Kyle Hollingsworth kicks off Chili Pepper & Brew Fest |

Kyle Hollingsworth kicks off Chili Pepper & Brew Fest

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
C. Taylor CrothersKyle Hollingsworth brings his band to the Chili Pepper & Brew Fest Friday in Snowmass Village.

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Consider for a moment that Kyle Hollingsworth might be the absolute perfect musician to appear at the Snowmass Village Chili Pepper & Brew Fest.Over its six-year history, the festival has established a reputation for musical diversity, presenting bluegrass, funk, rock and reggae acts. Hollingsworth, as a member of Colorado’s String Cheese Incident, has embraced all those styles. The one genre that has gone over particularly well at Chili Pepper & Brew Fest has been jazz-groove – witness last year’s performance by Particle. Not only does the Kyle Hollingsworth Band – which opens the festival Friday, with a 6:30 p.m. performance – specialize in danceable grooves, but their special guest for the set, String Cheese mandolinist Michael Kang, added extra zing to last year’s Particle show.A Maryland native, Hollingsworth moved to Colorado in 1993 to be closer to nature. No doubt he will appreciate the Chili Pepper & Brew Fest’s mountainside setting.And while most musicians spend their off-stage time tucked away from the rest of the event, Hollingsworth will join the crowd in another aspect of the Chili Pepper & Brew Fest party: the beer. An avid home-brewer, Hollingsworth recently turned pro. Mountain Sun Pub & Brewery, in Hollingsworth’s adopted hometown of Boulder, recently released a beer of Hollingsworth’s own creation, Hoppingsworth IPA. Friday, when not on stage, Hollingsworth can be found at the booth of Escondido, California’s Stone Brewery, where he will sign copies of his recent album, “Then There’s Now,” participate in the tastings of beer from the 52 breweries represented at this weekend’s event, and introduce drinkers to his personal brew.As he has grown more serious about brewing, Hollingsworth has noticed a sympathy between music and beer-making. In both activities, there is a moment that calls for the improvisational spirit.”When I brew, I have the basics under my fingers – just like I know the music when I’m playing keyboards,” the 42-year-old said by phone. “But there’s one moment, for about 15 minutes, when you can go for it – I’ll add cinnamon, or more hops. And sometimes it sucks, and the beer tastes awful. And sometimes it’s great. And I really love that connection to music.”Hollingsworth recently finished the weeks-long Rock and Brew Tour that included standard concerts, as well as stops at breweries where his band would play a few songs and meet with fellow beer-makers and beer-drinkers. On July 22 in Denver he will host the first Kyle’s Brew Fest, a benefit for the Conscious Alliance that will feature a set by KBH and malt products from 10 breweries.Hollingsworth didn’t mention his views on chili. So let’s assume that, like any ordinary human, he’ll be feasting on the samples of green and red, as well as salsas, doing battle in Friday’s Hot Times Regional Chili Cook-Off. ••••Hollingsworth had to improvise his way into music from the start. He says he was “forced” to take piano lessons as a kid in Baltimore, but found formal lessons to be a drag. But Hollingsworth was also a child actor looking for more ways to get on-stage. And there was music in his head that he wanted to translate into actual sounds. He says he “found his interest not through lessons, but by sitting down and making friends with the piano.” At Maryland’s Towson State University, Hollingsworth continued down the improvisation route by studying jazz.He was lured to Colorado by the prospect of exploring the outdoors, and did work on the Colorado Trail. Once settled in Boulder, the first musical connection he made was with drummer Dave Watts, who introduced Hollingsworth to a group of Crested Butte players who were starting a band, the String Cheese Incident, that mixed bluegrass, funk and more. String Cheese invited Hollingsworth’s band, Durt, to open a show; the next night, String Cheese invited Hollingsworth to ditch his band altogether, and become their keyboardist. Durt canceled their upcoming shows, and within a week, Hollingsworth found himself on tour as a member of String Cheese.It was a new, and not especially easy assignment for the keyboardist, who remembers thinking, “Wow, how do I approach bluegrass?” At least part of the answer was, he didn’t really need to. String Cheese was interested in using bluegrass as one of several foundations to create a wide-spanning form of jam music. But bluegrass was definitely prominent in String Cheese’s sound, and Hollingsworth was determined to find a place for himself when the band played acoustic-leaning songs like the Stanley Brothers’ “How Mountain Girls Can Love” and Tim O’Brien’s “Land’s End.””I spoke with Bla Fleck. And the keyboard