'Friends of Cheese' imperative

Fans volunteer to promote bands, clean up after concerts

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— When the band The String Cheese Incident strolls into Steamboat Springs for the Independence Incident Music Festival this week, a couple of novel volunteer groups will be ready to lessen the impact the expected 10,000 to 15,000 concert-goers will have on the community.

Longtime String Cheese fan Bret Bailey of Santa Cruz, Calif., is one of the original organizers of the volunteer group Friends of Cheese Community Action Network, which will help clean up the mess at the concert site at Headwall and in the designated campgrounds.

"We are a group of fans of String Cheese who are trying to help the fan community grow in a healthy way and to help leave a good impression on the towns they travel to," Bailey said.

After seeing String Cheese about 45 times in about five years, Bailey grew concerned about the impact the band's growing fan base was having on the towns they visited, and he decided to do something about it.

"What we do now reflects on the other fans and the band," he said.

At a show in San Francisco on New Year's, Bailey said a number of String Cheese fans left their rooms damaged, which created "bad feelings" with the hotel management and employees. Bailey said the incident left an impression on him.

"I found that we weren't making a positive footprint on the community," he said.

That sparked Bailey and friends who follow the band to form a volunteer group called the Action Network.

There are 12 people at the core of the group and 200 who are involved in open discussions about what can be done, Bailey said. Along with setting a good example and keeping an eye out for people acting inappropriately, the group has organized cleanup crews to pick up trash at concert venues and campgrounds where fans are staying.

Their first big success was this spring in Austin, Texas. The work the fans did impressed the venue's keeper, who commended the group in a newspaper article in the Austin American-Statesman.

Pirates aid in success

A big reason for the early success of the Action Network actually can be credited to another volunteer group connected to the band called the Pirates, Bailey said.

The Pirates are 10,000 strong across the United States and range in ages from 16 to 60, said Marcie Vogel, grass-roots promoter for The String Cheese Incident. They are a "street team" of fans across the country who volunteer to post concert leaflets for the band before it comes to or near their hometown.

"I think the Pirates are promoters of the band," Vogel said. "They are not only promoting the shows and the CDs, they promote the energy of the band."

String Cheese Incident concerts, which are dubbed as "incidents," are meant to be forums of self-expression grounded by the music, which is a bluegrass style crossed with world-beat rhythms, she said.

At shows, where thousands of people converge to hear music, Vogel said the Pirates play an important role in introducing first-timers to the atmosphere and keeping tensions down and the environment positive.

The Pirates also are the core volunteers when it's time to pick up after the show.

"This is all so the band is welcomed to come back and play again," Vogel said. "A lot of other bands have a scene that has gone downhill."

Fans help raise funds

String Cheese fan Glenn Fee of Denver, who has seen the band 60 times, also was concerned about the impact the growing fan base was making on the areas they visit. Along with volunteering to help organize the cleanup crew in Steamboat Springs, he has organized a charity group called The WheelOfLifers. In Steamboat, the group will hold an auction fund-raiser called "For a Gouda Future" to raise money for Yampatika and two other environmental education groups in Denver.

At the concerts this week, a booth will be set up to display artwork and various other items that will be auctioned off.

"A strong sense of family is evident among the members of String Cheese Incident and its fans. The WheelOfLifers is a group of Friends of Cheese dedicated to spreading a positive vibe while directly benefiting the communities to which we travel," Fee stated in his newsletter.

Fee told the Steamboat Pilot & Today last week that at all of the shows he has seen at various places, not much attention is given to the communities that host the concerts.

"It does have a big impact when so many people come into a community to party and listen to music," he said.

Fee has organized two similar auctions for local charities at String Cheese shows in Oregon and Costa Rica. The total amount raised was $15,000.

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