Fans of The String Cheese Incident will have a chance to see the jam-band perform live once again Oct. 16 at Castaways. Well, almost live.
The band will appear in Ithaca virtually. The concert, “Hi-Def From Red Rocks,” features life-size, high-definition screens that will reproduce the band’s farewell performance at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado last summer. Thursday’s show is part of a new national service called Virtual Venues Network, which uses HD technology to recreate concerts at smaller venues across the country.
Michael Horne, a former club owner, founded Virtual Venues in March but has been using similar technology to stage virtual shows for nearly a decade. His first foray into the virtual-concert industry was inspired by a Rolling Stones show he attended eight years ago, around the time that HD screens were first being used at large, arena-style concerts to replicate the action onstage.
He and his friends were seated too far back to clearly make out the band and relied on the monitors to see what was going on.
“Mick was running around, looking like he was 2 inches tall, but we were all watching the big screen,” Horne said. “We realized that everybody there had basically paid 180 bucks to watch TV.”
Will Fox, Castaway’s head of promotion and publicity, said he is excited to see how Virtual Venues will use HD projectors to re-enact the String Cheese concert.
“It’s going to be great because it’s going to present Ithaca, a small market, with a major market show,” he said. “It’s a huge show experience in a night club, which you never get.”
Horne said before starting Virtual Venues, he knew virtual concerts had plenty of potential but wasn’t sure that he could recreate the concert experience without a band.
“We thought, ‘Can people dance to a movie screen?’” Horne said. “Can we really create that live ambience?”
The first virtual concert Horne put on at his club in Santa Cruz, Calif., featured unseen live footage of the band Widespread Panic. He said the turnout surpassed his every expectation.
“We put it in the club, thinking we’d sell 60 or 70 seats, and we sold 680,” Horne said. “After about 15 minutes of disconnect, the floor was packed and full.”
Fox said working with Virtual Venues will be a pleasant departure from catering to live bands.
“There’s no artists, no egos to massage,” Fox said.
As he began to host successful virtual concerts across the country, Horne said he became more familiar with the challenges that face his particular niche of the live music industry.
“The hump [to get over] is to get people to be open to it,” Horne said. “They think, ‘Well, it’s not really live. Is it cheesy?’”
Freshman Andy Salkin, a long-time fan of The String Cheese Incident, said he intends to check out Thursday’s show but doesn’t think it could have the same impact as seeing the band live.
“Regardless of how good the footage looks, I just can’t imagine it’s as good as when the band is right there, onstage,” Salkin said.
Horne responds to skeptics by pointing out that if String Cheese were to release the Red Rocks concert in theaters, plenty of “cheeseheads” would go see it.
“We’re just moving it to the club, with alcohol and loud sound,” he said.
Megan McFann, The String Cheese Incident’s publicist, said virtual tours are beneficial for the band as well because its members receive much of the exposure and compensation of a full tour for doing just one concert.
“They played the shows,” McFann said. “But somebody else recorded it and made a movie out of it.”
McFann said those who missed The String Cheese Incident show at Red Rocks will have a great opportunity to see one of the band’s better performances.
“It was a special time for the band and for their fans,” McFann said.
Horne said seeing The String Cheese Incident at Castaways
will be closer to the real live experience than any other kind of digital representation.
“It’s the community thing,” Horne said. “At the end of the day, watching live concerts on your computer, your television set or your cell phone is not the rock ‘n’ roll experience.”
“Hi-Def From Red Rocks” will be screened at 8 p.m. Oct. 16 at Castaways. Tickets for students are $8.