The String Cheese Incident take Rothbury to the circus

4 07 2009

By Justin Jacobs (@justinhjacobs)

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Early Friday evening saw Rothbury’s lineup take a distinct turn in sound.

First came Broken Social Scene, a band that’s long held a top spot among the indie band elite. Don’t get me wrong, BSS make some great songs, and You Forgot It In People is one of the best indie records of the last few decades, but a Rothbury the terse, serious guitar jams didn’t quite fit.

The crowd that gathered for BSS was one of the smallest to appear before The Ranch Area stage, and it didn’t help that the first half of the set overlapped Femi Kuti & The Positive Force’s African funk fury and the second cut into the Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley & Nas duo.

Not great odds for the Canadian indie (and mostly jam-less) collective.

“We thought that would be an hour and 15 minutes. Well, we got 15 minutes left,” said Kevin Drew after the band’s planned last song, the lullaby “Anthem of a Seventeen Year Old Girl.”

Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley’s shared set with Nas felt less awkward, but still wasn’t a perfect fit.

Sure, Marley’s hip-hop update of thumping reggae is right at home at Rothbury, but watching Nas yell to a huge, tie-dyed crowd to “Throw your guns up in the air” just felt a bit, well, unnatural.

The set developed in three parts — songs the duo were working on together first, then each took a stab at his own hits. Marley’s track “Welcome to Jamrock” clapped hard all the way to the back.

The mood of Rothbury’s main stage area all day — even as early as G. Love’s set — was one of anticipation.
The night’s headliners were The String Cheese Incident — easily one of the most popular jam bands after The Dead and Phish.

All nerves relaxed once the band hit the stage.

Seemless jams, blazing solos, gorgeous harmonies and, the one unifying thread through all of Cheese’s music — an overwhelming sense of positivity.

Call it corny, but The String Cheese Incident play some of the most unabashedly uplifting music around.

But the playing could be expected to be solid; it was the stage show that made the set the stuff of jam-band legend.

Early in Cheese’s second set, a veritable reproduction of Cirque Du Soleil appeared onstage — fire dancers, acrobats hanging high above the band — and gigantic beach balls were launched into the crowd.

Anyone in the crowd flying a little higher than usual — and there were many of them — had either the most wonderful or terrifying trip of their lives.

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