Throw away your inhibition hat, slip on your dancing shoes and let your freak flag touch the sky and you might just be ready for an Incident in the remote, tree-laden hills of Horning’s Hideout. The Hideout, owned by Portland area local and 2010 Oregon State Senate candidate Bob Horning, is a lush mountain resort tucked away in the outlying mountains West of Portland. Much of the park is enclosed by towering evergreen trees, offering shady camping areas, breathtaking scenery as far as the eye can see and scarcely any reminder of an outside world. Radiant blue peacocks roam around the grounds and perch high in the trees, calling to each other with bellowing catlike meows and leaving vivid souvenir feathers all around, serving as a colorful mascot for the park. A small lake in front of Mom Horning’s house feeds a creek which runs through the many camping and recreation areas, all connected together by twisty, sloping trails like giant corridors in a secret, underground labyrinth. Every nook, cranny and corner has potential for magical discoveries while navigating the maze, but the place is intimate enough to never be too far from camp. Situated as a permanent staple, nestled away behind the lake is the amphitheater: a sturdy wooden stage in front of a dusty dance floor and a treacherously steep hill making a semi-circle of theater seating around the stage.
The Boulder, Colorado based jam band jesters, String Cheese Incident have now played Horning’s on seven separate occasions since their debut in the majestic park ten years ago. With each occasion being a three night stand, they have hosted a grand total of twenty-one spectacular nights of lighthearted and euphoric music, blissful dancing and breathtaking visual displays at their home away from home. And yeah, it’s more than just a concert, festival or party, it’s a celebration of the beauty of being alive. Today however, after three years of nearly unbroken hiatus, this particular Incident is as much a family reunion as it is anything else. Only 5,000 tickets were sold to the event holding three of their ten scheduled shows of 2010, which were completely bought out in a matter of moments. Months of planning and excitement clearly went into the event because when the String Cheese circus arrived on the scene, the Horning family’s nature park was turned into a technicolor, tie-dyed candy land complete with surreal dreamscape art fixtures and all the glowing energy of a love-cano eruption.
The music of the String Cheese Incident is a concoction of bluegrass, rock, funk, latin/tropical, reggae, disco, folk and jazz all mixed and balanced neatly on a tightly knit but exploratory and peak laden, improvisational seesaw and featuring catchy, honest, sometimes humorous tales gathered from the many trails the members of the band have navigated. The hodgepodge band is comprised of the flat picking sage Billy Nershi bringing exciting life to the six-string acoustic guitar, the ever so smooth Kyle Hollingsworth presiding famously over all things keys, the prodigious Michael Kang on both violin and a soaring electric mandolin, Keith Moseley manning the funky low end on bass guitar entangled alongside the rhythmatic duo of Michael Travis on the drum set and Jason Hann in his incredibly complete percussion universe. Experiencing one of their shows is like riding a steam train, coasting up the scenic mountainside straight into a series of theme park roller coasters before barreling back down the mountain with twice the intensity and plunging into an entirely different planet. As the sun goes down, the strobing stage lights glare and flash, showers of glow sticks launch at every musical peak, lasers, disco balls, LED toys and everything else imaginable begin to light up the place in a phosphorescent shimmer like a Timothy Leary inspired Las Vegas strip. Hugs are passed out like handshakes and as the ride draws to a close and those who were lucky enough to be there begin to process it as the after parties rage on.
ThursdayJuly 28, 2010 In a move forward from past years of Horning’s Hideout Incidents, this gathering was much like a festival, featuring three stages besides the main amphitheater stage, with some kind of music going on all the way from noon until 4 a.m. In the past few years since the last regularly scheduled Incidents, the members have all immersed themselves in new projects, some of which have very obvious lineage in Cheese like The Kyle Hollingsworth Band whose funky, jammy jazz grooves opened the festival with a dirty “Taxman” jam as well as the highly covered Talking Heads tune “Naive Melody (This Must Be The Place)”, and some whose Cheesy roots are not so obvious like Jason Hann and Michael Travis’ssynth charged dub-step improv duo Eoto which closed out the main stage on the first night with an electrifying dance performance by a tequila bottle toting Billy Nershi. An appearance was made by Nershi’s current project, The Emitt-Nershi Band, a bluegrass foursome featuring Billy on guitar and Drew Emitt of Leftover Salmon on the mandolin. Also featured on the first night was the high energy of CB-3 with Chris Berry belting out positive reggae like messages on vocals and Michael Kang doing what he does best on the electric mandolin.
