Interview: Billy Nershi Reveals String Cheese Incident’s Past, Present, and Future

SCI to Travel Through Space and Time

SCI’s Halloween shows - dating all the way back to the late ’90s - have been graced by overarching themes whereby the members dress the part and devise a special musical set comprised largely of musically relevant covers. Given that this year’s “Hulaween” takes place at Hampton Coliseum, the Virginia venue otherwise known as ‘The Mothership’, the band picked the ultimate fitting theme: time travel and outer space.

“We’re gonna be on a spaceship together,” Nershi reveals. “We’ll do the special set which will include mostly covers with maybe a few String Cheese tunes thrown in. We’re working on a whole set of cover tunes for Halloween that will be time, space, future travel tunes.”

In chatting with Billy about the grandeur and relevance of the Hampton Coliseum to bands, given the long history of now famous performances by bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish, an interesting fact arises that points to this being a particularly special weekend for the band.

“I’ve never actually been inside the Hampton Coliseum,” he admits. “I’ve driven by and checked it out, but I’ve never actually been inside. I’m really excited to see it from the inside.”

Reflecting back on past Hulaween’s, the band touched on such themes as the ghosts of rock stars past, a subway ride through New York and the Jungle, but one show sticks out as the all time favorite for Nershi, which shows off the band’s quirky, divisive sense of humor.

Video Link: SCI – Under African Skies (Electric Factory ’99)

“The most memorable was the Philadelphia show (Electric Factory, 1999). I remember being all together on that pirate ship, and playing the Land Down Under by Men at Work. I played the flute solo on a drumstick – not a chicken drumstick, but one of Travis’s drumsticks – while Kyle played the solo on his synthesizer,” he laughs. “At the end of the show, this girl came up to me and complimented me on my flute playing.”

The Future – The Rothbury Incident; Tour & Album Still in Talks

The band’s recent past begs an interesting question: what is future for the String Cheese Incident? Clearly, they have been taking a measured pace in getting back into the swing of things, playing select shows and not rushing back into the studio, but at the same time, nothing is off the table.

“I would say for the time being, that is our model; playing some big festivals and having weekend shows like we did at Red Rocks for three nights. We like to give people a chance to stay and get comfortable with an area,” Nershi explains. “We also like to throw our own festivals like we did at Horning’s Hideout. We love to create an environment for people to come that’s far different from what they used to in their everyday lives.”

“We’re just going to continue with these kind of shows for the time being,” Bill continues. “We did talk about the possibility of doing one here or there, as well as the possibility of getting in the studio. They are both possibilities in the future. The album is in the talking stages right now, but there are no plans. We all write music, so there is definitely new material to be gleaned. There will be something coming.”

Back on the topic of festivals, Nershi reveals a relatively monumental project in the works: the Rothbury Incident. The band is currently in the process of setting up a String Cheese Festival for the coming summer on the site of the Rothbury site in Michigan.

“We’re also planning on doing something next summer at the Rothbury site. That will be a weekend festival with a lot of String Cheese sets. It’ll be different from Rothbury in that it will be more like our thing at Horning’s, where String Cheese plays every night, and it will include bands in our String Cheese family with art installations and that kind of thing.”

The Past – Archival Series to Include All-Time Bests

No strangers to finding new ways to release high quality archival music given the band previously pressed CDs for entire tours under the moniker On the Road via their proprietary SCI Fidelity label, another part of the String Cheese model post-reunion includes the forthcoming release of the Rhythm of the Road archival series, a new live series affords the band’s archivist free reign to remaster the band’s all-time best performances. The initial installment, Rhythm of the Road: Volume 1, Incident in Atlanta – 11.17.00, which highlights the band in their prime with guest banjo whiz Tony Furtado, is considered by many to be the band’s best show ever.

“Our archivist, Larry Fox, picked that show. He and some other folks feel like that’s a really classic String Cheese show, or maybe our best show,” Nershi explains. “Tony went on tour with us back then, and I think it was discussed that he might actually join the band, but it ended up just being a period where he played a lot of music with us.”

The Present – New Bluegrass on the Way, Will Billy Shave his Beard?

While the String Cheese Incident fan base has ballooned consistently over the years, it’s no secret that the evolution that led the band away from bluegrass in favor of the space funk acoustic galaxonian music drove a fair portion of early fans to slow their roll in terms of touring with the band. Hence, it should come as welcome news to the older guard that Nershi and company have been working on new material in the vein of the Americana sound. He makes it clear that the tone of the music tends to be driven by composer, but that the sound of the band in general seems to be moving back towards the roots.

“It depends on who’s writing,” Nershi proclaims. “The last song I wrote was more of a folk rock song, almost Grateful Dead-ish. I didn’t write it that way, it just came out that way when the band played it. It’s called Song in My Head. And I just wrote a new bluegrass tune with my wife Jillian, called Colorado Bluebird Sky. That will probably come out next spring, and we’re also working on a new Kyle song.”

Finally, prior to the interview, we asked a few friends if they had any burning questions for Billy given so many longtime jam fans have seen a lot of String Cheese shows over the years. Oddly enough, virtually everybody responded, “You have to ask him about the beard. Is he ever going to shave again?”

“My beard!” Nershi responds in a state of shock. ‘You mean will I shave my beard at Halloween?”

Actually we just meant ever, but rolling with it, he offers up a challenge.

