String Cheese Incident’s Kyle Hollingsworth gazes out the window at the leaves blowing in the wind, reflecting on how the band’s roots in Colorado have led to their unique, freewheeling music. “To me, it’s almost like Colorado speaks to our souls,” he begins slowly, “and then kinda comes out through our fingers and through our creativity. Being here…God! A sun constant and beautiful days a mile high. It drew us to the state in the first place and inspires us to be musicians and to be creative.”
Hollingsworth has been playing the keys to the six-piece band – featuring Bill Nershi (guitar), Michael Kang (mandolin/fiddle), Keith Moseley (bass), Jason Hann (percussion) and Michael Travis (drums) – since its inception 28 years ago. year. and gearing up for what might be SCI’s biggest party yet: the Rocks n Roses event, a three-night race at Red Rocks, July 15-17. The band will play sets with fellow Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductees Yonder Mountain String Band (Friday) and Salmon Leftovers (Saturday). The run culminates with a show with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh on Sunday, dubbed the Phil Lesh incident. And knowing Cheese, there’s bound to be a time when members of all bands come together on stage.
“Rocks n Roses is the entirety of Phil’s prep. Every band we play with, we pay tribute every day,” Hollingsworth said. “Rocks n Roses will feature special songs and collaborations throughout the weekend.”
It’s a looping moment, he adds, since Cheese rose to fame for the jam around the same time as Colorado staples Leftover and Yonder. “In the beginning, we did festival packages where we traveled the country together,” he recalls.
Hollingsworth credits Leftover Salmon, whom Cheese has toured with over the years, for helping formulate some key aspects of his technique. “It’s always so impressive to watch them play,” he said. “For me, it was like, how do I play bluegrass on the piano? And Mark Vann, their banjo player who sadly passed away, he and I sat down at one point during the tour and talked about what I could do on the piano that would replicate the banjo. Certainly in those early days, we were learning and growing together.”
Although families and conflicting tour schedules have put an end to those old-fashioned impromptu jam sessions, the friendship is still there, making it all the more exciting for the musicians to come together again. And they’ll reunite at their home state’s most iconic venue: Hollingsworth believes Sunday will mark SCI’s 48th Red Rocks show.
“We’re blown away every time we play there,” he says. “We have great respect for this place and its history.”
What about the fact that three of the bands are inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame? ” It’s incredible ! exclaims Hollingsworth. “I’m so excited that this program even exists, and now the fact that we’re inducted – the icing on the cake. It’s huge.”
The Phil Lesh incident is another cherry. It’s not the first time the band has played with the iconic musician, but like playing Red Rocks, it never gets old. Hollingsworth has known Lesh for a long time, and “I’m really excited to be reunited with my family, to bring that vibe back,” he says.
“In the summer of 1999,” Lesh recalls, “I joined the String Cheese Incident for some magic shows at Red Rocks as part of the Summer Sessions tour, and it was awesome! They became friends very dear to mine, and I’m excited to make even more music with them on the Rocks. We’re gonna party like it’s 1999!”
Hollingsworth and his bandmates have always been deep in the dead. “The Grateful Dead and their approaches to jamming, how they improvise on stage, the quiet spaces as well as the rock spaces – we saw them as a model for becoming musically intuitive with each other,” Hollingsworth said.
Cheese also reflected the Deadheads’ school bus tours that marked his decades-long career, when Deadheads religiously followed jam masters around the country to attend every show. SCI made hoops in the back of the bus and handed them out to fans, a tradition that began at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.
“We took a school bus and drove all over the country,” Hollingsworth recalled. “When we got to the West Coast, that scene started inviting us back in the late ’90s. We were hanging out with John Barlow, who wrote the lyrics for Bob Weir; Robert Hunter, who wrote the lyrics for Jerry [Garcia]. This whole Merry Pranksters scene has adopted us. So for me, playing with Phil in 1999 was just the next step for us.”
He remembers Lesh giving him sage advice to “listen more, play less”. And Hollingsworth wants SCI to emulate how the Grateful Dead members were able to “read other people’s minds,” he says. “It definitely happens with String Cheese. I don’t think it’s as deep as the dead, but we strive for it.”
While SCI celebrates the past, it also has new projects underway. “We’ve got a lot of new songs, some of which we’re playing, some of which are on the shelf, ready to be dusted off,” Hollingsworth hints. “And we plan to start recording a full album in the fall. …Most likely the album will be out in 2023.”
Meanwhile, Hollingsworth has some advice for those coming to the Red Rocks race. “Just like the weather in Colorado, our music can turn on in the blink of an eye,” he says. “Get ready to dance the night away; bring your best dancing shoes. And hula hoops!” After all, this is the only concert where the hall will allow you to bring them.
“Colorado are the best fans, they really are,” Hollingsworth concludes. “Not just the jam scene. We live in a state with great musical taste.”
Rock n Roses: String Cheese Incident with Leftover Salmon, 7 p.m. Friday, July 15; with Yonder Mountain String Band, 7 p.m. Saturday, July 16; with Phil Lesh Incident, 6 p.m. Sunday, July 17; Red Rocks Amphitheater, 18300 West Alameda Parkway, Morrison. Tickets cost between $50 and $225.