Fire On The Mountain: The Apre’s Music Festival

Published on April 19, 2019
All Photos by Emily Takacs (MLE Photography)

The String Cheese Incident is celebrating 25 years of making magic in 2019. Their well thought out incidents to mark the occasion brought them back to the historic town of Aspen, conjuring memories of the I-70 tours from long ago. In that same vein, they brought along some old friends and threw a festival on the mountain.

The weather was phenomenal. The peaks were white, the sky was blue
and the sun was warm and mellow. In classic Cheese tradition, the price for the weekend, if you were so inclined, included lift tickets to ski Aspen.

The festival had impressive acts all weekend. The Main Squeeze and A.L.O sets shined best from the under-card. Musically, the main event was Umphrey’s Mcgee and The String Cheese Incident. However, the musical weekend was every bit about good vibes and the extreme natural beauty.

Umphrey’s McGee headlined the main stage on Thursday night kicking off the festivities with a near flawless performance. The theatrics started innocently enough with a solid “Plunger” opener. By the time the band arrived at the fitting cover of The Police’s “When the World is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around,” nobody cared about their wet socks, as it was apparent this would be an exceptional set. The remainder of the drama unfolded with the band connecting classics with near flawless segues. The dance party ended with a “1348” musical sandwich with “Similar Skin”, “Higgins”, and “The Floor”, all performed with extra mustard before arriving back at “1348”. Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger were electrifying as the band fired on every possible cylinder. The extended “Bird Bath” encore certified the opening night on the mountain gold.

If one was lucky enough to have three hundred smackers in their pocket following Umphrey’s musical masterpiece, they rushed to the intimate Belly Up to witness Cheese’s much anticipated late night show. The packed house was getting their money worth from the first notes of a fiery “Just One Story” that melted into the madness that is “Little Hands”.  Michael Kang’s fiddle made all forget their empty pockets and wet clothes as all was right in the warm confines of the club. The first stanza ended with an unusual but effective “Lonesome Fiddle Blues” complete with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” exploding out of the jam, before returning to “Lonesome Fiddle Blues”.

The second set got off to a raucous start with Jason and Michael electrifying the stage with heart attack inducing bass bombs and ritualistic drum session. “Vertigo” melted out of the jam and the rest was pristine Cheese. There may not have been any standing room but there was plenty of room to dance. The boys took the faithful back in time with steller versions of  “Sand Dollar” and a mesmerizing “Shine”. “Quinn the Esquimo” ended the first night of festivities on the highest note! “Come all without, come all within You’ll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn.”
We were all back to where it began, just twenty five years wiser.

The jovial crowd filed out of the club and found their way back to hot tubs, campers and homes. If they were in the same mind-frame as myself, they realized they were running a multi-day marathon and were re-thinking their plan of attack for the next few days. Whether their pleasure was skiing by day or partying all night like “String Cheese” themselves, we all had to ensure we were built to last the weekend.

Saturday morning was a glorious day for hitting the slopes or the sheets. Being a savvy veteran, I witnessed the sun rise then crashed, missing out on a day of riding Aspen’s beautiful runs. When will I ever learn?

Snow was in the forecast while with String Cheese playing on the mountain. Is there a better way to spend an evening than with thousands of your closet friends.

The boys picked up where they left off and set the mountain ablaze. Nothing could have  prepared me for the joy of dancing in the snow to the soundtrack of my life.

The first set included tight versions of coveted tunes.
“Manga” was a perfect opener. Billy soaked up the vibes off the windy mountain and delivered flawless versions of “Texas” and “Barstool.” The music got cheesy with an extended “Colliding” closing out the first half.

The remainder of the night was perfection with snow falling through the notes blasting from the stage. Each song bled into the next with a funky “Shantytown” stealing the show. Kyle closed the show with an inspired version of “Let’s Go Outside” with his keys covered up to protect it from the elements. The irony wasn’t lost. It was one of those nights you wish you could encapsulate in a snow globe, always ready to shake when life gives you a hard time.

Sunday’s show was by far my favorite with The String Cheese Incident making sure that the weekend ended on a high note. The crowd rejoiced as the opening notes of “Birdland” flowed their way up the mountain. The first set could not have been any better if I had penciled it myself. Kang delivered a historic “These Waves” into a funky “Djibouti Bump”. After a solid “Rhythm of the Road”, the whole mountain made a “Joyful Sound” that rumbled it’s way into our hearts and souls.

ALO joined the band for a corking cover of Jimmy Cliff’s classic “Harder They Come”. The festival ended with a musical roller coaster in the form “Howard” book-ending the remainder of the electrified set. The encore of “Colorado Bluebird Sky” was an easy call with the dedicated fans dancing and celebrating their band underneath a wondrous sky.  It felt as good as it did when this train of love first got rolling so many years ago.

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