String Cheese Incident’s Kyle Hollingsworth brings solo project to Aspen
IF YOU GO …
Who: Kyle Hollingsworth Band
Where: Belly Up Aspen
When: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 9 p.m.
How much: $15
Tickets: Belly Up box office; bellyupaspen.com
Coming off a monumental three-night celebration of the String Cheese Incident’s 25th anniversary at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield, the beloved Colorado-based jam band’s keyboardist is coming up to the mountains for some decidedly more intimate evenings.
The Kyle Hollingsworth Band’s mountain town tour comes to Belly Up Aspen today, followed by bar and club shows in Steamboat Springs, Avon and Crested Butte.
Early on, of course, String Cheese played these kinds of small rooms constantly. It’s where they honed their inventive jam-based sound, their unrestrained live shows and where they first found their tribe of fans. Hollingsworth recalled playing one of his early shows with String Cheese at the old Howling Wolf here in Aspen. Staying connected to those gritty roots, he said, feels right.
“I like to be right up there in the old clubs again, right in their faces with the people sweating and dropping their drinks all over my brand new keyboard,” he said in a phone interview from Boulder on Monday. “It’s awesome.”
These days, as Colorado music royalty and jam band-scene stalwarts, that’s a rare opportunity. The band’s 25th anniversary New Year’s shows on the Front Range included special guests like bluegrass master Sam Bush, pedal steel great Robert Randolph and New Orleans funk bandleader Ivan Neville. String Cheese played three sets on New Year’s Eve. And the band has a big year ahead celebrating the anniversary, including three-night runs of concerts in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe and two nights in New Orleans and St. Louis.
The relative modesty of this kind of solo tour — playing smaller rooms, lugging gear without String Cheese’s teams of roadies and tractor-trailers — is a welcome change of pace for the keyboardist.
“It is a lot of work, but it’s a work that I love,” Hollingsworth said. “So it’s fun. It’s more intimate.”
String Cheese has a notoriously close connection with its devoted fan base. But the one-on-one contact of a mountain town tour like this one offers Hollingsworth something he can’t find playing arenas and festivals.
“We play the 1st Bank Center and we’re like, ‘Oh, the fans are out there and we love them and we feel their energy,’” he said. “But you don’t get to talk with them after the show. That rapport is nice.”
Hollingsworth released his fourth solo album, “50,” in April, coinciding with his 50th birthday.
He made the record in between String Cheese sessions at the band’s studio — dubbed, “The Lab” — in Louisville. Somehow, in the midst of the band’s prolific recent recording and release schedule and tours, Hollingsworth found time and creative energy to make a record with his solo band.
“String Cheese would go away and I’d come back at 2 in the morning and play and then the next day String Cheese would come back,” he said with a laugh.
Over a handful of what he called “recording jaunts” sneaking into The Lab, he surprised himself by making a whole album.
“I wasn’t thinking it was going to be an album at first,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Let’s play a song and then release it one at a time.’ But by the time we got to the end I said, ‘Gosh, we’ve got 13 songs. Let’s make it an album.’”
The solo work, he said, gives him the chance to explore some ideas outside of the String Cheese realm and write songs outside of the democratic String Cheese style.
“Everyone has a voice in String Cheese, which is what makes us who we are,” he said. “On a solo project I’m able to control a little bit more, explore more sonically and in songwriting.”
For example, he said, the bright and jaunty “Tumbling” from the new record grew out of playing around at The Lab trying to emulate the peppy pop sound of Vampire Weekend. That’d be a hard sell for Hollingsworth’s String Cheese bandmates.
“If I brought that to (String Cheese singer-guitarist) Billy Nershi, he’d be like, ‘I don’t know who Vampire Weekend is,’” Hollingsworth said with a laugh. “I’m able to kind of explore different sounds and with songwriting itself.”
At the solo shows, he pulls songs from his solo catalog and usually plays a few String Cheese songs.
Hollingsworth has lived in Colorado since 1993. He first made his way out here on a working on a crew building sections of the Colorado Trail. Mountain adventures, wild places and “that big bluebird sky,” he said, are inextricably linked to his creative life. They have instilled a fearlessness in him, whether he’s writing music, skiing, brewing beer or playing a show.
“We’re adventurous people in Colorado,” he said. “So when I play music I’m ready to take chances. I’m ready to jump off that cliff. And sometimes, it’s the best run of your life. Sometimes it’s the best beer I’ve ever made. Or it’s the worst. It can be the best solo I ever take or the worst. We take chances.”
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The Belly Up Aspen owner on Thursday told members of the Pitkin County Board of Health he’s committed to ensuring that 80% of his customers each night will be vaccinated.