“It’s Only Bluegrass”, A Look into Yonder Mountain String Band... - OurVinyl
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“It’s Only Bluegrass”, A Look into Yonder Mountain String Band

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Cleveland, Ohio, November 3, 2011 – You’re standing in the pit of The House of Blues, contently jammed in the revving engine of Bluegrass. Enjoying the delight of a cold beer (or whiskey), you notice a pretty girl dancing in front of you. When suddenly, the tempo picks up, and that seemingly innocent girl in the prairie dress turns around and throws a reckoning punch to your face, you know… you’re at a Yonder Mountain show. It seems Yonder has yet to pass through Ohio of late without stirring up a cloud of energy that often leads to all-out fan on fan brawls. By now, these guys are used to the spectacle effect they can have on a crowd. Having dominating the scene for over ten years, one can only assume they’ve seen their fair share of fights over time. But what is it these guys are doing that causes such a stir? Perhaps it’s the whirling crescendos of strings, or the fast paced kick-in-the-ass tempo they maintain, or maybe it’s their ability to take any song and break your heart with riveting execution. Whatever the reason… in the wise words of Jeff Austin, “It’s only Bluegrass… don’t take it so seriously”.

Yonder Mountain has always played by their own rules, winning the hearts of many with their repertoire of melodious melancholy, and their ability to strike a fire beneath your feet so hot that no one is bound to the floor. They will rock you to your core with illimitable tunes and covers, safely separating them from any known class of Bluegrass today. They are undefined, and it appears that’s just the way they want it. Over the years, fans have witnessed the fast progression of this quartet, from their earlier years of Elevation, to their recent experiment The Show. Yonder appears to be getting more and more comfortable in their own Bluegrass skin, and it’s apparent these guys are better than ever as spectators watch Ben, Dave, Adam and Jeff crack jokes, laugh, and get along with each other on stage. They constantly emanate a friendly charisma, which causes one to only love this group of fun-loving guys more and more. But make no mistake, Yonder is more established and refined than ever, and only continue to settle comfortably into their rightfully earned place in the music scene.

Yonder Mountain String Band – River by Yonderharvestfestival

All their hard work and effort have pushed this powerhouse of strings to where, one can only imagine, is right where they could ever have hoped to be. With extremely dedicated followers of Kinfolk, and a plethora of fans that traverse the Jam-Band and Electronic spheres into their home court, YMSB isn’t slowing down. Live shows are where they dominate as this is when one can truly witness the strengths and abilities that they possess. They will dazzle you with all of their Yonder quirks, and consume you whole with their unique improvisational wonderment. They will push you to the limits as they throw down covers of legendary musicians from The Grateful Dead, John Hartford, and Bad Livers, to The Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, and Misfits. These guys do it all, and they do it so well, one (like myself) can’t help but constantly think… “They should totally cover this song” or “I bet Yonder would do a mean cover of that”.  Maybe that’s just me, but I go through my day to day life imagining an orchestration of extreme detail in each song I play…”what would it sound like if Yonder covered this song, or that song?”

Their diverse nature is what pushes them into the realm of what you might call “Hardcore Bluegrass”. With Dave’s fast picking abilities, Adam’s ripping fluctuations up and down the fret board, Ben’s heart pounding bass lines, and Jeff’s wild mentalities (what I liked to call “Jeffisms”) in vocals as well as mandolin, they are sure to take a song and turn it into something entirely new and different, something that slaps you in the face with utter satisfaction. But don’t let their uplifting and heartwarming songs fool you. I call it “The Dark Side of the Mountain”, because hidden beneath much of their repertoire are hardship, pain, and madness. Songs like “Follow Me Down to the Riverside” are actually taking on traditional Bluegrass songs about murdering a cheating wife, shooting her down, and in this particular one, feeding her to the pigs. Jeff will wail the song with such force and intensity, one can’t help but be mesmerized, and slightly frightened by the mad man glare in his eyes, and his devilish picking of the trusty mandolin in his hands.

Their recent show in Cleveland at The House of Blues was yet another fine example of Ohio living up to their rowdy reputation. Joined by The Infamous Stringdusters, they put on what any Yonder fan could call the ultimate jam-packed show of all their Yonder potential. In no way was the set lacking. The boys took us back to the old days with songs like Left Me in a Hole, Hill Country Girl, and Bolton Stretch, reminded us of the present with new songs like Little Lover, and enticed us with everything in between. Of course we would expect nothing less, when a serious collaboration with their good friends the “Dusters” ensued. Bringing out Chris Pandolfi on banjo and Andy Hall on dobro, they crushed If You’re Ever in Oklahoma, and with Andy Falco on guitar & Jeremey Garret on fiddle they riveted the audience with one of  the best Looking Back Over My Shoulder’s this author has seen, straight into >Southern Flavor.

Towards the end of the set, as the boys dove into the classic mash-up, Peace of Mind> Girlfriend Is Better> Peace of Mind, not surprisingly, a fight was stirred up. This resulted in a quick tease of Give Peace a Chance before proclaiming that they too were scrappers, and you didn’t want them coming down into the ring.

A momentary break before the encore, they emerged again on stage promising to play another song, and if the crowd stopped fighting, they’d play two. Ben joked about how hardcore they were, and Jeff put on his “Why I oughta” voice as he cracked remarks. Sometimes one wonders if YMSB is really a Bluegrass band or a gang of standup comedians who just happen to shred string instruments at tremendous speed. Often times, just their banter is enough to make any fan in attendance happy. Adam ripped into what sounded like a brief death metal rift before bringing it to a halt saying, “What was I doing? I’m not trying to provoke the fight!” After a classic Criminal, they played Yes She Do (No She Don’t), even though the fighting didn’t stop. The show ended as Jeff declared the winner of the night’s T.K.O. the Yonder Mountain String Band, sending us off with a farewell “Let’s get ready to rumble!”, and goodnight.

Yonder has recently announced their Cabin Fever 2012 tour dates, and sure enough, Columbus, Ohio is on the list. Usually each February the boys rock Promowest at The LC, but this time, they return to the historic Newport Music Hall for what is sure to be another fine example of Ohio’s raucous Bluegrass lovin’ nature. Complete tour dates at YonderMountain.com

By Alicyn Lane