The Hippie Circus came to the United Palace Theatre in Washington Heights this past weekend. If you happened to be strolling through the area (175th and Broadway), you may been surprised when seeing a giant crowd made up of patchwork, crystals, dreads, and other types of “wookery”…. you also may have noticed that everyone had a shit-eating grin on their face. Why is that, you ask? Allow me to enlighten you. The String Cheese Incident (“Like the food?” many ask. Nope, just a really great band from Colorado) have embarked on their first tour since 2007 and us New Yorkers are excited! Having opened the tour in Asheville, making their way up the coast through Atlanta, Athens, Nashville, Baltimore, and Philly, many of us knew what was in store for us on Friday and Saturday in NYC. The boys had a few shows under their belts to warm up, and now it was time to get the party started, New York style.

Going to any show, one expects to run into friends they haven’t seen in a while, and do the whole catch-up conversation, and probably miss a small portion of the start of the show. Well, when Cheese is in town, throw those expectations right out the window. I have seen Cheese A LOT over the years, and have travelled far and wide to see them, and met many amazing people along the way. I did not expect to see some of the familiar faces that I did, outside of the ones that I knew were making their way back home for the special occasion. Having said that, I apologize that I cannot comment on the a lot of the first set of Friday’s show; I was catching up with phamily and you were not allowed to bring alchohol to your seats. Things like this simply don’t happen all the time anymore, and you have to cherish these moments when you get to reconnect with long lost friends.

Everything about the United Palace’s design is impeccable. It has such a classical, pristine feel to it, that you felt bad if someone knocked into your elbow and you spilled a little beer on the carpet. Having been saved in 1969 by Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II – or Reverend Ike – for use as the headquarters for the United Church Science of Living Institute, the venue has also been restored, and is now used for concerts, as well. Acts such as the Allman Brothers, Eddie Vedder, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Sigur Ros, and quite a few other acclaimed artists have staged performances here.

Friday night was definitely the warm-up night, not just for the band, but it seemed for the fans and employees of the venue as well. Security made it quite clear that we were not allowed to drink in the theatre area at all; they also made it abundantly clear that they were going to kick people out for lighting up, just as quickly as one could get their respective smoking device lit. There was simply no excuse good enough, nor any amount of reasoning or dialogue, that could save you from getting tossed if you were caught smoking in the venue. They weren’t having it, and that was that. For fans looking to get their party on, and unabashedly at that, this may have not been the best choice of venue. But, as Cheese says, “It Is What It Is” and you either accept it, or make like a tree, and get the F*#k out of here.

Having finally made it inside for the start of the second set, and extremely disappointed that I missed the first set “Cedar Laurels” opener, I was ready to get my Cheese on. They opened the second set with an almost 17-minute “Just One Story”. While I saw them this summer at Electric Forest, and love any festival-type experience with SCI, it’s really nice to hear them in the confines of a theatre. The sound is infinitely better, and you can hear the musicianship that is brought to the table. “Sirens” came after, and I was really digging it until the whole Jason Hann dub-step, vocal part. I had heard that they did this at an earlier show, and was sort of hoping to not catch it. Was extremely happy when they broke into “Daryl” though, I love when Kang picks up the violin, and Nershi gets to do his nod to bluegrass. That is the Cheese that I fell in love with many years ago. The “Dirk” was a Kyle-led beast, and is always appreciated when thrown into a set with its straight-up funk. I’m not sure what to think of “BollyMunster” just yet. I think it has a lot of potential, and I was digging it in parts; but it just sounded a bit too restrained. And I typically love when SCI does this type of traditional song. A 14-minute “Round the Wheel” ended the second set in fine form. This is classic Cheese to me, so you won’t get any complaints here.

“The Bridge” opened the encore, and I think everyone was hoping for one more after that. And the crowd got their wish. In my opinion, you can’t go wrong when you play a Stevie Wonder song, as long as you play it well. “I Wish” ended the night, and in all honesty may have left some in the crowd wishing that there was more to come, as it was only 11:30pm. You could tell that everyone was happy to be where they were, but were perhaps feeling a bit underwhelmed overall. Well, there’s always Saturday night….

