different. But String Cheese makes it sound natural and easy. That’s one of the wonderful things about them – you really never know what they’re going to play. I wish I could have followed them on to the next city, like so many there that night had, just to hear what they do next. Guess I’ll have to wait for summertime. After all, festival season is right around the corner.
4/13/17 – Night One
S1: Can’t Wait Another Day, Song In My Head > Can’t Stop Now, Hotel Window, My One And Only, Miss Brown’s Teahouse > Chameleon > Miss Brown’s Teahouse > Beautiful
S2: Come As You Are, Outside and Inside > Just One Story > Rivertrance, Sweet Spot, Let’s Go Outside
E: On the Road Again, On the Road
4/14/17 – Night Two
S1: Believe, Got What He Wanted > LA Woman > Remington Ride, Pirates, Get Tight, Betray the Dark, Close Your Eyes, One Step Closer
S2: Joyful Sound > Desert Dawn, Falling Through the Cracks, Hi Ho No Show, Flying, Naive Melody > Texas > Whiskey River > Texas
E: Could You Be Loved
4/15/17 – Night Three
S1: Johnny Cash > Dirk, The Walls of Time, Little Hands, The Road Home, Don’t Let Go, It Is What It Is
S2: BollyMunster, Sirens > Big Shoes, You’ve Got The World, Lands End, Ramble On, Rosie
E: Smile, I Know You Rider > Stir It Up > I Know You Rider