If there’s something that The String Cheese Incident is good at, it’s improvising. The Colorado trancegrass institution built a decades-long reputation on its ability to adapt to any situation, whether that’s playing good ol’ mountain music in the heart of bluegrass country or delivering bass-heavy electronic dance parties late-night at festivals across the country.

That ability to think on the fly was on display Sunday during the closing show of the band’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre run. For months, fans had eagerly awaited the climactic finish to SCI’s five-show Colorado jaunt, a special Phil Lesh Incident featuring the founding Grateful Dead bassist. Then, on Saturday, The String Cheese Incident announced that Lesh tested positive for COVID, ruling him out for the gig, but that band still planned to honor the music of the Grateful Dead with a special, three-set performance.

It was only a matter of time until Billy Strings was spotted in downtown Denver, taking pictures with fans and stoking the rumor mill. Luckily, this turned out to not be another Goose Cleveland-level put-on, and following the opening rendition of “Lester Had a Coconut”, Strings emerged from the wings to join the band during the acoustic first frame.

Related: Daze Between New Orleans Day One: The String Cheese Incident Ft. Billy Strings, Snarky Puppy, & More [Photos/Videos]

Sunday’s show was broken up into three distinct sets: the traditional-leaning acoustic segment that opened the show, an electric tribute to the Grateful Dead, and a jammed-out final set comprised of heavy-hitting improvisational vehicles along with SCI’s debut of a Black Sabbath cover.

After the opening “Lester Had a Coconut”, the band and its special guest got acquainted with the Bill and James Monroe-recorded “Those Memories of You” before digging in deep with the following “Lonesome Fiddle Blues”, made famous by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The traditional Sunday bluegrass set rolled on with “Have A Feast Here Tonight” before the ensemble further extended by welcoming The Infamous Stringduster‘s Andy Hall on dobro for a take on Strings’ own hallmark song “Dust In A Baggie“.

The String Cheese Incident w/ Billy Strings – “Lester Had a Coconut”, “Those Memories of You” (Alan O’Bryant) [Pro-Shot] – 7/17/22

Hall and Strings remained onstage through the rest of the first set, which reached another high water mark when a lengthy “Missin’ Me” bled into Peter Rowan‘s “Panama Red”. The first of three sets then closed with Cheese’s Stanley Brothers favorite, “How Mountain Girls Can Love”.

The String Cheese Incident took the stage unassisted to open set two with “Jack Straw”. Rather than trying to conform to the Grateful Dead’s time-honored traditions of more straightforward songs in the first set and open-ended jams in the second, the band offered a grab bag of fan-favorites like the ensuing “Cold Rain and Snow” before bringing Billy back out for “Brown-Eyed Women”.

The String Cheese Incident – “Jack Straw” (Grateful Dead) [Pro-Shot] – 7/17/22

The String Cheese Incident w/ Billy Strings – “Brown-Eyed Women” (Grateful Dead) – 7/17/22

[Video: starman2112rush]

Hall joined the party once again for a lone “Peggy-O”, leaving Cheese and Billy to dig into the improvisational meat of the second set with “Estimated Prophet”. Armed with an electric guitar, Strings recalled his historic shows with Billy & The Kids at the same Morrison, CO venue just over a year ago as he displayed his versatility with raging leads that harkened back to his early heavy metal tutelage (more on that later).

“Estimated Prophet” set up a series of segues that ran through the rest of the set as The Billy Strings Incident rolled through extensive renditions of “Eyes of the World“, “The Other One”, and finally “Shakedown Street”. The ensemble seemed to truly connect on the electric front on this “Eyes of the World” as Strings got the green light to steer the very band that inspired him to take the jamgrass path toward Red Rocks himself. Strings even took a turn on percussion during the jam out of “The Other One” and the ensuing “Shakedown Street”.

The String Cheese Incident w/ Billy String s– “Estimated Prophet” > “Eyes of the World” > “The Other One” > “Shakedown Street” (Grateful Dead) [Pro-Shot] – 7/17/22

For the third and final set of the evening, Cheese and Billy tapped into that looseness for a five-song segment. Following a jovial, Strings-less “Can’t Wait Another Day”, Billy re-emerged to lend his hands to “Black Clouds”, a favorite of his solo shows that consistently lights a spark of inspired improvisation.

