Devoted to the Cheese 

Just don’t call them the new Grateful Dead

When the String Cheese Incident – a five-member bluegrass/funk/jam outfit from Boulder, Colorado – rolls into town on Friday, April 8 they’ll be bringing more than just their instruments with them.

Expect hundreds of out-of-town String Cheese fans (or "Cheeseheads") flocking to Skier’s Plaza for the afternoon show, (or "Incident").

Yes, despite a name you’d rather not know the story behind, the String Cheese Incident have managed to acquire the crucial benchmark of über-success in the jam band world – touring faithful.

Of course, the benchmark of jam band fan devotion will always be that which was achieved by the late Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. That band spawned multiple gypsy generations of "Deadheads" who followed them from show to show selling tie-dye garments, bootlegs and other – ahem – products, to "get by."

In recent years Phish was starting to look like they might be getting up there until they sent the Phishheads home for good with last year’s break up.

So far the Cheese is sticking together. Formed officially in 1993, today’s Cheese has become a touring de force to be reckoned with. Acknowledging that the music-based act has now "taken on a life of its own" as a "fusion of music, spirit and community," the band has developed its own record label, ticket agency and travel agency, allowing fans ease in customizing their "Incidents." All the better to share and dissect on fan-site Friendsofcheese.com.

As comprehensive as it may be, true friends of Cheese know Friendsofcheese is no substitute for the real thing.

Vancouver concert promoter Derek Arrowsmith remembers his first Incident in 1998 – at 3 a.m. set in a barn somewhere outside of San Francisco. It inspired him to make the trip to see SCI play on New Year’s Eve every year between 1999 and 2003.

Why?

"Every single show is different, 100 per cent," Arrowsmith enthused. "They have a repertoire of like, 400 or 500 songs. Probably even more."

One of the agents used by World Ski and Snowboard Festival organizers W1, Arrowsmith is the man responsible for the addition of String Cheese to the festival’s DKNY Jeans free outdoor concert series lineup. The band absorbed the gig into their current "Spring Ski Incidents" tour of Western North American resorts.

Arrowsmith describes a sound equally appealing to little kids as it is to senior citizens, and a wacky party atmosphere.

"The circus is definitely coming to town," he said. "Expect to see 300 people hoola-hooping in the audience."

Shane Hunt knows firsthand how compelling the String Cheese Incident can be. The Vancouver-based bass player for funk-dub-jazz jam band Kaejema, a fixture on the Whistler live music scene, has two tours as a String Cheese roadie under his belt. Originally intending to follow the band as a fan after seeing them in Tucson, Arizona, Hunt was able to get a free ride on the Cheese train by contributing his labour.

"They attract really beautiful people," he explained. "They just have such a good vibe to them. It’s the most beautiful vibe I’ve ever experienced at a show."

Both Arrowsmith and Hunt staunchly agree it’s nothing short of sacrilegious to suggest SCI might be the new Grateful Dead. Even so, Hunt said on the two tours he accompanied there was noticeable growth amongst the core of band-following fans.

"Every show it seemed like more and more people," Hunt said. "There’s a lot of people devoted to the Cheese."

The String Cheese Incident kicks off the Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival’s free outdoor concert series on Friday, April 8 at 2:30 p.m. The band will perform two sets without supporting acts. A String Cheese afterparty featuring fellow Colorado jam band Zilla will proceed in the evening at the Boot Pub. Tickets are $20 available through upstreamentertainment.com.

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