Kyle Hollingsworth and his bandmates in The String Cheese Incident had been on tour for a solid decade. They needed a break, so they took 6 months off. Then, live music itself took a break for the foreseeable future.
“Ironic, isn’t it?,” Hollingsworth said in an interview for BandWagon. “We were on our 25th anniversary last year. We hadn’t taken a break in 10 years. We said ‘let’s just take 6 months off.’ Within that 6 months, the pandemic hit.”
This was good timing in some ways (they saved enough to survive that 6 months) but that 6 months is more like 10 now, and the daunting absence of full-on touring with a jam-band giant wasn’t the only thing Hollingsworth had on the line as COVID-19 put the music industry to the test.
In February, he released his 5th solo record, 2020 (a weightier title now), with excited plans to complete his personal creative cycle by playing live. That screeched to a halt, and it’s been tough.
“I put a lot of creative energy into 2020,” Hollingsworth said. “I did things I would never have done. I was excited to tour around that – to musically make a statement. To then not be able to do that has been a challenge.”
Hollingsworth and his band, KHB did get one big show in before lockdown, but rather than being a voyage kick-off, it ended up as a surprise last-normal-show-maybe-ever. “I played my birthday show / CD release in March,” he stated, “but that was a lifetime ago.”
“The last 6 months have been hard,” Hollingsworth reported, “especially after you put all this creativity and preparation to release an album. It was like ‘OK cool, I got my creative ya-yas out, now let’s go tour it …’ I miss the collaboration.”
But the wake of the live music experience as we knew it has created a unique opportunity for Kyle Hollingsworth Band.
“I just played a venue which String Cheese plays every summer, the Dillon Amphitheatre, which holds about 4,000 people. This year 175 people were allowed in. That was really interesting,” Hollingsworth said of the compact head-count.
The band’s compact size is part of it too. “KHB is just a four piece and one crew guy,” he said. “I bring stripped down gear, and the stages we’re playing; usually bigger bands are playing them, so we’re pretty spread apart. I’m feeling pretty safe about that.”
Safe feelings aside, seasoned performers still get pre-show jitters, though they’re headier concerns now. “There’s lots to be nervous about,” Hollingsworth notes, “but I was more nervous about: what is my moral gauge? Am I OK with getting people together? Am I encouraging [unsafe] social gathering? But then the other part is like: ‘I played this last year, it was totally slammed, sold-out, and people were at the front of the stage screaming. Then I played it this year and they’re like . . . way over there (he laughs).”
But that’s not a let-down for Hollingsworth or his audiences. “They screamed like they were 4,000,” he said. “They were ready to see live music. There is great love for live music and the community it brings, even if it’s from 6 feet away. I saw more people smiling in those two 75 minute sets than I’ve seen in a long time. People were even crying, they were so happy to see music and see friends.”
Still, KHB couldn’t rehearse for their shows in Cheyenne and the Poudre Canyon this month. They used a pre-show soundcheck as the first time they’d played in the same air-space since March. “We talked through all the songs but we hadn’t played for 6 months.” Amazingly, that was better than over-thinking a giant rehearsal, Hollingsworth said. “This group has been together 6 years now. We just went for it and had lots of nice jam spaces, a lot of listening – it was nice to get back into the groove of playing music again.”
On September 11th, Hollingsworth and band will play a socially-distanced Drive-In Theater show at The Chinook in Cheyenne, Wyoming, another first for him. He’s curious about that experience, but knows the audience will feel how thrilled his band is at the opportunity to connect live after so much time. The full-tank of energy after an unexpectedly restful spring and summer will be palpable.
“For us, the joy of just playing music is oozing out of us,” Hollingsworth says. “We’re just, so excited to be playing – it’s shining out of us. We’re bringing great energy. Any time we can get on stage and do what we love to do is awesome, but sometimes after you’ve been doing it all summer, the energy can be low. Right now we’re in this super pocket and it’s coming out really great.”
Kyle Hollingsworth Band plays Friday, September 11 at The Chinook Drive-In on Terry Bison Ranch in Cheyenne, Wyoming, tickets at bluepigpresents.com. His two shows at The Mishawaka Amphitheatre in Bellevue, Colorado September 12 and 13 are sold out.