There’s nothing like the vibe before a String Cheese Incident show: it’s arguably one of the happiest places on earth. Whether or not you’re a bluegrass fan, the music appeals to fans of multiple genres—classic rock, country, jamtronica, tribal, reggae, Americana. Perhaps it’s the uplifting catalog of songs that bring such a positive experience, or the fact that live shows double as a family reunion for many fans. In this case, it was the perfect Central Texas temperatures that allowed for a smooth sailing weekend, and also the palpable excitement that hung in the air—especially considering the tour dates at Stubb’s was the band’s first three-night run in Austin since 2013.
The weekend also marked the official release of the band’s new LP, Believe. Each of the three sold-out shows offered a blend of classic String Cheese Incident tracks, new songs, covers and jams. Thursday night kicked off the run in a celebratory manner with the feel-good favorite “Can’t Wait Another Day” followed by “Song in My Head.” The first set ended with “Beautiful,” but not before a “Miss Brown’s Tea House” jam that incorporated Herbie Hancock’s “Chameleon.” The second set kept the energy going with “Come As you Are,” and then a jammed out “Outside and Inside.” “Rivertrance” and “Let’s Go Outside” were also highlights of the evening. A “Crosseyed and Painless” tease whetted fans’ palettes for some Talking Heads during a “Rhythm of the Road” encore, although they’d have to wait until Friday to hear a full cover of the iconic David Byrne-led group.
Setlist: String Cheese Incident | Stubb’s | Austin, TX | 4/13/2017
Set One: Can’t Wait Another Day, Song In My Head > Can’t Stop Now, Hotel Window, My One and Only, Miss Brown’s Tea House>Chameleon# >Miss Brown’s >Jam > Beautiful
Set Two: Come As You Are, Outside and Inside > Jam > Just One Story > Jam > Rivertrance, Sweet Spot, Let’s Go Outside
Encore: On the Road Again, On The Road
On the second night, rumors circulated that Bob Weir, in town for performances on April 14 and 15, could make a surprise guest appearance. While this could not be confirmed (and Weir did not perform), Friday evening remained what was perhaps the busiest night for String Cheese Incident of the Austin swing. The band performed a short VIP set in the afternoon before launching into “Believe” in the first Saturday set, the title track off the new album. The Doors’ “L.A. Woman” and an experimental, electronic jam following “Joyful Sound” gave way to a patiently executed “Desert Dawn.”
While Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” served as Saturday’s only encore song, the band closed the second set with tracks in sync with both the audience and the venue. Thursday night’s Talking Heads tease came full circle on Friday, when the bongo-infused “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” cover gave fans time to rest their dancing shoes, hug friends and high-five fellow fans. There wasn’t a live music fan in the crowd that wasn’t singing along. With songs seemingly tailored toward SCI’s Austin fan base, the band slowly worked its way into “Texas” which, for obvious reasons, also featured an audience singalong. To assume it would be the last song of the second set would too obvious (but wait, there’s more!). As a flawless transition led “Texas” straight to Austin resident Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River,” the collective yelling and cheering felt like a anniversary celebration to welcome String Cheese Incident back to ATX.
Setlist: String Cheese Incident | Stubb’s | Austin, TX | 4/14/2017
VIP Set: MLT, Honky Tonk Heroes, Midnight Moonlight, Best Feeling
Set One: Believe > Dixie Chicken Jam/Tease > Got What He Wanted > Talkbox Jam> Got What He Wanted > LA Woman > Remington Ride, Pirates, Get Tight, Betray the Dark, Close Your Eyes, One Step Closer
Set Two: Group Hoot, Joyful Sound > Electronic Jam?* Whip It Tease? > Desert Dawn > Jam > Desert Dawn, Falling Through the Cracks, Hi Ho No Show, Flying, This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody), Texas > Whiskey River > Jam
Encore: Could You Be Loved
On the last night, the band was riding the high from the weekend. “Let’s have some fun!” Michael Kang told the rowdy audience, before the upbeat bluegrass track “Johnny Cash” set the tone for the first set. The band proceeded to perform what was one of the best nights of the weekend for me personally in terms of both the set list and the performance itself, not to mention the kinetic interaction that flowed between the audience and the stage.
As promised, fun is exactly what was had on stage (Jason Hann couldn’t be spotted without a smile on his face the entire weekend.) During the second set, which included the Eastern-style dance tune “Bolly Munster,” “Sirens,” “Big Shoes” and “You Got the World,” the band also seemed to tease “Morning Dew” before all-out iterations of “Ramble On” and fan favorite, “Rosie.” The overjoyed crowd’s vocal gratitude demonstrated a genuine appreciation for the evening, and for the weekend incident in general.
While the initial encore (“Smile”) offered , the audience and the band members both appeared hopeful for one more song. And sometimes, wishes do come true (oh, the power of cheese) … Smiles continued to abound throughout the venue as the band assumed their positions for a final encore with “I Know You Rider > Stir It Up > I Know You Rider.” The lengthy last jam provided the signature Cheese vibe fans know and love about the eclectic band, and proved once again why it attracts music lovers from all jam band camps and walks of life.
Following the electrifying performance, Austin funk band Mamafesta performed on Stubb’s indoor stage while String Cheese Incident’s Jason Hann surprised another rowdy crowd a few blocks away, where he sat in with Colorado-based funk-fusion band Sunsquabi during their sold-out show at Empire Garage & Control Room.
[Photo courtesy of the author]
Setlist: String Cheese Incident | Stubb’s | Austin, TX | 4/15/2017
Set One: Johnny Cash > Dirk, The Walls of Time, Little Hands > Jam, The Road Home, Don’t Let Go (Isaac Hayes cover), It Is what It Is
Set Two: Bolly Munster, Sirens > Jam > Big Shoes, You Got the World, Morning Dew Tease/Jam? > Land’s End, Ramble On, Rosie
Encore Two: I Know You Rider > Stir It Up > I Know You Rider