The Two Great Tastes That… Well…
String Cheese Incident and Widespread Panic: do they have anything in
common? WSP is a southern band; SCI plays in ski resorts. Panic
write great songs but don’t improvise much; SCI are great at Type II
jamming but their song writing is questionable. Fans of the Incident
tend to be glittery faerie types. Fans of Panic lean towards being
shirtless boys in baseball caps. The drugs of choice in the Cheese
world are Acid and X. Panic fans like their booze. There was a huge
controversy on the Incidentalist when some fans tossed around
tortillas at a show once; maybe someone would slip on one or it might
distract the band… if nothing else it was a waste of food. Spreadheads
have a song where they fire lighters as hard as they can directly at
In the same way that SCI and the Disco Biscuits tend to be
opposites, the more you like one of these bands, the less you tend to
like the other. When they announced that there would be two shows
of them playing together – in the no man’s land of the Midwest no less – I
felt compelled to go. Maybe (as Woody predicted) Lester would come
out to read some poem… and the Panic fans would throw bottles at
him. Maybe SCI would jam with Panic and we’d get the best of both
worlds. Maybe there would be a huge matter-antimatter implosion
in the venue. Regardless of the outcome, I had to see it, even if it
meant blowing off HSMF again. If nothing else, it would give me an
excuse to travel again and that’s never a bad thing.
The plan this time round was to fly into Chicago, meet up with my
friend J’eliz, and drive out west. When in Chicago, there is only one
thing to do of course. See the Sears Tower? Nope. Go to Water Tower
Place? You must be kidding. Wrigley Field? That’s good, but only
when the Cubs are in town. What I’m referring to is much better than
that. Of course I must mean the Polish deli in the western
suburbs…. the one that sells Polish Kinder Surprises. They have a
whole different toy series than the Canadian ones and they don’t have
any of the statues that Canada seems to love.
The night before our departure to Des Moines, we opened Kinder Eggs and
watched The Straight Story. The Straight Story is a David Lynch movie
produced by Disney. While the plot itself is interesting enough (It’s
about a man who rides his lawn mower across Iowa.), it’s worth
watching to see the fight between Lynch and Disney. Where else could
you see a heartwarming children’s saga that has every single
character smoke? It’s educational too. In it, I learned that
Wisconsin is a party state. That fact proved to be useful throughout
the trip. Between seeing a movie about Iowa and getting a Kinder toy
that kind of looked like an ear of corn, we were ready for the trip.
Driving across Iowa isn’t as boring as you might think it is. Sure
the Quad Cities and Iowa City are pretty underwhelming from I-80, but
you can see the World’s Largest Truck Stop. There’s a gas station
that gives away FREE ICE CREAM (ok Ice Cream Sandwiches, but still,
it’s ice cream). There’s farms… lots and lots of farms. Ok so
maybe it is as boring as you think it is, but it was sunny, we had
good tunes, and the road was there to grab. What more did we need?
Des Moines brought me face to face with famed Phunky Bitch Iowajess.
I pointed out where I was when Brad came out to request that I not
time in the front row; that happened the last time I was in Des
Moines. We rolled down a hill by the Des Moines River. Since Jess
has this weird corn fixation online, I gave her the corn Kinder toy,
and another egg. She opened it up. It also had the corn toy in it.
Apparently it was fate.
Friday was a short drive. After a quick pit stop at a Sonic so I
could try their somewhat legendary slurpee-esque drinks and an
attempt to teach me how to drive a stick – I mastered the art of
stalling it out – we got onto 35 for the drive on down. It was
definitely warm on the drive down but not really hot per se. The
second we hit Kansas City though, the temperature jumped 10 degrees.
It wasn’t even the asphalt causing it. It stayed that way the entire
drive into Bonner Springs.
Apparently Sandstone Ampitheatre doubles as a secret training base for
the military. No, I don’t have any actual evidence of this fact.
However, it would explain not only the lack of signage on the exit
pointing how to get there, but the mini forest of Telephone Poles in
the parking lot. Maybe the heat came from a radar installation or
All of my expectations for a huge fight were dashed when I hit the
lot. Widespread fans severely outnumbered the SCI ones. A quick
tshirt count, had SCI in 4th place in the lot, behind WSP, Phish, and
the Dead. Some people had similar concerns to mine, and tried to
spread peaceful vibes. "Spread the Cheese," was one t-shirt popular
in the lot. I tried to discourage those people. Sure peaceful
coexistence might be nice and stuff but it makes for a very boring
For the first night of this run, Widespread Panic opened.
