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Dozens of adults spin Hula Hoops like a tribe of dervishes in a collective trance. Someone dances with an inflatable dinosaur. Burly long-haired hippies hug hello. Even the most outrageous ski-town bars generally don’t attract crowds quite like this. But when the String Cheese Incident brings its bluegrass-flavored funk-fusion jams to the great powder-skiing destinations of the West — as they do in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, and British Columbia every year — a merry horde of rave-flavored fans always follows in their tracks.
The band can be described either as five musicians (Michael Kang on violin and electric mandolin, Bill Nershi on guitar, Keith Moseley on bass, Kyle Hollingsworth on keyboards, and Michael Travis on percussion and drums) or as five diehard snowhounds. They got their start in the early ’90s playing to après and lift-line crowds in Crested Butte. “Ski bumming was the priority,” explains Travis, who also washed dishes to support his decade-long daily telemark habit. “Music was secondary.”
Now based in Boulder, Colorado, the group (frequently compared to both the Grateful Dead and Phish) performs more than 150 “incidents” every year, including cameos at the Newport Jazz and Telluride Bluegrass festivals and sellout gigs where they headline in 5,000- to 10,000-seat venues like San Francisco’s Warfield Theatre and Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheater. Last year the band’s various endeavors — record label, management company, ticketing service, travel agency, and merchandising arm — grossed the former ski bums more than $3 million. All of which makes their work as musical ambassadors to the sport — and their dates in Jackson and Whistler — that much more vital. Says Nershi, “We definitely encourage people to come ski with the Cheese.”
SCI’s fifth album, Outside Inside, features 11 original songs fueled by an energetic mix of Latin, reggae, classic rock, bluegrass, jazz, and funk. Their upcoming winter tour includes dates in various ski towns. Info: stringcheeseincident.com