Once again, The String Cheese Incident took the jam band custom of donning “Musical costumes” for Halloween to new heights during their Suwannee Hulaween Saturday night themed set, bringing together a bevvy of legendary voices for “Women of the Galaxy.” With a selection of cover tunes by icons like Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Pat Benatar, Heart, Cream and more with special guests Jen Hartswick, Rhonda Thomas, Lisa Fischer and, amazingly, the original singer of a couple of the featured tunes, Heart’s Ann Wilson. All this came before an epic mash-up encore featuring a reworked “Rollover” which served as the musical spine to a wild assortment of space movie themes stretching from Close Encounters to the dueling Star Wars and Star Trek franchisees before finally mixing in iconic scores from Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In what is usually one of the most anticipated nights of their yearly performance schedule, Cheese had the difficulty of trying to outdo their past Hulaween Incidents. The little band that could from Colorado has set the musical bar so high in the past that just watching them try and clear it is breathtaking in its own right. But before they took on their amazing cover set, they had two rock-solid chunks of new and classic Cheese goodness to serve the jam-starved crowd.
Crowd-pleasers and jams were the order of the day for the first two sets, with a “Birdland” kickoff that was spurred to dizzying heights by the pent-up anticipation running electric through the crowd. The first set flowed together through a breezy “Sweet Spot” on through a segue-filled “Sing A New Song” into “These Waves” before a jubilant “Colorado Bluebird Sky” closed out the first musical stanza.
The second set, the one most likely to suffer most from being overlooked as anticipation for the Halloween set grew, managed to grab the attention of the crowdwith a ripping version of newer tune “The Big Reveal” before closing with the irresistible String Cheese classics “Jellyfish” and “Rosie”.
The stage was set, the energy in the crowd was peaking, and the lights went dim at the end of the set as the band and the crowd prepared for what was in store. When The String Cheese Incident next appeared, they were dressed as stylish, though somehow ghoulish gentlemen, with an arsenal of ladies ready to take the party into the stratosphere and beyond. Not content to simply reproduce the songs, Cheese procured the services of some regular collaborators with their targeted cover acts. To lay down the set’s gauntlet, they opened with the Rolling Stones classic “Gimmie Shelter” featuring frequent Stones guest vocalist Lisa Fischer, whose powerful pipes gave the song about the dangers of war a menacing edge in today’s heated political climate.
The late Aretha Franklin got her respect paid with “Rock Steady” and “Respect” itself featuring Jennifer Hartswick and Rhonda Thomas, who each took a crack at honoring the Queen of Soul. Thomas, who promptly shined on Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” along with Amy Winehouse‘s “Valerie”, showed the same poise and power she has on her previous guest slots as part of the beefed-up String Cheese Incident covers band alongside her frequent partner-in-crime, Tony White. Hartswick blew her trumpet alongside the special guest horn section from Mofro, delivering a wild, passionate cover of Pat Benatar’s “Heart Breaker” that threatened to end the battle of sexes once and for all.
With Heart on the crowds mind, Ann Wilson of Heart herself took the stage and instantly shook it to its core with a ripping rendition of Cream’s “Politician” before delivering what was, for this reviewer at least, the high point of the night: a “Barracuda” so dangerous even the Mayor of Amityville would close the beaches if it came any nearer!
With that much power onstage, the combined wattage could have started some sort of perpetual motion machine, but String Cheese wisely chose to funnel it into an all-for-one sing-along of Bob Marley‘s “Get Up, Stand Up”. That power united the audience and the musicians in a free-flowing give-and-take of love and energy that is as impossible to capture in words—as any truly singular moment can be. With the engine of love fired up, there was only one direction left for Cheese to go: out into the deepest recesses of space and time.
The String Cheese Incident w/ Special Guests – “Get Up, Stand Up” [Bob Marley cover]
I’m sure we will eventually find out whose idea it was to combine the snippets of some of Sci-Fi’s greatest themes, but the thrill that ran through the crowd when pieces of the title sequences from Star Wars, Star Trek, Close Encounters and 2001 was palpable. These were the only sounds with enough cache to have even a chance of edging their way into the ranks of the jams String Cheese had already laid down.
Watching String Cheese clear higher and higher heights year after year does more for fans than just let them know the band has it in them to continue to grow. It reminds the jam community at large that though we may exist off in our own corner of the music, world we can, and often do, make music in ways and with intentions that far outstrip the mainstream. It’s not that other bands and styles aren’t capable of reproducing these classics, but it is undeniable that what bands like The String Cheese Incident do on nights like these is remind the world that not only can bands jam, they can synergize their sounds with anything and make magic right before our eyes…and our ears of course! Oh…and they manage to look good doing it too!
Setlist: The String Cheese Incident | 10/27/18 | Suwannee Hulaween | Live Oak, Florida
Set I: Birdland, Sweet Spot, Sing A New Song > These Waves > Djibouti Bump > You’ve Got The World, Colorado Bluebird Sky
Set II: Desert Dawn, Get To You^, Hi Ho No Show, The Big Reveal, Jellyfish, Rosie
Set III: Women of the Galaxy: Gimme Shelter (1), Rock Steady (2), Proud Mary (3), Killing Me Softly With His Song (4), Respect (5), Valerie (6), Heartbreaker (7), Politician (8), Baracuda (9), Get Up Stand Up (10)
E: Rollover > Close Encounters Jam > Star Wars Jam > Cantina Jam > Imperial March > Star Trek Next Generation Jam > Original Star Trek Jam > 2001 > Rollover
^- w/ Rhonda & Tony on vocals
1- Rolling Stones cover, Lisa Fischer on vocals
2- Aretha Franklin cover, Jen Hartswick on vocals and trumpet
3- Tina Turner cover, Rhonda Thomas on vocals
4- Roberta Flack cover, Lisa Fischer on vocals
5- Aretha Franklin cover, Rhonda Thomas on vocals
6- Amy Winehouse cover, Rhonda Thomas on vocals
7- Pat Benatar cover, Jen Hartswick on vocals and trumpet
8- Cream cover, Ann Wilson on vocals
9- Heart cover, Ann Wilson on vocals
10- Bob Marley, cover featuring everyone
Featuring the Mofro Horns, Rhonda Thomas & Tony White,
Jen Hartswick, Lisa Fischer, & Ann Wilson