Photos by David Shehi
Article by Scott Percy and Greg Bastin
The String Cheese Incident Return by Scott Percy
On July 3rd, 2009 I visited Rothbury, MI for the first time. It will not be the last.
The 2009 Rothbury festival was an amazing experience on every level. The festival was extremely well organized & executed, down to the last detail. The scenery at the Double J ranch is beautiful. As a Tennessee boy, I am accustomed to the sweltering heat & humidity associated with Bonnaroo. The Lake Michigan summertime climate was a nice festival break, though it did get quite cool at night. I was unable to arrive until Friday afternoon, so I missed the Thursday night kickoff celebration. But Friday was a gorgeous, partly cloudy day which nicely accommodated my camping setup. My first major show for the weekend was The String Cheese Incident. I last saw Cheese at Bonnaroo 2007 just prior to their “disbanding”. I have clung to hope since then that the band would reunite, so I was ecstatic to learn all original members would Headline Rothbury 2009. I have seen & heard a number of superlatives used to describe this show since it happened: “amazing”, “magical”, “best ever”…all of these apply, IMO. For me, it was definitely the pinnacle of my SCI experiences (so far). A lot of elements contribute to my feelings about that, not the least of which was the absolute precision & energy with which the boys played music. They were simply on fire that night. Even from my roving vantage points far from the stage in the huge Michigan field, I could see the emotion & enthusiasm they brought that night.
Set I was pretty much a giant “Rollover”. They opened with the fan favorite, then dove into some high-octane bluegrass with “Can’t Stop Now”. The classic “Mrs. Brown’s Teahouse” followed to add a little funky/reggae flavor. The “Rain” that followed was very crispy. Heavy hits kept coming with the beautiful “Joyful Sound” (“it might sound funny, but its how my times spent”). Next up was a real treat for the crowd with the Talking Heads cover “Naïve Melody (This Must Be the Place)”. I first saw Cheese play this at the Alpine Mountain Amphitheater in Flagstaff, AZ summer of 2006. They have really made that song their own now. Finally, the first set came to a close 1 ½ hours after it started as the boys went back in to “Rollover”. Smiles all around including from the band. As Bill Nershi told the crowd “it sure feels good” playing music after a couple of years off.
Set II started shortly after the 9:30 PM Western MI sunset. A dozen or so hot air “lanterns” were lofted into the sky & the huge white Rothbury balloon ascended with a glow from the middle of the field. The boys came back out with a bang playing “Outside Inside”, the title track from their best studio effort. “Desert Dawn” rolled in as beautiful as always. It is definitely one of my favorite Kang songs. Then, “Black Clouds” followed by “Little Hands”. It was during the ‘Hands > Bumpin’ Reel’ where it all started to get a little crazy… All of a sudden during the jams, 4 platforms out in the middle of the field lit up by spotlights. These platforms were elevated about 5 feet off the ground & were each occupied by gypsy hula hooping girls. As the music got funky, they began to do their fire hooping magic. During this time, there were also a couple of performers on each side of the stage doing velvet rope trapeze antics high above the stage. As if that wasn’t enough madness, gigantic inflatable beach balls were released into the crowd. Some of these were at least 6 feet in diameter. There were dozens & dozens of these and it turned the show into a crazy, mad scene for sure. These balls took several people at a time to keep aloft. At one point, I watched as one of the hooper stage girls got knocked flat down to the platform by a ball from behind. In true spirit, she jumped right back up with a yell & resumed her hoop dance performance. A prolonged “Texas” was superb and is always a crowd pleaser. That definitely got more than a little bit funky.
The show ended proper on that note and gave way to a nice encore. Keller Williams joined the band (wasn’t that inevitable?) for “Best Feeling”. That song is probably my favorite Keller Incident collaboration. The band also pulled out the Stevie Wonder classic “Higher Ground” during the encore.
Another point worth mentioning is that this show happened a little more than a week after Michael Jackson’s death. There were a couple of MJ teases tossed in, but no covers. However, it was more than a little eerie when they did the Vincent Price lead-in to “Thriller”.
This was an amazing show. Everyone I saw the rest of the night was all smiles & nearly speechless. Hopefully this near-perfect Rothbury Incident sets the stage for a 2010 tour. We can all only hope.
