Basketball players and musicians both like to jam.
The six slamming jammers in String Cheese Incident tipped off a spring tour in Reno March 10 with a run that parallels the college basketball championship tournament. Both events are called March Madness. The concert tour is set up like a Final Four bracket, with 10 shows in six venues.
And while in basketball one team must lose, a String Cheese Incident concert is always a slam dunk, er, make that, a jam.
“Some 22 years into our career we are still evolving as songwriters and players,” String Cheese’s bass player Keith Moseley told Tahoe Onstage. It’s an exciting feeling that this far in we are really at the top of our game and making our best music together.”
At the Reno show, concertgoers celebrated as if they had won the Final Four.
“There was a great energy on stage and the crowd was way into it,” said South Lake Tahoe resident Gary Kank, who scored a pair tickets from Tahoe Onstage. “There were lots of smiling faces twirling, spinning, dancing with the groove.”
Reno’s Jordan Kowal, another ticket winner, agree.
“The sound quality was far beyond par for where the concert was,” Kowal said. “It had a feeling as if you were outside at music festival because of the vast size of the venue. The highlight of the show was definitely the crowd. People who see SCI make the show like a giant party dressing up in costumes and bringing in glow toys and things of that nature.”
As it did last season, the Colorado-based progressive bluegrass-styled group will play 45-to-50 times in 2016. This year, it has an expanded playbook, the result of a songwriting retreat last spring in Sedona, Arizona. The six players left their families, computers and cell phones at home and put together enough songs to make what will be String Cheese Incident’s seventh studio album.
As it did with 2014’s “A Song In My Head,” the band employed Jerry Harrison from the Talking Heads as producer. Eric Thorngren is the engineer. The album is expected to be released this summer, and Moseley said some singles might be released before that time, and, if so, they will be performed at the shows.
“We ducked out of town and rented an Airbnb house so we could be isolated and we could set up all the gear and be together 24-7 for a week,” Moseley said. “That resulted in great collaborations, where ordinarily we don’t have that much collaboration. Usually, someone will bring a song that’s mostly finished and then we’ll kind of tweak it.
“This was an opportunity to write together from the get-go, and see ideas from the beginning through the finished product of a song as far as creating the melodies to the song structure and even the lyrics together. That was a really great process and we’re going to repeat that this April after we finish the tour.”
As it is for a basketball team, teamwork is key to his band’s continued success, Moseley said.
“The creative spark is essential to staying vibrant and staying motivated,” he said. “Finding a way to write together instead of just playing old hits has kept us all really engaged in the process and everyone’s excited about it, and that’s really key. It’s truly a group effort and a group process. The result is the band is excited to play together and I think it shows in the live performances.
“Your bench players have to contribute, too. You’ve got to have something from everybody. And I think that’s something that’s made us special, made us who we are, a strong group that functions as one unit vs. a leader and a bunch of backing players.
“In the end, it’s been about communication and collaboration and sometimes compromise but supporting each other’s ideas and working together. It can be a hard, slow process but in the end it’s been very fertile and we’ve been able to grow the band to where we are today based on everyone contributing.”
Another key to success for the band members is to save time to spend with family, other musical projects, and other activities. Keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, for example, is an avid bicyclist and craft beer maker. Last basketball season, Moseley coached his daughter’s sixth-grade team. He played intramural basketball when he attended San Diego State, and he’s a fan of the Oklahoma City Thunder and also enjoys watching Steph Curry’s incredible run with the Golden State Warriors.
Moseley said he and other touring musicians often get a chance to shoot hoops backstage at certain venues. That was the case in Winter 2015 when he and other bandmates shot around at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, the same building where they will perform on March 10.
Moseley also was happy to play along when he was asked to name a starting five basketball team made up of musicians: The forwards, himself and the Dead Winter Carpenters Jesse Dunn, a three-time letterman at Northeastern, a Division 1 school in the Colonial Conference; guards Vinnie Amico, the drummer for moe., and Dave Berry, a guitarist for Jelly Bread who had a scholarship to play at BYU; at center, it’s Spearhead’s Michael Franti, perhaps the only player in the nation who would turn down a shoe scholarship.
Moseley also shared some news about the Contribution, a band that recorded an album in 2010, “Which Way World.” That band includes Moseley, Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth, Dave Miller and Phil Ferlino from New Monsoon and Jason Hann from the String Cheese Incident. Led by Carbone, the band, which added drummer Duane Trucks, made some recordings in March. While taking time away from their other bands to perform again as the Contribution might be a longshot, a second album is a possibility, he said.
Time, too, will not allow Moseley to appear with his buddy Keller Williams when he plays April 23 at the Crystal Bay Casino with KWhatro and Gibb Droll, Danton Boller and Rodney Holmes.
Moseley said he was happy the String Cheese Incident started March Madness at the Grand Sierra.
“It’s always fun to stay in the same building that you are playing,” he said. “There’s not a lot to worry about. I think everyone’s fired up and ready to get out and tour and hit some West Coast stops. That’s always been a second home for us. From early on we’ve enjoyed touring the Tahoe area and Bay Area. We have lots of friends and family out that way. It always feels great to come out West.”
Kank, who took down the set list, said the show in Reno was the first time he’d seen the band in five years.
“They are just so tight, you can hear their 20-plus years together in the music,” he said. “One thing I noticed on a couple songs was a more electronic sound. They have definitely embraced some of the electro landscape in their music”
Kowal also paid close attention to the set list.
“The show started off with great energy going into ‘Best Feeling’ and finishing the set with a real heightened version of ‘Colorado Bluebird Sky,'” he said. “The second set was the beter set, an endless run of cheesy classics. ‘Joyful Sound,’ ‘Restless Wind,’ ‘Desert Dawn’ and ‘On The Road’ were amazing, but not as great as their encore which ended with ‘Sittin’ On Top Of The World.'”
String Cheese Incident plays Friday and Saturday, March 11-12, in the Fox Theater in Oakland.
- String Cheese Incident
Grand Sierra Resort, Reno
March 10, 2016
- SET 1
Close Your Eyes
Sometimes A River
Pack It Up
Colorado Bluebird Sky
- SET 2
You’ve Got The World
Joyful Sound, Restless Wind
Turn This Around
On the Road
Sittin’ On Top of the World