Yonder Mountain String Band brought their jammed out bluegrass to Columbus, OH last Thursday. The band and the fans were on their A-game; as Jeff Austin put it, “you guys are crazy!”
The first thing that stood out was that the LC Indoors was a great venue for Yonder to perform at; there was plenty of room to dance and fans could move around the venue without any problem. When it came to the sound in the LC, the huge warehouse-esque room seemed ringy and didn’t have the best acoustics for a string band, but overall there was a good mix and every part was distinguishable.
The stage set-up was simple but fitting. The four band members stand straight across the stage with about 6 feet in between them. On the LC stage (which flips around for outdoor shows) the high ceiling left the guys looking like monuments. Rather than having a complicated light set up, there were colored spotlights on the stage and that was about it. They were well run and just enough to compliment the music without being too complicated. The real surprise came with the strobe lights. There’s something you don’t see at a bluegrass show very often…
…But, that’s what Yonder does. They don’t stick to the rules of one genre. Rock, blues, and jam music all have a noteworthy influence on Yonder’s style, making the title of “bluegrass” seem too vague a description for their sound. They bring the improvisational oomph of a jam band to the stage, with their ability to change things up, jam into other songs, and feed on the crowd. They allow their punk and alt-rock influences to form a more modern style of bluegrass when it all melts together, differentiating them from any other “bluegrass” band in the scene. Their blend of roots and danceable rock are what have gotten them to places most other bluegrass bands don’t try to go to (All Good 2010 Late Night… what a show!).
The band didn’t waste any time getting the crowd to dance to the uptempo banjo-picking, starting the show with Out of the Blue. They went old school with Rag Mama and then featured the incredible Ed Carner on fiddle for A Father’s Arms. Yonder brought up the energy with Red Rocking Chair and continued to play faster dancey songs, even teasing a little polka (Polka On A Banjo) and Grateful Dead (Althea). Mandolin player Jeff Austin was strumming, headbanging, and singing his heart out on Ruby. The band’s speed is incredible, and props are due to banjo player Dave Johnston who was playing with his right hand in a cast. The stand-up bass, played by Ben Kaufmann, stood out on Sometimes I’ve Won. The band brought it down for How ‘Bout You and as the set went on the jams got longer and longer. They wrapped the first set with Illinois Rain into Troubled Mind back into Illinois Rain.
Early in the second set, Austin told the crowd they were holding up their reputation as one of the craziest he’s seen. Rumor has it, when Yonder played a two-night set at the Newport in Columbus in 2006, the Newport saw record liquor sales. The crowd at the LC was rowdy for a Thursday night but most fans seemed to keep it under control and there were good vibes all around.
Set two was loaded with jamming and dancing, and between the string band and the crowd, the LC was filled with an electric energy. Much of the 2nd set was a blur of foot stomping, strobe lights, and bluegrass twang. Snow on the Pines into Follow Me Down to the Riverside and back to Snow on the Pines was the highlight of the night, with an incredible long jam and climactic lights to match. Follow Me Down ended in a climax of bright strobe lights and then it was right back in to the foot stomping of Snow on the Pines. Toward the end, they brought it down and started back up softly with a fresh riff carrying them into Raleigh & Spencer. Lights flashed to the crowd’s calls for an encore and the band quickly came back on stage and honored a request from a fan’s sign: Ooh La La, a Rod Stewart cover YMSB first played on New Year’s Eve 2006.
Bluegrass die hards may knock Yonder by saying they aren’t “true bluegrass”, with their rock guitar solos and improved peaks and jams. While they may not be the most old fashioned musicians, the way that they’ve added a modern twist to an old style of music is refreshing and it’s good to see, in an age of electronic music, how far good old fashioned musicianship has progressed.
Set 1: Out Of The Blue, Rag Mama, A Father’s Arms(1), Red Rocking Chair, Polka On A Banjo, Althea, Another Day, Ruby, Sometimes I’ve Won, Not Far Away, How Bout You, It’s All Too Much, Illinois Rain> Troubled Mind> Illinois Rain
Set 2: Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down, Honestly> Casualty> Train Bound For Gloryland> Honestly, Ripcord Blues, Nothin But Nothin> 2 Hots & The Joint Turned Brown, Damned If The Right One Didn’t Go Wrong, Part 1> Fingerprint> Snow On The Pines> Follow Me Down To The Riverside> Snow On The Pines> Raleigh & Spencer E: Ooh La La, 20 Eyes