photo credit: Dean Budnick
As we officially enter autumn, there’s no time like the present to take stock of the amazing musical happenings of summer 2019. And since The String Cheese Incident have been in a reflective mood for some time – celebrating their 25th anniversary with a slew of shows throughout this year – we rang up singer-guitarist Bill Nershi for a wide-spanning conversation.
“Our band is different than a lot of bands,” he said of SCI, phoning from his Denver home. “Some bands, like Umphrey’s McGee for instance, those guys went to school together. They’ve known each other forever. String Cheese, we all met at a ski area when most of us were around our 30’s, except Kang was a little younger. We didn’t have that common denominator of growing up in the same place. Everybody has different styles and tastes and personalities. But, musically, you get to know each other: what they listen to, what they play like, why they like certain kinds of songs, things like that. Although it can be a pain in the ass sometimes, in the end, it’s really helped make us who we are now.”
From jamming with bluegrass legends at DelFest to reuniting with Keller Williams at Red Rocks to that legendary 75-minute “Rosie” at Electric Forest, below Nershi reflects on Summer 2019.
One of SCI’s summer highlights was DelFest, jamming with both Billy Strings and Del McCoury. Can you share some memories from that day?
Billy Strings is somebody that I’ve met in the bluegrass world. I played with the Travelin’ McCourys for a little while as a side project, and ran into Billy Strings a lot. He was there at DelFest and I heard that he had been playing “Black Clouds,” which is a song that I wrote a long time ago. So we said let’s get him up and do it. And man, he’s really on fire, that kid. He’s really, really amazing, his singing and playing. So that was really cool to get him up there and mix it up with him a little bit. And also playing with Del and the McCourys, is especially cool, because during our 25th anniversary we’re trying to play some music with people who have really inspired us over the years. The Del McCoury band is definitely one of those groups that has really turned us on and so it was great to get to play with them.
Being in the same circles as Del, has he ever passed on any insight or wisdom to you guys?
Playing with somebody who has so much experience and success like Del, it’s just being able to perform with him, see how he carries himself before the shows and on stage, and to get to sing with him. Del is also a great storyteller and he’s got some great stories about days when he was playing with Bill Monroe. They also were really involved with David Grisman and Jerry Garcia and knew them, so Del has some great stories. And he is just the nicest guy. It’s like, “Oh, you can be really nice and a pretty normal person and still be really successful in music!” That’s very refreshing. That’s what I strive for and I think the band strives for trying to avoid too much drama and just being able to enjoy the music and create.
Since it’s SCI’s 25th year, do you find yourself thinking about the idea of legacy?
Making our mark as far as what we’ve listened to growing up and putting our kind of own original twist on it, that’s important to us. It’s not something we think about and say, “We have to do this,” we just try to create and be original and we thank everybody that has given us so many great ideas of how music can be played and if we can do that for somebody like Billy or the new generation of bands coming up, then that would be an honor for us.
Yonder Mountain String Band was and is very much a part of SCI’s era of performers. You and Jeff Austin were actually neighbors, right?
Yeah we were next door neighbors for a couple years.
What was that like?
We had some fun, we drank some tequila, we played some music, we had some good picks up there. It just kind of blew my mind when I heard that he bought that house. My wife and I went up to the mountains to look for property in 2001 after String Cheese had come back from the first tour that we actually made money on. Our management said, “Hey you guys made some money,” and that’s when I went to buy a house. The house that we went to look at had a big chain across the driveway and it was locked, so we drove up to the next house, which was not finished being built. We ended up buying that one and the house that we had gone up there to look at originally is the one that Jeff bought years later.
Yeah it was kind of a crazy turn of events but yeah, it’s been a tough time for a lot of people with Jeff passing on, and his family I’m sure the most.
At least there’s this big show coming up in November, What the Night Brings. It’s really cool that everybody in the jamgrass scene is going to come out for Jeff and for his family.
Yeah, Jeff was kind of a wild man, but the bottom line is that he was out there, like we were out there, on the road, which kind of makes him like a brother in arms to musicians. It is great to see everybody rallying like that. I would only hope that if I were in that position that people would put so much effort into it as they are with Jeff. I think it’s great, and I think that one of the most important things is thinking about his family too and trying to make sure that they’re not suffering. They’re gonna suffer from his loss but we’ll try to help them financially so that they’re not in dire straits with Jeff gone.