And then there was Saturday night! And what a night it was. If Friday night left people with mixed feelings, then Saturday did an amazing job of expelling those demons; all we needed was Zelda Rubenstein from Poltergeist to say “This house is clear” at the end of the night. Now THIS was Cheese. I’m not going to lie, I pretty much did the same thing on Saturday night first set as I did Friday night, but I did make sure that I was in and out during the first set. I just couldn’t help myself. SCI fittingly opened with “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody”, which I think is one of their best covers, one that they have truly made their own. “Rhum ‘N Zouc” was up next, and somehow one just felt that this was going to be a completely different night altogether. Cheese was going to bring the heat, and we were all in for a treat. Even security seemed to be in a much better mood than the night before.

But, as Cheese says, “It Is What It Is”

I missed the “Miss Brown’s>Chameleon>Miss Brown’s” segment, but what are you gonna do? I wanted a beer and wanted to meet up with some phamily. I’m not saying that I wasn’t a bit agitated at missing parts of the first set each night, but sometimes you have to get all your ducks in a row before you can concentrate on the task at hand. Now, when I heard the opening notes of “Colorado Bluebird Sky”, I pretty much made up my mind that I wasn’t about to miss ANY of that. That is some good bluegrass, with some good pickin’, and it takes me back to when I lived in Steamboat Springs, CO. I wasn’t missing that for anything, or anyone. The whole “Colorado Bluebird>Rollover>Colorado Bluebird” segment to end the first set was incredible. The jam during “CBS” was beautiful, and put your head in the right space. And then there was “Rollover”….Kang took over here; his mandolin playing was so crisp and spot-on during the jam.

After a setbreak that was heavy on beer drinking, I made my way on over to the lower-right balcony to rage with some friends. And rage we did. “Let’s Go Outside” opened up the second set. This song made its debut earlier this year in Broomfield, CO for Winter Carnival. This is a new song that definitely belongs in the Cheese repertoire; it’s got the right grooves and feel to it, and definitely has the potential to be a jam-vehicle in the future (IF the boys decide to continue and play some more shows). A solid “Restless Wind” followed, and segued into “On The Road”. The interplay between Kang and Billy was really great to see. “Betray the Dark”, which seems to be a staple now at the few and far between SCI appearances, was up next. It’s nice to see it back in rotation, after not being played much after its 2004 inception at Winter Carnival (which I had the pleasure of being at).

Now this is where the show went into another realm. Everyone leaves the stage, except Travis and Hann. The “Drums” jam the ensued was off the meter. Playing in EOTO, and travelling extensively these last few years while SCI has been on the backburner, has really helped Travis and Hann hone their skills. These two just feed off each other, and it is just plain amazing to see. The crowd was completely feeling this segment of the show; the place completely erupted after they. It was also nice to see Kang and Billy having a beer on the side of the stage, and sharing a few laughs. They looked like they were very much enjoying the drum duel as well; and little things like this make a difference in the overall vibe of any show.

“Joyful Sound” brought everyone back on stage. I love when Keith sings; he has such a smooth delivery. And Kyle was all over the keys/synth/sound effects. And yet again, Kang took over on mandolin. He was all over it, all night. And then came what I would consider the bust-out of tour, that being Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” from 2000′s Kid A, sans lyrics. Considering that Radiohead has been at the top of my list since 1996, I think it is safe to say that my face was officially melted at this point. Cheese could have played whatever they wanted to, and it wouldn’t have mattered at this point, but instead they jammed into “Bumpin’ Reel” and went intergalactic. When they covered this song I was literally smiling from ear to ear. The second set closer was “Can’t Stop Now”, and brought Billy back into the mix with some fine pickin’. The applause wouldn’t stop and continued right into the “Way Back Home” encore. It was great way to end the night, with some spacey, psychedelic Cheese. Everyone was sent off into the New York City night with a euphoric state of mind.

cAnd that was always the best part, outside of the music, in my opinion. The energy at a Cheese show is palpable; it is something so obvious that it could literally smack you in the face. Everyone is happy; everyone is smiling; everyone is neighborly; and EVERYONE is getting down. If you haven’t seen them, or experienced something like this, I have one suggestion….get off your ass and GO! If it’s too “hippy” for you, you are missing the point. That simply means that you aren’t using your senses, nor have you allowed yourself to be taken places that are unbeknownst to you. Those that get it, get it….and for those that don’t? Well there is always hope for you yet.

“See what you find waiting for you, Home is the place where the heart is true, A feeling of warmth, a sense of relief, You found your place, now you believe….On my way, way back home”. I was definitely brought “back home” for a short, yet memorable period of time. Thanks to all those that were there to share it with me. I love Cheese, and I love my extended phamily. Cheers! Written by Chris Meyer