The String Cheese Incident – “Can’t Wait Another Day”, “Black Clouds” (w/ Billy Strings) [Pro-Shot] – 7/17/22

The Grateful Dead’s musical DNA seeped into this “Black Clouds” with a particularly blissful, lofty jam as Strings donned his trusty acoustic to trade leads with Bill Nershi. Even during a show with so many (at times disparate) themes, Cheese still found space to ignite an all-out dance party with “Rivertrance“. The triumvirate of strings with Michael Kang on fiddle, Billy on electric, and Nershi on acoustic formed the bedrock of what proved an 18-minute telling, with the sludge-rock ending ultimately segueing into Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”.

The String Cheese Incident w/ Billy Strings – “Rivertrance” – 7/17/22

[Video: Jeremy]

The String Cheese Incident w/ Billy Strings – “Paranoid” (Black Sabbath) [Pro-Shot] – 7/17/22

Strings handled vocals on SCI’s debut of the title track to Sabbath’s 1970 album, which added yet another flavor to Sunday’s three-course Cheese meal. Transitioning out of “Paranoid”, Nershi loaded up the RV for a trip down to “Texas”. What ultimately proved to be a 22-minute rendition realigned the sonic vibrations following the brief detour into heavy metal and ultimately closed the third and final set. Finally, to close out the show, weekend, and the Colorado run, Cheese returned to the Red Rocks stage with Strings and Hall in tow for a performance of “Bertha”.

Check out full-show audience audio of The String Cheese Incident with Billy Strings and Andy Hall at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Sunday courtesy of taper frasca. A full, remastered soundboard recording of the show is now available to stream via nugs.net and download via LiveCheese.

The String Cheese Incident – Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO – 7/17/22 – Full Show

The String Cheese Incident – Red Rocks Amphitheatre – Morrison, CO – 7/17/22 – Full Show

Setlist [via SCI Family]: The String Cheese Incident | Red Rocks Amphitheatre | Morrison, CO | 7/17/22

Set One (6:16 pm): Lester Had a Coconut, Billy Strings Introduction, Those Memories of You (Alan O’Bryant)*¹, Lonesome Fiddle Blues (Vassar Clements)*, Have a Feast Here Tonight (Traditional)*², Dust in a Baggie*³, Remington Ride (Traditional)*⁴, Missin Me*⁴ > Jam*⁴ > Panama Red (Peter Rowan)*⁴, How Mountain Girls Can Love (The Stanley Brothers)*⁴ (7:22 pm) (66 minutes)

Set Two (7:47 pm): Jack Straw (Grateful Dead)⁵, Cold Rain And Snow (Traditional), Brown Eyed Women (Grateful Dead)⁶, Peggy-O (Traditional)⁷, Estimated Prophet (Grateful Dead)⁶ > Eyes of the World (Grateful Dead)⁶ > The Other One (Grateful Dead)⁸ > Space Jam⁹ >  Shakedown Street (Grateful Dead)¹⁰ (9:22 pm) (95 minutes)

Set Three (9:38 pm):  Group Hoot, Can’t Wait Another Day, Black Clouds*, Rivertrance⁶ > Paranoid (Black Sabbath)¹¹ > Texas¹² (10:44 pm) (66 minutes)

Encore (10:47 pm): Thank You Jesse, Bertha¹³ (10:58 pm) (11 minutes)

*with Billy Strings on acoustic
¹ FTP – Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Ronstadt
² FTP – Traditional
³ FTP – Billy Strings Original with Andy Hall (Infamous Stringdusters) on Dobro
⁴ with Andy Hall on Dobro
⁵ FTP – Grateful Dead
⁶ with Billy Strings on Electric Guitar
⁷ FTP with Billy Strings on Electric Guitar and Andy Hall on Dobro
⁸ FTP – Grateful Dead with Billy Strings on Electric Guitar and Travis on Vocals
⁹ Billy Strings on Percussion and Running Up that Hill (Kate Bush) teases via Kyle
¹⁰ Billy Strings on Percussion and Electric Guitar
¹¹ FTP – Black Sabbath – Billy Strings on Electric Guitar and Vocals
¹² Billy Strings on Electric Guitar, Jam featured Kyle on Talkbox
¹³ Billy Strings on Electric Guitar and Andy Hall on Dobro

Cold Rain and Snow – LTP 12.31.13
Brown Eyed Women – LTP 7.23.17
Estimated Prophet – LTP 3.10.01
Eyes of the World – LTP 1.27.19
Shakedown Street- LTP 11.11.14
Bertha – LTP 12.29.13