“Start collecting money!” Bill laughs. “If you get above $1,000 [for charity] and throw that wad of money on the stage, we’ll count it and if it’s over a thousand dollars – and anybody in the crowd can do it – I’ll shave it off on stage. If it’s any less, I can’t do it though, because last time I shaved my beard, I walked out and said to my wife, ‘What do you think?’ She started crying.”

For the String Cheese Incident, the story remains unfinished, but as always, the past informs the future. The rhythm of the road holds the answer to the questions on our minds. I know that we can keep the faith and things will all work out in time.

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18 thoughts on “Interview: Billy Nershi Reveals String Cheese Incident’s Past, Present, and Future

  1. Sean Reply

    Nice, 11/17/00 show is a good one, haven’t heard it in ages though.

  2. Mesh Reply

    Rothbury, my love, see you soon!

  3. Faith Reply

    This news of a Rothbury incident could not make me anymore excited!!! BTW I love Billys beard!!

  4. Angela Reply

    I like the idea of Rothbury Festival coming back…String Cheese Incident uses Madison House as their agent, Madison House is a big player / producer of Rothbury Music Festival, why not just bring Rothbury Music Fest back? Why make it all about SCI? Don’t get me wrong, I drove my lil car all the way from Michigan (my home state) to Colorado this summer so I could jam with Cheese at the Red Rocks. But I really hope Madison House keeps Rothbury what it was, there’s no reason to have SCI play three nights. Just join hands and create a stellar festival, don’t make it all about one artist every damn night. I love you SCI, but I also love lots of other music, this is going to confuse everyone, and trick the fans into believing this is Rothbury Festival when in fact it is not – it is a String Cheese Blowout.

  5. ME Reply

    TO ANGELA:
    Just because they are playing at the site of Rothbury doesn’t mean it is going to BE Rothbury. I am all for the Cheese playing all three nights at a festival there with all other SCI Fidelity members and others. The Horning’s-like vibe on a grander scale sounds good to me. Maybe they will have another “Rothbury” for you to go to with your fiends. Hopefully we see you at this one too though. Long Live the CHEESE!

  6. scihooper Reply

    great article,but DON’T SHAVE THE BEARD BILLY!!!! See you at the mothership father time

  7. ryan Reply

    thats stupid. why are they taking over the whole festival? imagine me holding up a venn diagram with one GIANT circle labeled “people who love Rothbury”, intersecting with a tiny circe labeled “people who give a shit about the SCI”. THINK AGAIN!

  8. Swan Reply

    Love the cheese. Love the idea. Hope they still bring an awesome lineup for the og if they’re still planning that. if not i’d rather see them make it their own than that beautiful venue sit another year without being saturated with so many awesome vibes. See everyone at Hampton and Rothbury

  9. andrew Reply

    What none of you seem to understand is that a federal tax judge is in control of whether or not rothbury happens at all, that’s what happens when people file bankruptcy

  10. Nick Reply

    “What none of you seem to understand is that a federal tax judge is in control of whether or not rothbury happens at all, that’s what happens when people file bankruptcy”

    Sorry dude, that is completely old news. The Double JJ ranch was purchased by a big corporation from out east which brought it completely out of bankruptcy. The property is totally viable again and absolutely AWESOME. Also, according to locals in the know the Rothbury Fest 2011 in and of itself WILL happen and it will be totally separate from the Cheese’s proposed fest. And I will be at BOTH because Michigan in the summer is AWESOME and with live Cheese it will be even better! Cant wait to rage in Sherwood Forest with all of you!

  11. natalie Reply

    Yayers! Although if SCI plays Double J, it will defin be MUCH bigger than Hornings, which kinda blows because I love the small-ness of HH. But regardless, the grounds are soooo awesome, lets just hope we can keep the vibe despite the change in venue

  12. North America's High Five Reply

    Double JJ Ranch is an excellent festival venue… Rothbury, SCI Festival, you name it. Furthermore, bringing anything into Michigan is good for the struggling Michigander economy. I think it would be great to see more festivals/shows/events at the ranch.

  13. RuePanic2010 Reply

    Keep the forest and you’ll keep the vibe. Rothbury is amazing

  14. alexb Reply

    it was last year they reunited and you forgot the allman brothers, but yes it is a renaissance for jambands.

  15. Les Reply

    I’m just hoping that they do come out with a tour with so many jam bands taking 2011 off. not to mention any show close to Louisville, KY would be great I always loved seeing them play at Louisville Palace.

  16. Colin Reply

    The first year at Rothbury was absolutely incredible. The second year was one of the more lame festival experiences I’ve ever had. Year one had a much more diverse lineup, more crazy stuff setup for you to run around and play in and much looser security staff. The second year’s lineup was ruined by far to many jam bands. Have a similar number of jam bands as the first year would have been fine thus keeping the selection of music more eclectic, but to turn what was a really diverse festival into one that was almost completely focused on jam bands was a major dissapointment.

  17. eric Reply

    i live in louisville, so yes that would be awesome to see them here. but after catching everything they’ve done this year, i would much rather see them in a weekend outdoor/festival setting now. and i would much rather have nothing but jam bands at rothbury! the music never stops!

  18. dylan Reply

    Cheesebury baby! Lets make it more memorale than red rocks, hornings, and the hampton. Cheese’s last show at Rothbury was amayzing. great miss browns with kyles solo, as well as an awesome desert dawn.

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