REVIEW — String Cheese Incident Celebrates 50th Red Rocks Show in Gold-plated Performance

Headlining Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which is arguably the most iconic outdoor venue in the entire world, is a feat only a select few celebrate in their artistic career. But, if you’re the String Cheese Incident — who recently celebrated their 50th show at the legendary music venue — it’s just another day on the job. But a special day, nonetheless. 

For their highly-anticipated 50th show at Red Rocks last Saturday, the band exchanged their work attire for gold pom poms and jacket vests, signifying the massive milestone with groovy island jams and intricate psychedelic bluegrass. Magic was in the air, an illusionary display of musical sorcery from one of the most respected and prolific jam bands in music history. 

And the fans soaked up every single second. Colorful characters sporting jellyfish hats and entire cheese-themes outfits roamed around the amphitheatre, slapping cheese stickers (yellow stickers with the word “cheese” written on them) to unassuming, but equally excited, bystanders. Everyone was in good spirits, a happy credited, at least in part, by some psychedelic consumption throughout the crowd.

One of the qualities that make the String Cheese Incident so endearing is that, despite the rowdy nature of traditional jam shows, their music and brand is, generally speaking, quite family-friendly. The audience was a melting pot of generational motifs: 50-somethings with trucker hats and flat sunglasses, mid-20s hippies dancing barefoot on the rocks and eight-year-old kids carelessly embracing their innocence alongside their parents, who might have been celebrating their 30th cheese show. But, everyone, from age five to age 70, had a smile on their face.

Beginning their first set with “Can’t Wait Another Day,” the 6-piece band relished in some tropical island vibes, utilizing their bongos to create a piece of paradise and easing into a night packed with commemoratory dips into their cavernous catalog, ranging from psychedelic bluegrass to country rock.

Before long, the band settled into a cohesive groove that migrated from one track to the next, spanning a discography that’s approaching 30 years. As such, there’s seemingly endless material to flip through on the String Cheese rolodex — but, of course they made sure to play their new track, “Lend Me A Hand.” The song, which is the lead single and title track for their upcoming album by the same name, is a blues-inspired piano rock anthem that seems crafted for some good-old-fashioned swing dancing.

After a cheeky Taylor Swift cover — a nod to the massive rockstar’s arena show happening just a few miles away at Empower Field — the band took a quick intermission, allowing the audience to rest their dancing feet before the second half of the show, which proved to be as much fun, if not more fun, than the first half.

The band’s second set was mostly dedicated to a loosely-structured jam session, with mile markers like “Rivertrance” and “Sirens” providing a familiar chorus and refrain to remind the audience that, yes, String Cheese is more than just musical improv. The tail end of their performance consisted of what I like to call “foot stompin’ music” — the sounds of a Renaissance fair and butter churnin’ villagers dancing around a campfire in some time of old. But songs like “Colorado, Blue Bird Sky” and “This Must Be The Place” made a welcomed appearance and delighted their zealous fans, who danced around and hugged their loved ones, singing in massive unison, begging for just a few more minutes of shared space and time with their favorite band.

But, the night had to end eventually. String Cheese played as long as they possibly could, right up until 12:00 midnight (a rarity at Red Rocks), and left the audience with one final admiration. “There’s something in the air tonight. Love is everywhere,” Kyle Hollingsworth said before venturing to the other side of String Cheese Incident’s 50th Red Rocks performance. But, they will be back. Cheers to thirty years of String Cheese Incident, and cheers to great music.

All Photography by John Verwey