Review by Kara Wilbeck
When it comes to Horning’s Hideout, String Cheese Incident fans do not f*ck around. For them, this party is a serious matter that warrants the utmost effort and expertise.
Awake before sunrise on Thursday morning, they are waiting in line outside the venue long before the gates are opened. Once they are allowed through ticketing and the car search, it’s a mad dash to find (and hold down) the perfect campsite.
Why such a frenzy, you ask? The answer is simple. The magic that is found at Horning’s Hideout is legendary and unmatched. A secluded property about a half-hour’s drive from Portland, Oregon, it’s a far cry from the neighboring city. Lush, prehistoric-seeming woodlands give way to rolling pastures and ponds, and peacocks freely roam about.
At the heart of Horning’s Hideout is a large natural amphitheater, at the bottom of which is placed a huge permanent stage — constructed of wood harvested from the property.
This isn’t the first time SCI, natives of Colorado, has rocked this venue. Since 2000, the band has periodically planned multi-day festivals, turning Horning’s Hideout into the otherworldly land of fairies and unicorns it was always meant to be.
Inviting along a handful of other bands and musicians to round out the lineup, they create one of the best musical experiences that can be found.
Thursday, July 19
Thursday at Horning’s is the only day of the festival that is Cheese-less. Campers are given the morning and most of the afternoon to get set up, and music starts in the evening.
Most of us didn’t make it down to the stage until The Contribution, a jambalaya of musicians from several different bands that was born at Horning’s Hideout in 2005. Members include Phil Ferlino and Jeff Miller of New Monsoon, Tim Carbone from Railroad Earth, Matt Butler of Everyone Orchestra, singer Sheryl Renee, and SCI’s own bassist Keith Moseley. (SCI percussionist Jason Hann was part of the original lineup, but has since left.)
The Contribution got everyone warmed up and ready to go, especially after a rockin’ cover of Don’t Let Go, the Jesse Stone tune popularized by the Jerry Garcia Band. Don’t Let Go was followed by another cover, the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, and the set was closed with Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same.
Next up for us was the Kyle Hollingsworth Band, featuring… duh — Kyle Hollingsworth, SCI’s keyboardist. (It is to be noted that the band’s side projects comprised a significant portion of the other music at the festival.) And being the Grateful Dead geeks that we are, we very much enjoyed when the band played a great rendition of Slipknot into Franklin’s Tower.
The last set of the night on the main stage was EOTO, the electronic project formed by SCI percussionists Jason Hann and Michael Travis. Many purists are turned off, even a bit scared, by EOTO, but the younger crowd definitely loves it. EOTO’s sound can wax a bit dubstep, but the duo always manages to find a way to showcase its versatility. This time, midset, they brought out a special guest — the unbelievable jazz guitarist Stanley Jordan. The brief departure from “scary” electronica seemed to appease the purists, and everyone went back to the woods happy that night.
Friday, July 20
Friday morning was abuzz with energy — this was the day things were really getting going (a.k.a. the first night of String Cheese)! After pushing through the sleepy morning haze, everyone was ready to get a move on and see some music, which started earlier than the previous day.
First up was Poor Man’s Whiskey on the Sawmill Stage, followed by Honkytonk Homeslice, String Cheese Incident guitarist Bill Nershi’s side project that features his wife Jilian and Portland’s own Scott Law. Honkytonk Homeslice is more fully devoted to roots-y Americana than String Cheese Incident, and makes for a great down-home hoedown in the afternoon.
When mid-afternoon hit, they brought out the funk — and that’s when the party really got kicked off for the night. First up was Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, a dirty, booty-bouncin’ New Orleans funk joint that was most likely the biggest musical departure from the rest of the festival’s lineup.
Most of the crowd then took a short break at their campsites, returning to catch Toots and the Maytals at the Main Stage, which is always a fun time. A good portion of the crowd left this show early, however, due to a bit of, frankly, unfortunate scheduling that placed the beginning of The Motet’s set halfway through Toots.
Leaving early was well worth it, though. There is no band in the world quite like The Motet. Describing them as funky doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of what makes this band great. A self-proclaimed “dance band,” The Motet will not let you stop moving, except for in between songs. The moment they pick up their instruments to the moment they put them down, you’re dancing. They are not to be missed.
As soon as The Motet finished up, a mass exodus was made back over to the Main Stage for the Big Event: night one of the String Cheese Incident!
Opening their first set of the weekend was Outside and Inside, which went right into a fast, absolutely rippin’ Can’t Stop Now.
The band switched tracks a little for Yo Se, followed by jammed-out versions of Water and the funky, synth-heavy instrumental Pack It Up (written by Kyle Hollingsworth with The Motet’s Dave Watts). Then it was time for some more New Orleans flavor! Inviting the entirety of Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk onstage, the band played the classic Hey Pocky Way.
After asking the crowd, “What the hell do you do after that?” SCI rounded out the first set with Song In My Head, the common cover of Keller Williams’ Best Feeling and Let’s Go Outside.
As the band took the stage yet again for the second set, we realized something wasn’t quite right.
