String Cheese Incident Stage Rothbury Return
Credit: Steve Galli

The second day of this year's Rothbury Festival brought a little more joy to what's already been a fertile year for the jam band world.

Following the reunions of The Dead and Phish, String Cheese Incident, which hasn't done a full-on public gig in nearly two years, regrouped to close the main Odeum stage on Friday night at Rothbury. Guitarist Michael Kang promised the crowd -- which appeared to be nearly all of the 30,000 expected by organizers -- that "we're gonna have as much fun as humanly possible," and the Colorado sextet did just that, making up for lost time with a marathon three hours and 45 minutes of music spread across two sets.

Befitting the occasion, SCI brought a degree of spectacle to its genre-hopping mix of styles. During the second set it deployed onstage arielists and fire twirlers, while bare-midriffed hula hoopers twirled on four lighted platforms situated deep in the field -- all while the group played epic renditions of favorites such as "Desert Dawn," "Bumpin' Reel" and "Texas." The group also added to the indefatigable crowd's own assortment of beach balls and inflatable toys by distributing an assortment of giant-sized balloons and balls, including one particularly large red orb that came perilously close to wiping out the mix board.

SCI slipped in covers of Talking Heads' "Naive Melody" and Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground," and good pal Keller Williams joined the for an encore of "Best Feeling," returning the favor of half the band playing with him during his Thursday night set. (Williams sat in with Martin Sexton earlier in the day as well.) SCI also paid a subtle tribute to Michael Jackson by slipping the "Beat It" riff into the improv section of the show-closing "Restless Wind."

Earlier in the day Hollingsworth told Billboard.com that SCI decided to get together to play this year's Rothbury Festival after the group members played the inaugural 2008 edition with their assorted side projects. "We got a chance to talk and all agreed it would be fun to do a show sometime soon," said Hollingsworth, who actually opened last year's festival. "It's a year later, but that's how it works sometimes."

SCI rehearsed for about a month for Friday's "test concert" and played a private warm-up concert -- a benefit for Conscious Alliance -- in late June in Denver. The group has no specific plans for getting together again, but Hollingsworth -- who will release his second solo album, "Then There's Now," in September -- said the group is "certainly not at risk" for a permanent breakup. "We'll talk again to see if we had enough fun and go from there," he said.

There was no shortage of fun around the Double JJ Ranch site on Friday, including a potent 80-minute combo set by Nas and Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley. Taking a break from their current run on the Rock the Bells Tour, the duo performed individually and together -- vamping on Bob Marley's "One Love" about halfway through the show -- and also previewed several songs from their upcoming collaborative album, "Distant Relatives," including the leaked track "As We Enter," "The Strong Will Continue" and "Africa Must Wake Up," and joined forces for "Road to Zion," which the pair recorded together.

G. Love & Special Sauce, meanwhile, delivered a pleasantly loose and spirited performance that had fans rocking to "Let the Music Play," "Fire It Up," "Baby's Got Sauce" and "Can't Go Back to Jersey" while also sliding a bit of the Beatles' "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" into "Booty Call." King Sunny Ade & His African Beats offered an hour-long exposition of vibrant choral singing, highlighted by a particularly lively "Mo Roju O," which featured Ade on guitar, and "Africa." The World Music vibe continued with Femi Kuti & Positive Force's percolating Afrobeat and Caucasian reggae from California's Rebelution.

Brett Dennen joined the Jackson tributes at Rothbury by adding "Billie Jean" to his set list, while Broken Social Scene's ranks swelled to 10 members at times -- half of which were playing guitar -- and the group was genuinely disarmed when it finished its planned set 15 minutes early and scrambled for more material to fill the time. Rothbury's late-night revelers, meanwhile, danced the wee hours away to Sound Tribe Sector 9 on the Ranch Arena stage, while Girl Talk surrounded himself with dancing fans and helpers air-blowing toilet paper for his typically high-energy set of mash-ups in Rothbury's Sherwood Court.

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

Print