The String Cheese Incident

INDUCTED: December 29, 2022

The String Cheese Incident is a band whose innovations encompass both music and the music industry.

 The group’s sound and style broke barriers even as its approach to marketing and fan service offered a blueprint that untold acts have followed ever since.

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The enterprise began modestly. Multi-instrumentalist Michael Kang, bassist Keith Moseley, guitarist Bill Nershi and drummer Michael Travis, the Incident’s founders, first got together circa 1993 in the Colorado ski resort community of Crested Butte, and during some of their early performances at bars located there and in Telluride, they were paid in lift tickets. Their sound reflected this passion, slaloming from bluegrass to jazz to styles from across the globe and back again like an Olympic champion on a Super-G course.

The band made its first appearance of many at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 1994.

Over the course of the next couple of years, its audience expanded exponentially, as did the demand for an album. But rather than inking with a major label, the combo, which went from quartet to quintet with the addition of keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, formed SCI Fidelity Records. The imprint launched with 1997’s Born on the Wrong Planet and The String Cheese Incident, a live set from the stage of another Colorado Music Hall of Fame inductee, Boulder’s Fox Theatre.

This declaration of independence’s timing was ideal. The group helped pioneer the use of the internet to communicate directly with fans, using its website to disseminate information about tours and more. In addition, SCI Fidelity’s “On the Road” series made high-quality recordings of shows available for downloading. Over time, the players found ways of keeping ancillary operations in-house by establishing their own companies to handle merchandise, travel packages and ticketing.

This last service brought The String Cheese Incident into conflict with Ticketmaster, which held a near-stranglehold on the concert trade.

But rather than capitulate, the band filed a lawsuit against the corporation in 2003 that the parties settled the following year. The terms of the agreement were confidential, but it allowed the group to keep selling tickets to its own appearances, as had been the goal in the first place.

On the musical front, The String Cheese Incident proved just as inventive. A sixth member, percussionist Jason Hann, came aboard in 2006, and over time, more musical colors, including rock and electronic touches, were added to the group’s mix. Albums such as 2001’s Outside Inside and 2014’s A Song in My Head were supplemented by a batch of DVDs. But the musicians didn’t see their recordings as guidelines they had to obey. Each show, and each song within it, differed from night to night, much to the delight of loyalists who call themselves “Cheese-heads,” with no apologies to the Green Bay Packers.

The band’s sterling reputation among fellow musicians is underscored by the eclectic company they’ve kept.

SCI has collaborated live with The Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh, Bob Weir and Bill Kreutzmann, Ricky Skaggs, Los Lobos, Billy Strings, Phish’s Trey Anastasio, The Flaming Lips, Warren Haynes, Lauryn Hill, Skrillex, James Brown, Perry Farrell, Sheryl Crow and the Zac Brown Band.

The group’s success is epitomized by its transformation of Red Rocks into a home away from home. Playing its fiftieth show at the famed venue in 2023, the group is one of only a few that has regularly sold out multi-night runs at Red Rocks.

The String Cheese Incident also uses its platform for social consciousness thanks to the band’s advocacy for nonprofits such as Conscious Alliance, Rock the Earth and Head Count. Such efforts are yet more evidence that the band sees its music not as a final product but as a starting point.

By Michael Roberts

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