“Wait a minute…we can’t start yet. Somebody get this lady out of here and get our keyboard player from over there!”
The set opened with a sneaky Shantytown (the first of the year), getting everyone into the true spirit of a festival at Horning’s Hideout and inviting them to “feel the magic of this place.” Shantytown then went into an epic Howard, the first one played since the Electric Forest festival nearly a month earlier.
The band then brought out Stanley Jordan to join them for Freedom Jazz Dance, a jazz fusion standard popularized by Miles Davis. Then it was right into one of everybody’s favorites — Restless Wind, which jammed seamlessly into Lands End without fully finishing the song. Lands End turned into a guitar-heavy abstract jam, which then turned into the new track Can’t Wait Another Day. This song led, again seamlessly, into a 6-minute drum solo, which ended with an out-of-the-blue cover of Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride.
String Cheese ended set two of the festival with the nostalgic feel-good jam of Glory Chords and the relatively new, trancy dance number Rosie. For the encore, the band brought Stanley Jordan back out and whipped out one of their favorite covers, the Talking Heads’ This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody), before finishing up the Restless Wind that was started earlier in the night.
Setlist, Friday, July 20
Set I: Outside and Inside > Can’t Stop Now, Yo Se, Water > Pack it Up, Hey Pocky Way (with Dumpstaphunk), Song In My Head > Best Feeling > Let’s Go Outside
E: This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody) > Restless Wind (both with Stanley Jordan)
Saturday, July 21
Saturday at Horning’s Hideout! Knowing that we had a special night in store of us, many of us took it pretty easy during Saturday afternoon. With Main Stage music not starting until the evening, we turned to the smaller Sawmill Stage for afternoon entertainment.
One of the earlier sets of the day was the Scott Law Reunion Band, featuring one of Portland’s best guitarists, and later on was afrobeat funk band AfroMassive.
The real highlight of Saturday’s afternoon came with The Infamous Stringdusters on the Main Stage, giving us a taste of some bona-fide acoustic bluegrass. Their set was lots of fun, especially for bluegrass purists, mixing original songs in with some well-known covers. In the mix was The Band’s Up On Cripple Creek, The Police’s Walking On The Moon and Phish’s Free.
Soon enough, the time came, yet again, for some Cheese. The band wasted no time in taking us to a funky place, opening up with Miss Brown’s Teahouse. After getting everyone’s booty shaking, SCI through the crowd an old-school sing-along with Sittin’ on Top of the World, played fast and energetically. Next up was the whimsical, happy-go-lucky jam Mauna Bowa, followed by Colliding, an energetic Kyle tune that seems to be of the same breed as Rosie.
Bassist Keith Moseley finally got his moment in the spotlight, with the band heading straight-on into Sometimes A River, a slightly cheesy, but still lovable tune. So Far From Home came next, starting slow, picking up energy, and then finally ending in Birdland. Really, who doesn’t love that tune? A frequently covered Weather Report original, String Cheese makes Birdland sound fantastic. Birdland faded into a synthed-up jam reminiscent of what it may have sounded like had Peter Frampton covered Rhapsody in Blue, then somehow (almost inexplicably) made its way into the traditional bluegrass tune Big Sciota. All of a sudden, there we were again — back in Birdland, which again became an extended jam. Another abrupt switch-up took us into a set-closing Rollover.
The crowd got a bit of a laugh when Michael Kang accidentally began to repeat the first verse of the song. Kyle Hollingsworth [???] can be heard over the cheering crowd at this moment, affectionately teasing Kang and saying, “Jerry, Jerry, Jerry.” (A reference to the oft-heard lyrical mistakes made by Jerry Garcia.)
The second set on Saturday night at Horning’s Hideout is always a special one. Call it what you will — the ritual set, the dream set, the Shebang — whatever. As the sun sets, the area closest to the stage is entirely closed off to the audience, forcing spectators to venture higher on the hills of the natural amphitheater. Many people sit, but others insist on standing. String Cheese takes the stage yet again, but not to play an average set. Instead, they break into a dream-like jam that will become the soundtrack to a whirlwind of imaginative performance art.
This year’s ritual set began with the slow, ominous entrance of a large ship, potentially of the pirate sort, filled with fire-dancing seamen. Shortly after, a group of sirens appeared on the ground, luring attentions away from the ship. Before long, the area before the stage was a feast for the eyes, with colors, flames, trampolines and jellyfish. It was truly a sight to behold.
When the half hour of theatrics was nearly finished, the barriers re-opened, and the crowd flooded back into the stage area, now mingling with an ocean’s worth of sea creatures (in keeping with Saturday night’s ocean theme).
After a well-deserved Group Hoot, the band opened up the third and final set of the night with BollyMunster, which slowly trickled into a relatively mediocre Way Back Home.
The band then paused to thank all of the artists whose work went into the festival, making sure to note all the “sweet lookin’ jellyfish” that were floating around the crowd. We were then given, of course, that Jellyfish we’d all been waiting so patiently for.