The Day of the Dead by Greg Bastin
July 4, 2009, Rothbury, Michigan
After nearly 4 1/2 hours, one break, and a brilliant fireworks display during two encores that the Dead performed, it was a deadhead dream come true on a clear Independence Day night at the 2009 Rothbury Music Festival. Even the American Beauty himself (Jerry Garcia) graced from above with his unforgettable smile… Yes, lots of the newer and younger generation are keeping the older deadheads spirit alive and the elders are embracing them.. Some question “How long will this strange trip last?” Well over 44 years now and counting. New jam and groove bands are starting up in every city, small town or garage around the nation, even as far as the European music scene has jumped on the band wagon. The young faces seem so innocent, but in their eyes they look as like any other groovin’ 40 or 50 year old hippie.
15 minutes before the show, the Dead bassist Phil Lesh goes out to check his gear and amp presets, as he always has, before a show. The deadheads yell out to him, “PHIL – WE LOVE YOU, PHIL!” Unnoticed by them, he faces his amp and begins to smile, as if it just lifted his heart and spirit. He knew that this was going to be a good work day. They knew ANY Dead performance would be a good day. At close to 8 p.m. the Saturday, July 4th, sun starts it journey westward, brightens the beauty of the blue skies and clouds to open the doors for a perfect evening. Over 30,000 friends will come to gather hand-in-hand, nothing to lose but a sandal… (They should be off anyway). As Lesh finalizes his tech’s work he acknowledged him with another smile, as if to say good job and then comes backstage. Guitarist Bob Weir (or Bobby by many deadheads) appears, soon followed by percussionists Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. Phil Lesh hooks up, along with pianist Jeff Chimenti and guitarist Warren Haynes… Not a sit in for the late Grateful Dead founding member Jerry Garcia who died in 1995. Haynes is well known in many jam circles, having played with the Allman Brothers and with his own band Gov’t Mule for the last few years. The Dead will all come together on a stage in front of all their fans, bring their non-stop groove to everyone, but backstage sits five personal tour buses. They may travel their different ways, but this evening they come together, clocked in and jammed.
Deadheads were eager to witness this beautiful band, even some would say, “they’ll start the show with ‘Hell in a Bucket’, ‘Bertha’ or maybe ‘Shakedown Street.’ They were wrong, as the band started to jam together, warming up making adjustments like kids in a garage band. The common man would yell, “Com’on you’ve been playing together 44 years, what’s is this?” It’s a signature sign of the Dead, fans and followers know this it becomes part of the show. To hear them tune up, pick little, make adjustments is all apart of being close to the band. As Weir begins to jam, the deadheads start to groove and dance to what they can only guess is the first song, because to Dead historians, this is trivial. Some can tell you as soon as the song is noticeable when it was played last, or when it was used as the first song, where and when. Weir looks over to Lesh and then turns to look at his left hand making every note on frets. The jam turns into “Sugar Magnolia.” Weir walks up to the mic and starts to sing. The founders of hippie jam bands have got the attention of over 30,000 groovin deadheads bouncing up and down on this monumental evening. A sea of beautiful people, young, old, black and white all together, dressed and undressed, wearing costumes, dancing hoop girls with LED’s in them, beach balls flowing endlessly from the front of the stage, to the back of the crowd. Weir, Lesh, Hart and Kreutzmann were doing what they do best; and that’s bring these people together.
Some performers could care less about the fans, but if you’re a band, on that stage, looking out at this July 4th sunset, it really couldn’t be just “One more Saturday night.”
When the second set ended, from the left the stage, Phil Lesh reappeared to thank everyone and Rothbury. He also hinted about a Dead return to the beautiful venue and festival. Lesh included to mention his 1998 liver transplant and encourages folks to have organ donor consideration to help others, just as his donor did for him. The show finished with a double encore of “US Blues” and “Not Fade Away”. Just another Saturday night with more to come in the future.
Set One: Sugar Magnolia, Eyes Of The World, Estimated Prophet, Loose Lucy, Friend Of The Devil, Into The Mystic Help, On The Way Slipknot, Franklin’s Tower. Set Two: One More Saturday Night, Shakedown Street, China Cat Sunflower, I Know You Rider, Drums / Space, Viola Lee Blues, Morning Dew, Throwing Stones, Sunshine Daydream. Encore: US Blues, Not Fade Away.