Words & Images by Jesse R. Borrell
Yonder Mountain String Band :: 06.11.08 :: Ridgefield Playhouse :: Ridgefield, CT
With a seating capacity of just under 500, a performance at the Ridgefield Playhouse can be a very intimate experience. Just as their summer tour is in the beginning stages, Yonder Mountain String Band returned to the lush landscapes of New England for a second year in a row.
As with most Yonder shows, the first songs were short and sweet with much stage banter in between. "Sideshow Blues" showcased Adam Aijala's guitar prowess, sliding up and down the neck with effortless and free flowing grace during the show's first solo. Jeff Austin (mandolin) gave the crowd its first laugh when he furiously ad-libbed the lyrics, "While I'm out in this tent with these freaks and musicians/ I'm moaning them Sideshow Blues!/ All of you freaks!/ That's right, all of you!"
Performing gems like "Cooked Hitch" and "Belle Parker," the guys used the beginning of the set to warm up their chops and to get the crowd acquainted with their unique form of freestyle jamgrass. After a brief introduction to the song's background, Ben Kaufmann started "My Gal" a cappella while perched next to his stand-up bass. Between every verse, the guys would slowly build upon the song's structure by adding each of their instruments at key moments to emphasize a slow progression. As each man took time to individually shine, it seemed they came together to complete the whole song seamlessly.
In usual Yonder fashion, the ending of the first set was by far the most impressive. A smooth transition from well-structured instrumental "Elzic's Farewell" into "Dawn's Early Light" showcased how easily the audience could be lured in by Austin's storytelling. As the story of murder and revenge unfolded, the crowd seemed to give their legs a rest in order to listen intently:
They flipped a coin. Down to their fate decide
Which one would come and murder me?
By the dawn's early light, oh, I'm gonna saddle up and ride
By the dawn's early light, ride through the night
As "Dawn's Early Light" transitioned into "Freeborn Man," our bodies were lifted out of their trance-like state and we were off to the races once again.
|Ben Kaufmann - YMSB :: 06.11 :: Ridgefield, CT|
The second set started with "Lord Only Knows," a heartfelt song that reiterates one of YMSB's basic ideals: life as a journey. Dave Johnston, with precise picking on his Mastertone banjo, took the lead as they manically transitioned into a similarly themed "Rambler's Anthem." The reggae-influenced "Two Hits and The Joint Turned Brown" turned the tables on the audience, emphasizing slow, emphatic grooves in contrast with the usual fast-paced tempos. As Kaufmann took the reins for an extended dub bass solo, the journey somehow segued into "If There's Still Ramblin' In A Rambler (Let Him Go)." With smirks upon their faces, the boys had their intentions set on a shared drink and some words of advice.
He'll break your heart in two, and after that he still ain't through
If there's still ramblin' in the rambler let him go
Wonderin' if the car is wrecked, if he's dead or not
He'll meet you at the ballet after just one more Jagermeister shot!
During "Looking Back Over My Shoulder," the standing room in the front of the stage seemed to get a little more crowded. In most cases this could be viewed as a bad thing, but as you looked around most of the Yonder-folk were familiar with the lyrics and had wide, infectious smiles to match their gyrating bodies.
"Wind's On Fire" gave the venue some breathing room as it slowly beckoned within Johnston's drawl and Aijala's delicate fingerpicking. "Angel" featured some new technology that has recently graced Yonder's stage show: tonal effects. In the middle of the song, Austin flicked a switch and his mandolin suddenly emanated with a thick buzz. With some added heaviness, Austin emerged as if he was on some hellish mission from below, rocking back and forth in a feverish manner as if to save those poor souls who lay before him.
|Jeff Austin - YMSB :: 06.11 :: Ridgefield, CT|
As the familiar licks of "Traffic Jam" began, all hell broke loose. At one point, the jam fell to the floor and was caught by the rhythmic clapping of the crowd, only to rebuild itself to a peak with a quick construction of layers. It was as if there was no stopping the roaring train before us, even though we may have heard it all before.
There is something about just being part of the light at a Yonder show. There is something about the music that just reaches within you and brings the best parts out. I sure hope they come again next year for another round of straight YMSB business.
06.11.08 :: Ridgefield Playhouse :: Ridgefield, CT
Set 1: Sideshow Blues, Fun Time, Idaho, Crooked Hitch, Belle Parker, You're No Good, Free To Run, My Gal, Fastball, Classic Situation, Things You're Selling, Elzic's Farewell > Dawn's Early Light > Freeborn Man
Set 2: Lord Only Knows > Rambler's Anthem > Two Hits and The Joint Turned Brown > If There's Still Ramblin' In A Rambler (Let Him Go), Lord Only Knows, New Deal Train, Half Moon Rising, Another Day, Looking Back Over My Shoulder, Wind's On Fire, Angel, Traffic Jam > No Expectations > Traffic Jam
Encore: Going Up, Old Plank Road
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