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Published: 2014/08/08
by Sam D'Arcangelo

Electric Forest Reflections with The String Cheese Incident

There really isn’t another festival quite like Electric Forest. With a picturesque setting, eclectic lineups and a jaw-dropping psychedelic wonderland at the heart of the festival grounds, it’s no wonder the event has been a hit since its inception. There really isn’t a band like The String Cheese Incident either. With shows that seamlessly move from bluegrass to EDM and everything in between, you’d have a hard time finding a more versatile act on the scene today. Yet despite that versatility, it was still something of a shock when Electric Forest announced that SCI would be teaming up with Ms. Lauryn Hill for an unprecedented collaborative set at this year’s festival.

No one really knew what to expect from the Ms. Lauryn Hill Incident, and with good reason. Cheese have mastered a lot of styles but hip-hop isn’t really one of them—you can debate whether or not Jason Hann’s “Sirens” rap counts in the comments section—so there were a lot of doubts about how their sounds would mesh. On top of that, Hill has a mixed reputation when it comes to punctuality, which led many to wonder if enough preparation would go into the one-of-a-kind performance.

All of these doubts melted away the moment Hill and her bandmates took the stage in front of an utterly mesmerized crowd that was still reeling from a spectacular onslaught of confetti, fireworks and other shenanigans. From the first note of Stevie Wonder’s “For Once In My Life” to the cover of Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” that closed out the night, the stars seemed to align in just the right way. It was a truly unforgettable show that definitively silenced the haters and took the magic of Electric Forest to another level.

I caught up with all of the String Cheese guys the following day to get some insights on the Ms. Lauryn Hill Incident and talk about the reaction to their latest album, the prospect of a new record, the future of Hulaween and more.

The Lauryn Hill Incident. I’ll admit I was a little skeptical, but any reservations I had going in were completely gone after the first song. What kind of preparations went into this?

Michael Kang: In short, we had an idea—her band was on tour, so they were kind of busy—and we had an idea of a few songs. Then some other song ideas trickled in on the last day or the day before, and then we all kind of got together in one long marathon rehearsal and hashed it all out. There were a fair amount of hours that went into the whole thing.

Bill Nershi: Yeah, we had a couple of days of rehearsal of the tunes that we got initially. So we had a couple of days back home in Colorado of just playing those tunes, and then when she came in, she was like, “Do you guys know this one and that one?” We tried to pick up as many tunes as we could. Some that she wanted to do, we just went out there and jammed with those guys—on some of the Fugee tunes, stuff like that. So we learned as much as we could, we spent a lot of time, and then some of it was just like on the spot jamming.

It was reggae, it was soul, it was R&B. What put the emphasis on these sorts of things? What made you guys opt for three Bob Marley tunes?

Kang: I think there was a lot of common ground material wise. And I think yeah, we honestly didn’t really know what we were getting into, and we definitely had trepidations as well, but then in the end it ended up being a super positive, awesome, rich experience. I think she had a great time and all of her band had a great time, and overall it was a total success.

Jason Hann: I think she was also married to a Marley [Rohan]. If you listen to her set, she always has like Bob Marley in her solo sets, so. I think that’s a vibe that she really likes.

Yeah the whole thing worked really well. Going straight from the carnival thing with “Valley of the Jig” into the Lauryn Hill Incident. It was great.

Kyle Hollingsworth: Like Billy was saying earlier we spent a lot of our time outside her being with us. We spent a lot of String Cheese specific time working on it. So I think it all paid off in the end, but we’re all kind of feeling it today. It’s been a long weekend, a little bit.

Hann: When she came in here, she was so super-pro. She knows her music inside and out, she’s so on top of her game, musically.

Kang: She’s really, professionally, like, very—an amazing artist. It was different for us to witness that. It was mind blowing in a lot of ways.

Michael Travis: It was a whole different level.

Nershi: She came in to rehearse and she sang for three straight hours, going over and over stuff, making sure all the parts were right, and going through it again. She was singing her ass off for three hours in practice, then she went out on stage and sang for another two hours.

Hollingsworth: She hears every nuance of what’s going on onstage. She knows exactly what everyone is doing.

Hann: She knows exactly what she wants and knows how to translate that.

Hollingworth: Yeah, whether it’s by touching us on the shoulder, like by telling us the beat on our shoulder.

Hann: Yeah, she’s a killer rapper so she’s super sensitive to like timing and where her thing needs to be to feel right, and she’s super sensitive to melody and harmony.

Kang: She just has like an amazing ability to be a band leader. Even though their set is somewhat scripted, she apparently just changes stuff on the fly. That’s pretty amazing that they can pull that off. They’re an amazing band.

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