The String Cheese Incident keyboardist and longtime Boulderite Kyle Hollingsworth found his voice over Zoom during the pandemic. Now he—and his fans—couldn’t be happier that the band’s on the road again.

By Dell Bleekman

 

In late November 2019, The String Cheese Incident had just finished a two-night stand at the Mission Ballroom in Denver, the close of an ambitious tour celebrating the band’s 25th anniversary. The plan was to take some time off in early 2020 to regroup and recharge before picking up again in June.

Keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth, a longtime Boulder resident, intended to use the break to take piano lessons, focus on a radio project and generally hone his skills. When Covid closed everything down in mid-March, the band’s short break ballooned into an open-ended chasm.

Kyle Hollingsworth has been playing keyboards for The String Cheese Incident since 1996; Photo by John Verwey.

“Those plans fell to the back burner as I scrambled to figure out what the future would hold,” Hollingsworth says.

Hollingsworth knew connecting to fans through live music was impossible, but maintaining ties with his bandmates was in his power. The band bridged the physical gap with each other and their management through weekly Zoom meetings, continuing the kinship they had built over decades.

“We’d listen to old shows, take notes and talk about how once we’re back together, we’ll make this one song better,” Hollingsworth says. “It was so nice to still have my brothers there.”

Fans were also left wondering about the future. Some musicians were exploring more intimate Zoom performances, and String Cheese fans wanted that, too. Hollingsworth did a few Zoom shows on his own, and a curious thing happened: he found himself in search of a voice.

Pre-pandemic, at live shows with thousands of enthusiastic fans, Hollingsworth had typically offered minimal banter with the crowd, no rehearsed repartee. “I’m the keyboard player,” he says. “I tend to be the quiet one.”

Zoom shows, personal by nature, taught Hollingsworth to be a sole performer. “It’s something I hadn’t previously needed to do,” he says. “Through all this, I learned to speak up.”

 

The String Cheese Incident has played Red Rocks more than 45 times; Photo by John Verwey

Friendly Eyes, Dancing People

In July 2021, when initial vaccination rates looked promising and many believed the pandemic was subsiding, The String Cheese Incident was booked for a two-night stand at Red Rocks as part of an abridged tour.

“We booked it as a socially distanced show,” Hollingsworth says, “but as we got closer to the date, more tickets kept getting released.”

As soon as the band stepped out onto the Red Rocks stage again, they realized live music was back. The energy crackled as Hollingsworth and his bandmates gazed out at the bright red sandstone and more than 9,000 happy fans. “Friendly eyes, dancing people—it was awesome,” he says.

The summer of 2022 is a whole new (old) world. Fox, eTown and Boulder Theater are hosting live shows again. Red Rocks is welcoming capacity crowds again, and The String Cheese Incident is ready to ramp it back up, closing out their summer tour at the fabled amphitheater—which they’ve played more than 45 times—July 15-17. Their fans can’t wait. 

 

The band acknowledges thousands of adoring fans at Red Rocks; Photo by John Verwey

 


 

Boulder Ties

Kyle Hollingsworth moved to Boulder from Baltimore in 1993, looking to pursue music full time.

“I had a jazz piano degree and wanted to be a musician,” Hollingsworth says.

He immersed himself in the local music scene and joined The String Cheese Incident, a jam band out of Telluride and Crested Butte, in 1996.

Now married and raising two children in the Table Mesa neighborhood, Hollingsworth appreciates what Boulder has given him, musically and much more. He and his wife, Tania, are tied into their south Boulder community, taking kids to school and soccer practice, raising chickens, living life.

“Home is Boulder for me,” he says, “and it’s certainly home for my family.”

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