Tomorrow, February 4th, I’m leaving work early. I’m gonna grab a stack of CD’s, throw on some shades, and bravely venture to Hollywood, CA. As I get a bit older (not really that much wiser, though) and since I’ve moved to San Francisco, the desire to drive for hours to catch a show comes with less frequency than it used to. Hell, why ever leave your backyard when you are a short drive from the Great American, Fillmore, and Warfield? Well, tomorrow The String Cheese Incident will be checking into the House of Blues in Hollywood for a two night stay. ‘Nuff said, I’m making the trip and plan on slipping through those notorious L.A. traffic jams like a greased pig down a water slide. The reason for my sudden explosion of motivation is that one of a couple of bands which I feel is guaranteed to put on mind boggling performances each and every night is within reach; and that is something we all know is priceless.
At the time of my conversation with Michael Kang, he had just finished working on SCI Fidelity’s latest venture: an album which also features the likes of Darol Anger, Mike Marshall, and Paul McCandless. Somehow, Michael Kang found some time to record in between an amazing New Year’s run and a Winter Carnival Tour 2000 which is now underway. Even more amazing, Michael was kind enough to make time for the following interview. Chatting with one of my favorite musicians indeed proved to be a treat. Beyond being a stellar musician, Kang is a thoughtful, insightful, and well spoken person who seems quite dedicated to his craft.
DR- Well, I’d like to start off by congratulating you on the great New Year’s run. How do you reflect on that event?
MK- It was the culmination of a lot of work on a lot of people’s behalf. It was just an amazing experience for us to get to do that. And, for that many people to show up…well, we were really thankful that everybody was there. It was really a great year in a lot of ways. There hasn’t been much rest afterwards; I haven’t had much of a chance to reflect on it necessarily. It was a great experience but, I’m also really excited to just get back on tour too.
DR- I did a review on it for JamBands, and described it as a sensory playground.
MK- Yeah, it was bordering on sensory overload (laughs). It was a great experience, and the best thing for us was that we got to spend it with a lot of people we kind of known over the years that have become good friends of ours. It wasn’t really done through a standard contract with a regular promoter or anything. It was basically put on by all of our friends, especially a lot of people from Oregon Country Fair and John Dwork and Peak Productions and all those people. So, that felt really special in itself. So, we’re glad for that. And then it was great to have all of our families there. We just kind of tried it out in a new space, and it was a really positive experience for us.
DR- This New Year’s obviously came with a lot of hype and expectations.
MK- Yeah, even though nothing really happened in the world overall. It did come and put a lot of pressure on our performance and for everybody to just blow it out and do something completely crazy.
DR- And that’s my question. Is this a onetime blowout for you, is this the start of a great tradition, or don’t you know yet?
MK- New Year’s is always gonna be one of those experiences, but this just happened to be the two thousandth year. We try to bring a lot of rituals and a lot of special shows into the experience on different dates. Solstice has always been more important to us in a lot of ways. We did the Solstice run at the Fillmore, and this year it’s gonna be at the Warfield. Those are important shows too.
DR- In terms of the band’s New Years traditions, it seems like this was your first New Year’s that was undoubtedly a String Cheese Incident event.
MK- Yeah, that’s something we’ve really decided after all the years of doing things with other people. And especially after coming off tours with other bands…we love being able to play with everybody else, but we always got done with the experience feeling like we’re the kind of band that only gets warmed up after playing an hour and a half.
DR- The midnight parade was an indescribable event. And, it really seemed focused on inspiring everyone towards a more positive way of thinking and lifestyle. Where did you find the inspiration for the parade?
MK- Well, it was not actually all our ideas. The parade, that’s where a lot of our friends, and people like Peak Productions put it together with us. There were some hundred other people working on it; and we didn’t really give them that much direction. We kind of just said it’s up to people’s own creativity to come up with it. So, they just all got together. It was all basically based around looking at the different archetypes of what our society is made up of, or what our ideal world would be made up of and bringing those and recognizing them. There was a children’s float, a goddess float…a Gaia Float, they all represent things that are important to us in the next millennium. Actually, not even the next millennium, things that are important to us right or and in the past as well.
DR- You rung in the New Year with Bob Marley’s One Love. Why did you choose this song, and how hard was it selecting a song for the occasion?
MK- We wanted something that everybody could sing along to (laughs) and it just seemed really fitting along with the feeling of the entire event.
DR- I noticed a few cameras around the venue, is a video possibly in development?
MK- Yeah, that’s something the Peak Production guys organized and I think there will be a video release. There should also be another String Cheese historical movie; a good friend of ours has just been shooting video of us in the last three years. It’s really interesting to see, there is so much stuff that has happened in the last three years. All of our fans kinda get to see what has been going on.
DR- You guys always seem to have plenty of special guests, which obviously must keep things fresh. How would you describe the impact of these collaborations?
MK- It’s kind of making connections with the outer music. We’d really like to include as many people as we can in our experience. Part of the reason this album came along for me is because I got a chance to play with Darol (Anger), Mike (Marshall) and Paul (McCandless) and all those people we considered our heroes for a long time. And, just to incorporate them into what we do just kind of opens up different musical worlds. I’d say overall it’s just one of those things that as we continue to hone our craft, its something that we hope to do- incorporating people that have influenced us in the past. We all know that we’re not the greatest musicians in the world or anything like that, we’re simply trying to just do what we do in the line that we do it. Just to include the people, it’s a great learning experience, and its great to hear other people play the music that we’ve written, it makes it more interesting.
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