Friday July 29, 2010 Friday featured a captivating acoustic guitar duet during the day by Billy Nershi with Oregon’s own Scott Law as more and more exSCIted fans poured into the campground and eventually to the stage areas to explore the scene, shop in the merchants’ tented vending areas, sample some of the lovingly made foods and hand crafted ales and eventually make their way to the stage for the first night of String Cheese madness. The night started with a welcome from Bob’s mom, Jane Horning, thanking everyone for coming and always being such wonderful guests. From here, the band jumped into their first song of the festival, “Smile” and sure enough everyone within close proximity was smiling as they blazed through the first set featuring highlights in the funky “Born on the Wrong Planet” which brought the first improvisation of the night with a deep, trance-y, grooving jam, layering synthesizers by Hollingsworth and a jazzy exploration by Kang into the nether worlds of improvisation over Moseley’s thumping bass before Travis and Hann built the energy to an overwhelming apex with an explosion back into the end of “Born on the Wrong Planet.” This was followed by the Paul Simon-esque “Under African Skies” where Kang lit a fire with his violin over the upbeat music as the crowd rippled with delight. The jazzy “Climb” came next featuring a Hollingsworth solo that built fittingly from a slow trickle up to a massive peak where Kang took over with his blazing electric mando. To finish the set, the boys invited the Soul Rebels Brass Band to give that extra dirty kick to the already always funky “Miss Brown’s Teahouse.”
The second set was a barn burner from front to back with improv heavy songs like “Black and White” and a beautiful jam with sprinkling piano in “Water”. “Dirk” followed “Water” with a two minute “Jungle Boogie” crammed in the middle of it and the crowd was ecstatic as they built back into the end skyrocketing end of “Dirk”. Everyone but Hann and Travis left the stage for a drum jam followed by the nearly techno dance grooves of “Bumpin’ Reel” that peaked the energetic set of music with Kang laying down fiddle madness over the synthy layers before mellowing out into the grassy set closer, “Restless Wind” which gave playful picker extraordinaire Billy Nershi a chance to stretch out on his acoustic guitar before passing the fire between Kang and Hollingsworth as the second set dance party drew to a wild close. After a moment’s break, the band returned to the stage with the Soul Rebel Brass Band to dust off that old New Orleans feel good classic “Hey Pocky Way”, sending everyone off cheering and smiling into the night stricken woods to play.
Saturday July 30, 2010 Saturday saw grey skies for much of the cool day but cleared up to mesmerizing, puffy, white clouds flowing and shifting with the winds through the azure nothingness while Bill Frisell, Steve Moore and Rudy Royston held an exhibition on how to properly perform dirty, slinky, funky jazz which preceded the night’s highly anticipated performance from Cheese. Costumed concert-goers of all shapes, sizes, colors and themes poured into the bowl and as the spaces filled in, it seemed as if at least half of the audience, clearly ready for blastoff, had decorated themselves for the maniac masquerade. No other scene seems carries fans quite as enthusiastic about being part of the show as does the String Cheese Incident and one can only wonder what they will witness at the band’s Hulaween weekend at that end of Rocktober.
The boys took the stage and immediately gave a nod to the weather, opening their second show of the weekend with the upbeat hootenanny, “Black Clouds” whose second half also closed the first set. The rest of the set explored many places from the tropical feeling “Rhum ‘N Zouc” to the open, loose “Freedom Jazz Dance” with an impressive flowing sit-in by Frisell, the exciting Kang driven “Cedar Laurels” and even a gripping version of Johnny Cash’s own “Ring of Fire”. The set started later than listed and the lights from the stage started painting the band and the trees very early with a shimmer that made the place feel as if it was under water. As the set came rocking to a conclusion, the dance floor was cleared for the now traditional ‘festival set’.
The band took an unlit stage with very few cheers until dark blue lights fired up, revealing their silhouettes along with a team of samurai warriors waiting in the center of the field as the intense, driving, instrumental classic “Rivertrance” opened. The samurai dancers eventually resolved into acrobats and fire dancers wielding flaming hoops, sticks and poi flails. A giant wooden peacock at least 20 feet tall was rolled onto the field and the fire dancers ritualistically set it ablaze to the roar of the crowd as the music raged aggressively. Still in “Rivertrance”, the band slowed down to an amble and the lights were dimmed, bringing out a massive floating UFO over the audience chaperoned by emerald hued, fanning stage lasers, both of which would remain for the rest of the evening. Dancers with flashing LED hoops arrived on the scene adding to the stimulating ambiance of the show before a dozen or so massive balloons were hauled out to the middle of the field in the darkness. In a moment, the balloons were released and floating up with them well above the stage was a woman, attached only by her grasp to the satin looking ropes from which she used to dangle acrobatically. Billy called everyone back to the field under the levitating dancer as the song raced to its finale and the crowd, now more neon and glowing than ever, danced feverishly. “Joyful Sound” followed with Moseley laying down a poetic rap before handing the stage over to his Eoto band mates Hann and Travis to give a taste of their deep womping improvisations. “Orion’s Belt” saw a seemingly infinite glow-stick rope snaking through the audience as the crowd swayed to the Floyd inspired groove. Another highlight came soon after midnight as the band paid a birthday tribute to one of their fallen heroes, the legendary Jerry Garcia, with an inspired rendition of the bluegrass classic “I Know You Rider” (gonna miss me when I’m gone) as a last hurrah to the dazzling set.
