Photos by Larry Hulst

The String Cheese Incident, 1stBank Center, Broomfield, Colorado- 12/31*

The String Cheese Incident transported its fans into the New Year with all the festival and celebration they’ve rightfully come to expect: a brilliantly performed three-set song list combining sheer spectacle with stellar musicianship.

String Cheese welcomed in 2017 at midnight with a 12-minute “Just One Story,” the cue for a beautifully-executed series of aerial acrobatics to begin, centered around a giant holiday ornament that opened to reveal several “angels” sitting astride spinning horses.

With each New Years’ show, SCI works with local artists to top the previous years’ fete. Some might debate if the band topped itself this year, but there’s no haggling over the quality of this night’s stunning feel-good bash, judging from the jubilant dancing and cheers from the packed arena.

The band hit the stage at 8:15 p.m. with “San Jose” and encored just before 1:30 a.m. with Bob Dylan’s “The Mighty Quinn,” and Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon’s Country Blues rave up, “Sittin’ on Top of the World.” Sandwiched between were older originals (“MLT,” “Outside and Inside,” “Close Your Eyes” and “Howard”), new tunes (“Beautiful” and “Get Tight”) and a few covers, including a head-bopping version of the Grateful Dead’s “Deal” to close the hour-long first set.

If you wanted an example of the jovial, impeccably played tunes the band is revered for, this was your night. The first true catharsis came late in the second set by way of Keller Williams’ “Best Feeling,” led by Michael Kang (electric mandolin, violin and vocals). “Best Feeling” segued into a brooding version of The Police’s “Walking on the Moon,” let by Michael Travis (drums, percussion and vocals).

It’s impossible to find fault with Kyle Hollingsworth (keyboards and vocals). His musicianship is are so integral to The SCI’s zippy mashup of Bluegrass, Country, Funk, and Rock and World Music stylings, that it’s impossible to conceive of the band without him. Whether laying-down a 70s’-style funk-foundation to the Allman Brothers’ “Hot ‘Lanta,” their own “Beautiful,” or exploring the gaps in the transitional jams with deep space filigrees, Hollingsworth brings it home. An incredible feat even more impressive when you consider he injured a wrist a few nights before this end-of-year blowout.

Billy Nershi (guitar and vocals) seems to best embody the band’s history. While the show lacked any extensive Bluegrass jams, save for Ervin Rouse’s “Orange Blossom Special” and “Sittin’ on Top of the World,” Nershi added an earthy authenticity to Hollingsworth’s “Looking Glass,” Keith Moseley’s (bass and vocals) reggae-tinged “Sirens, and to the night’s extensive jams with his nimble guitar licks. The String Cheese Incident has come a long way from their progressive-bluegrass roots, but Nershi’s wry picking keeps the band safely spinning in orbit no matter how far into the void they travel. He fundamental to keeping the band grounded regardless of the territory they may explore. And yes, the group did explore a lot of territory this night, from the exuberant country Rock of “Song in my Head,” the jazzy “MLT,” and the R&B tinged “You’ve got the World.”

Set One: San Jose, Song in My Head, MLT, Who Am I, Outside and Inside > Hot ‘Lanta > Deal
Set Two: Close Your Eyes, Looking Glass > Orange Blossom Special, Get Tight, Best Feeling > Walking on the Moon, Howard, You’ve Got the World, Just One Story
Set Three: Don’t It Make You Wanna Dance, Rivertrance, Sirens, Beautiful
Encore: The Mighty Quinn, Sitting On Top of the World