Synchronicity was given the true hard-rock treatment, turning Horning’s momentarily into a 1980s arena concert. Luckily, the intensity of the song quickly broke into Las Vegas, a goofy account of past debauchery.
Two crowd pleasers ended the third set for Saturday night. First up was a slightly sappy feel-good Joyful Sound, which gave way to what one might call “funny techno noises” and a sexy percussion jam toward the end of the song. Next was Colorado Bluebird Sky, SCI’s ode to their home state, and an encore of a funkified version of Bob Marley’s Could You Be Loved.
Setlist, Saturday, July 21
Set I: Miss Brown’s Teahouse, Sittin’ On Top Of The World, Mouna Bowa, Colliding, Sometimes A River, So Far From Home, Birdland > Flying West Jam > Big Sciota > Birdland > Flying West Jam > Rollover
Set II: Ritual Set
E: Could You Be Loved
Sunday, July 22
One might think that by Sunday, everyone would be tired and just about ready to pack it up and head home. Wrong! Many SCI fans find Sunday to be their favorite night of the weekend, and the band obviously feels no differently. While Sunday night’s music may start and end earlier than the other nights, it is in no way shortened or toned-down in quality.
The big attraction (other than String Cheese, of course) on Sunday was the mando master Sam Bush, getting everyone ready for the slightly grassier nature of SCI’s Sunday first set. Sam Bush actually repeated a cover that had been broken out the previous day by the The Infamous Stringdusters — Up On Cripple Creek. Before playing it, Bush gave a nod to The Band’s late drummer (and sometimes mandolin player) Levon Helm. Repeat or not, the crowd dug the tune.
When early evening came around, The String Cheese Incident took the Main Stage once more for their final show of the weekend. Right from the beginning of the set, the band decided they wanted to “get their money’s worth” of Sam Bush, and invited him onstage, where he stayed for the majority of the first set.
Right off the bat, this set was grassier than any of the previous nights. The show opened with the Jimmy Martin classic Hold Whatcha Got, a bluegrass standard that’s pretty much required to be part of the repertoire of any musician within the genre.
In keeping with the classics, the second tune played on Sunday evening was Whiskey Before Breakfast, a fun, finger-pickin’ instrumental. Rounding out the knee-slappin’ trio was Herb Pedersen’s Old Train.
Next came a treat: a tight, jazzy MLT. Upon reaching the end of the song, Kyle Hollingsworth determined that he had messed up the ending and that the band would have to go back and finish it again. Ending number two was similarly determined a disaster, though this time it was blamed on Michael Kang. They went for it one more time, deciding that the third ending would be good enough.
“Welcome to String Cheese rehearsal,” they joked.
Fellow Coloradoan Liza Oxnard was then brought out on stage to help Sam Bush man the vocals for yet another Bob Marley cover, One Love. After a good ol’ family sing-along, complete with group hugs and all, the band jammed their way into and out of the Vassar Clements classic Lonesome Fiddle Blues.
After the epic Lonesome Fiddle journey, the band dedicated their new song Struggling Angel to their late friend Sarah Gewald, for whom the song was written.
The last set of the festival was opened with a one-two punch of two epic songs, Black Clouds and Rivertrance, bringing Sam Bush back out for both tunes. Next up was the slightly funky, slightly salsa infused Eye Know Why, and then a cover of the Paul Simon song Late in the Evening after a chant of “let Travis sing” and a pretty terrible joke about a frog.
Late in the Evening jammed into It Is What It Is, which was jammed to an intense pinnacle, stopped, and slowly built back up again. Next up was Big Shoes, which ended with an intense Eye of the Tiger jam before heading straight into Close Your Eyes. The latter was bisected by one last cover, Elton John’s Rocket Man, and closed out the last set of the weekend.
After some wild cheering and a toast to the Horning family, the encore was upon us with Just One Story, an adequate and appropriate wrap-up to a fantastic and fun weekend. And then it was over.
After a bit of a stumbly, bumbly, mumbly speech by Bob Horning, we made our way back into the woods to bask in the glow of the previous four days.
Setlist, Sunday, July 22
Set I: Hold Whatcha Got, Whiskey Before Breakfast, Old Train, MLT (all with Sam Bush), One Love (with Sam Bush and Liza Oxnard) > Jam > Lonesome Fiddle Blues > Jam > Lonesome Fiddle Blues (with Sam Bush), Struggling Angel, Galactic, Smile
Set II: Black Clouds, Rivertrance (both with Sam Bush), Eye Know Why, Late in the Evening > It Is What It Is, Big Shoes, Close Your Eyes > Rocket Man > Close Your Eyes
E: Just One Story
This one was a good one. The String Cheese Incident is in great form right now, and is obviously having a good time with their music and each other. Each night was filled with playful stage banter and joshing around, and the band worked together as a balanced team to give us all one of the best weekends of our lives.
Horning’s Hideout feels like a homecoming for everyone involved, audience, musicians and production alike. The small size and intimate beauty of this festival creates a unapproachably magical atmosphere, and none of us can wait to come back for more.