Pushing the good vibe: On the Road with the String Cheese Incident
Six nights of concerts in nine nights of traveling was the aim of our vacation; that and as much dancing as our legs would allow. Following the band String Cheese Incident from Berkeley to Las Vegas would be fun, with the added bonus of a Halloween show at the famous Shrine Auditorium thrown in.
My wife and I just hoped we could keep up.
Our first two nights of dancing came at Berkeley Community Theater, a funky building on the campus of Berkeley High School. The band didn’t disappoint, and great seats in the 10th row added to the experience. A good time was had by all, and the musical highlight was the band’s first ever rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” with opening act Dar Williams joining them onstage.
Night two at the BCT proved just as fun, with a rousing drum circle by all members of the band bringing out the applause in the second set. Then it was time to travel on. Our friend gave us a bumper sticker he made that said “Pushing the Good Vibe.” That was just what we intended to do.
San Luis Obispo’s Cal Poly’s Rec Center was our next stop. The intimate arena encouraged everyone, including the band, to new heights of fun. Outstanding versions of “Birdland” and Paul Simon’s “Under African Skies” thrilled the crowd. The good vibe was indeed being pushed.
Two rest days in Joshua Tree National Park while the band continued on to San Diego recharged our batteries for the Halloween show in L.A.
Dubbed “Hulaween” by fans with a penchant for gyrating plastic hoops around their hips, the night was a fun costume party. The theme for this year’s party was “The Aca-dummy Awards,” since the longtime home of the Oscars, the Shrine Auditorium, was to house the event.
After a limo ride from the hotel, we stepped out onto the red carpet of the Shrine to a dazzling display of whirling searchlights and bright flashes from photographers. The band had gone to great lengths to give its fans the star treatment, and we were suitably impressed. After a quick chat with a Joan Rivers impersonator, we were on our way inside.
People dressed as celebrities filled the lobby. Holly Golightly chatted with Wonder Woman, while Marilyn Monroe talked with the cast of Gilligan’s Island. Smiles filled everyone’s faces as a group of Oompah Loompahs from “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” walked by.
We enjoyed an amazing performance from the rail of the balcony, unobstructed viewing of the night’s festivities. At times the venerable theater’s balcony was bouncing so much from dancing, that people sitting down were being literally bounced out of their seats.
For the second set, The All-Star Dead Rock Star Band performed. Each member of String Cheese came out dressed as a different dead rock star; onstage appeared Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Freddie Mercury. Each sang one or two songs from their respective artists: “Tightrope,” from Keith Mosley/ Vaughn; “Fire” and “Voodoo Chile” from Michael Kang / Hendrix; “Smells Like Teen Spirit” from Kyle Hollingsworth / Cobain; “L.A. Woman” and “The End” from Bill Nershi / Morrison; and a rousing “We Are the Champions” from Michael Travis / Mercury to close the set.
After this amazing night it was on to Vegas and the last two nights of music.
The venue was a rather boxy convention center space, and the overall weirdness of Las Vegas contributed to the strangeness of the scene. The band played extremely well, seeming to sense the end of tour and a coming break from their long schedule.
In what seemed a nod from the band to the audience, they opened the second set of the first night with “How Sweet It Is,” and continued the magic with a mind blowing “Rivertrance.” The “Boogie on Reggae Woman” encore had just the right feeling of fun and sent the crowd into the Las Vegas night to anticipate the next show.
Our legs were reeling from all our dancing on the last night of tour, and we knew we would likely need a vacation from our vacation. But the music kept us on our feet, with “Rhythm of the Road” highlighting the first set and an amazing “Way Back Home” closing the second set. With a touch of Las Vegas showmanship and tongue-in-cheek fun the band selected Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” as the first encore and the crowd enthusiastically joined in. “Daryl” wrapped up the evening strongly, and everyone walked out exhausted. We could only imagine how tired the band was.
At some time during the second set, a kid walked by us handing out bumper stickers for free. They read “Pushing the Good Vibe.” It was just what the band and audience had been doing.
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