Their sound was loud but muddy from the front. I blamed it on the
venue, but apparently it was the fault of their soundman. SCI sounded
just fine. Partially as a result, the WSP set didn’t make much of an
impression on me outside of "Pleas" which I love and could hear every
night. The most notable thing was the first crack in the friendly
facade. "String Cheese better BRING IT!!!!" said one Spread Head mid
The best tour stories are all of the same type. Some disaster happens
and due to luck or the power of music, they’re overcome and happiness
ensues. If no disasters occur, you’re left with "stories" like my
Iowajess Kinder corn one above. Sometimes though the disasters are
too much. That is the story I have to tell now. I have been told
that the second SCI set was really good. Heat or allergies or
something caused me to have a splitting headache. All I remember
about this show is wanting to go. Eventually it ended. We walked
back to the car. J’eliz gave me allergy medicine. It zonked me out.
I woke up much later in a traffic jam in KC. Hmmm it’s kind of late
for one. I went back to sleep. I woke up again. A different song
was playing from the last time I was up. It was a 20 minute song. It
was almost over. We were still in the jam. I went back to sleep. I
woke up much later. We were still in it. A sign became visible.
Sobriety Checkpoint. I’ve never actually seen one before. It was
gone by the time we got to the front of the line, but the damage was
done. All of the hotels had no rooms at the inn. It took 4 attempts
before we finally got a room.
The great thing about spending a day in incredible heat is that a mere
very hot day becomes much more bearable. The heat on Saturday was
barely noticeable. We walked the lot, finding the cool
"Trouble" shirt for my softball team, and went in early. Security was
much worse at Riverport. Bonner Springs was hands off; St Louis was
security central. The only good thing I can say about a venue that
enforces every token rule and has an exciting view of the feeder road
into the parking lot is that at least they have a cool Designated
Driver program. Not a mere soda or two, the DD program in St. Louis
gives you unlimited sodas. Best deal at any venue.
String Cheese Incident opened this night and they actually started 5
minutes early. It was a good thing that they did because they were on
this night. Every additional minute that they played was good.
While the "Sand Dollar -> Smile," was hot, the highlight of the set
was, of all things, the "Restless Wind." This was a unique version
with a long extra jam.
First night had the Panic fans bailing on the show; this night had
comments coming from the SCI folks. "I wish Panic would just blow off
their time and give Cheese 2 more sets" was a common phrase to hear
from the SCI minority.  Alas though, we didn’t make the rules.
Panic came on and the differences in the soundmen was quickly
apparent. Going from the clear sound of the Cheese to the muddiness
of Panic was too much for me. I left the pavilion and spent the set
near the mist tent. The sound was actually better there.
For the second Panic set, we went to the very top of the lawn. We had
a great view of the screens up there and watched during "Ain’t the
Use" as nearly all of SCI came out to play. Finally the dream lineup.
The power of JB’s voice with the jamming of SCI. This was everything
I had dreamed of and more. It was a great jam with teases of "Let it
Grow" and a "Dark Star" kind of space for the Deadhead in me. The
show should have ended there; there was no way that it would be
After the show, we had to drive the 300 miles to Chicago, so I could
make my flight. Even more so than the "Ain’t No Use," this was the
highlight of the trip. J’eliz and I sung along to the Indigo Girls – her with really good harmonies, me with more questionable ones – as
the sun came up on I-55. It was a great drive but it also was a bad
sign. When the traveling is more interesting than the music, it
might be time to take a break. I mean don’t get me wrong, the music
was good. SCI seem to be moving away from the technofunk that annoyed
me and Panic is always a good show. It just wasn’t something to
inspire me to sacrifice everything to go see it. I want the passion.
I want to pour over tour dates and get excited. I want to calculate
which weekend shows I might be able to make. I want to bitch about
the lack of local shows and then get excited when there’s a Gorge run.
It’s great that there are bands that I like – even like a lot – out
there, but I’m looking for one that will be an overwhelming passion.
Is that so wrong?
 How much of a minority was the SCI crowd? I had a 5th row seat.
During SCI, my row was half full at best. Panic saw an overflow crowd
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New
Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of
live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the
same. His Phish stats website is atwww.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html
and he was the stats section editor forThe Phish Companion.