After a short break, Cheese returned to the stage for the endearing message of “Sirens” and the hilarious tale of trifles with the police in “Texas” before again sending the partying people off into the night to further explore the magic of the decked out neon forests as they ran the marathon between stages all raging with a plethora of exciting music and many twinkling areas to hang out and enjoy the moment trying to stay awake for the spectacular bubble show taking place at dawn.
Sunday August 1, 2010 All of the sudden, it was Sunday and the festival waned to its final glorious moments. The afterglow of the previous night’s theatrical exhibition could be seen on the shining faces of passersby and heard in their ongoing praises. The day started quite late for most since the night ended in a similar fashion and many had already started to pack it in for the trip back to reality directly after the final set of the weekend. Before long, the main stage was packed with rowdy jiggers and jigglers kickin’ up dirt to some of the smoothest, tightest, most precise bluegrass on the scene from the Travelin’ McCourys as the sun made its triumphant return to the joy of so many shirtless and shoeless in the audience.
The final Incident of the weekend was a doozy from the start. After a quick sendoff from Bob Horning, the McCouryswere welcomed back to the stage for a long bluegrass set of epic proportions culminating in a savage violin battle between Kang and the McCourys’ lightning fingered fiddler Jason Carter in a truly historical “Orange Blossom Special”. Before they left the stage, Col. Bruce Hampton joined the fray to belt out “Fixin’ to Die” as the sun shed its last glorious hues of day and fell into night. The exciting 70’s funk of “Betray the Dark” segued nicely into the Latin pop of “Yo Sé” with jazzy solos traded between Kyle, Kang and Nershi. Later Kang reopened all cylinders in “Looking Glass”. The final nail in the first set was a soulful “San Jose” that everyone dug deep to for that late-festival energy to boogie down.
The final set of the weekend was one of the best as the band unleashed a rocking 17 minute “Howard” which spent a lot of time exploring the sonic depths of layered improvisation. The down-tempo “Emma’s Dream” followed as Keith Moseley’s daughter entered the stage near her father, dressed like a faerie gnome, and grooved zealously with the rest of the audience to the mellow music in what proved to be a very touching moment. The emotional “Don’t Say” segued seamlessly from the “Dream” and, with an escalating jam, they dropped into the frenzied ending of “It Is What It Is”. Again, as with the previous night, the set featured a tribute to the ever-beloved celestial birthday boy, Jerry Garcia as the Incident steered itself into the cheerful and arousing “Eyes of the World”. Scott Law joined the stage for the timeless Garcia/Hunter hymn and staid to finish out the set with “Outside and Inside”. The band returned to the stage after a short break, capping off the weekend with a very appropriate “Best Feeling”, surely a nod, wink, smile and bow to one of the most remarkable weekends anyone could ask for tucked away in one of the most remarkable, pristine music venues in the country. One can only hope that their curtain call second encore “Good Times Around the Bend” is a gesture that there will be more of the same to come beyond the last two scheduled shows of the year to take place over the Halloweekend at the Hampton Colliseum in Virginia.
The Aftermath The String Cheese Incident, even on an indefinite hiatus from full time touring, is still a vibrant, flourishing community of incredibly enthusiastic, humorous and accepting people. In a brief interview with Jason Hann, in the wake of it all, he told me that the people, the group of talented musicians with whom he creates this mystical organism of incredibly diverse music and the colorful, impassioned supporters makes the whole gig incredibly special.
As far as a future touring schedule for regular incidents? Jason says the band has enjoyed playing these regional multi-night residency type of events; noting however that “There's some give and take because you have to be so ‘on’ right out of the gate for any given show, as opposed to building chemistry throughout the coarse of a tour” and stating that next years schedule will be similarly fashioned with a few extra dates sprinkled in. “Right now it's all about trying to make every night and venue more memorable than the last. You try to do that anyway, but we'd like to raise the bar on the overall experience whenever we hit the stage.” Although, the guys won’t be totally split up yet. Michael Kang and Kyle Hollingsworth will be joining Eoto for a special post-Phish late night event at the Global Sol Festival near Berkeley, CA on Saturday August 7, 2010. Jason says that “Those [collaborations] will always linger. We like playing with each other so those will come up as promoters request them. We also like to keep them special, so we probably won't tour with that kind of package.”
This was a indeed a very special weekend that came together nicely in so many ways. The weather, the music, the people, the shows; everything was beautiful. Before the festival, someone told me that there is no better place to see The String Cheese Incident than at Horning’s Hideout. Now, I am very much inclined to believe that. Either way, I’ll be doing my best to jump back into the fantaSCI next time the cirque de Cheese comes to town.