player from [banjoist] Alison Brown’s band, and he said, Approach it like bebop,” Hollingsworth said. “I went, Oh, then went and brushed up on all this bebop which I wasn’t so on top of to begin with.”Ultimately, he found the String Cheese style perfectly suited to his sensibilities. He was able to explore bluegrass and country, and there was room for him to contribute touches of Latin and funk through songs that he wrote, including “Latinissimo” and “Galactic.” In time, String Cheese became a jam band on a grand scale, headlining at Red Rocks and topping the bill at major American festivals.”As a musician, this has been the best gig ever,” Hollingsworth said. “It wasn’t just bluegrass or jazz or funk. It was every musical genre. It’s been great for me.”But just as String Cheese squeezed in every genre there is, they also tried to fit all aspects of their operation, from travel to ticketing, on the backs of the band. In 2008, amidst some creative differences between those who wanted to play rootsier, more acoustic music and those who wanted to reach further into the electronic realm, they went on hiatus.Hollingsworth chalks the time off to a simple “need for vacation, need for a break. We wanted to step away from such a big machine. There were a lot of things on our shoulders. We were everything from a ticketing agency to a travel agency. We needed a break from that, and from each other.”In 2009, String Cheese played just one date, at Michigan’s Rothbury Festival, but the idea that the players simply needed a break seems to be an honest one. There are a handful of dates for this year, including a three-night Red Rocks run next month that has sold out, and two just-announced Halloween shows in Virginia. Hollingsworth says that is just a taste of what lies ahead, and that 2011 should be a happy year for the six-piece band and its fans.”We’re basically back in,” Hollingsworth said, adding that String Cheese is about to begin a regimen of five-hour-a-day rehearsals for two months. “I don’t know how many shows a year. But we’re very ready to start it back up.”••••While Hollingsworth sounds eager to get String Cheese Incident up to full throttle, he hasn’t been without an artistic outlet. He started his own group, wh–ich goes by either the Kyle Hollingsworth Band or KBH – “I think it’s cooler when you say KBH,” he said – nearly a decade ago, when String Cheese was in high gear. The band, which has included his old friend Dave Watts as the steady drummer, gave Hollingsworth a chance to delve into the jazz-funk that is his fort. Perhaps more important, it allowed him a channel where his ideas weren’t routed through five other musicians.”Sometimes with String Cheese you had to share the community space. It was a democracy, and you had your moment to speak,” he said. “But everyone else also had a lot more to say. This allowed me to be more of a leader. It makes me feel better to bring my ideas straight to the table, and not have them picked apart. I like exploring my own muse.” The current lineup includes Garrett Sayers, the bassist from Watts’ band, the Motet; and guitarist Dan Schwindt, who joined a year ago; as well as Watts, and Kang sitting in.Hollingsworth has been a part of additional projects outside of String Cheese. He has a funk/hip-hop group, soleside, with DJ Logic and rapper Speech, from Arrested Development. He has toured with bands led by Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh and by Head Hunters drummer Mike Clark. Hollingsworth also composes music for video games.KBH, however, has received sustained, focused attention at this point. In 2004, Hollingsworth released his first solo album, “Never Odd or Even,” an instrumental album that featured Watts, plus guests including saxophonist Joshua Redman and steel guitarist Robert Randolph. Last year he followed with “Then There’s Now,” which spotlights Hollingsworth’s abilities as a singer and songwriter, and which he compares to something that G. Love or Beck would come up with. Hollingsworth says the album was inspired largely by his 2-year-old daughter, and his status as a new dad.A few days before the Chili Pepper & Brew Fest, Hollingsworth was making up the set list for the show. And while he was enjoying the task, it seemed he had a lot to consider. Thanks to the presence of Kang, he could include a few String Cheese tunes. He wanted a balance of vocal and instrumental numbers; and wanted to throw in a few covers the crowd would never suspect. (Recent shows have included versions of songs by Led Zeppelin, Paul Simon, the Beatles and Black Sabbath.) It seemed an extensive repertoire, with a lot of stylistic ground covered, and Hollingsworth was satisfied that he has fashioned a personality apart from String Cheese.”It’s not just a pick-up band anymore. It’s a cohesive unit,” he said of his own group. “I definitely say we’ve become a band. We’re speaking each other’s language.”

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