A Yonder Mountain New Year

By: Dennis Cook

YMSB by Chad Smith
On December 30 and 31, Yonder Mountain String Band will gather at St. Louis, MO's The Pageantwith their faithful Kinfolk to ring in the New Year. The NYE show will feature three sets, including one set suggested entirely by the fans – drop your suggestions at yondermountain.com, phantasytour.com or the band's Facebook or Twitter pages. We grabbed the boys for a few minutes to discuss playing at this special time of year.

JamBase: What is it about New Year's Eve that floats your boat? It is a special time for both bands and fans.

Dave Johnston: New Year's Eve is pretty cool because it's like amateur night [laughs]. There's a lot of electricity and good vibes going on, and we're very receptive to that sort of energy. If you put us in that situation we find it to be a good experiential and musical nexus of propulsion to the next year!

Ben Kaufmann: For me – and I guess everybody – it's a time of reflection or 50-percent reflection, 50-percent looking forward. I get to sit there onstage and think about all the things we've done – all the trials & tribulations overcome, the great successes – and the other part of my brain is looking forward to the next year and the things we're gonna do and the new ideas. It is a very liminal, transitional period of time. I don't know how the calendar worked 2000 years ago but this was the time picked for the changing of the old from the new, and it's a very powerful time.

Adam Aijala: It's also, for a long time now, been a time to let loose, and that definitely goes for bands and fans around the country. There's a bit of reflection but also a good bit of drinking going on. It's always been fun for us. I don't think we've missed a New Year's since we started. It's one of the bigger shows of the year for us just for the fun factor.

JamBase: New Year's Eve is one the core tribe of a band comes out because they want to celebrate with YOU.

Adam: That's probably true. We've done New Year's in St. Louis before but it's been 10 years. Usually we're in our home turf, and it's definitely true there. We also have a good core of fans in the Midwest, so I have a feeling we could be drawing people from as far North as Madison and Milwaukee and East to Indianapolis and people from Champaign, Bend and Chicago, St. Louis folks and Lawrence, KS as well. There's so much music going on that people have their pick.

What do you get out of a multi-night run as band?

YMSB NYE '09 by Tobin Voggesser
Adam: We don't treat it any differently. From night to night, we don't play the same show, whether or not we're in the same town. Our crew, obviously, is thrilled when we do multiple nights in the same city and venue because there's only one load in and load out. For us, the preparation doesn't seem much different. We want to make it unique every night. There are people following us on any given tour and even if it's just one or two dudes you don't want them thinking, "Shit, they did the same tunes last night."

Dave: Let's get this straight: It's not dudes following us, it's hot chicks. This ain't an Umphrey's McGee show. Let's get that clear. I think multi-night is a lot like multi-ball in pinball – more points, more lights, more bumpers, more flippers. I keep pushing for lasers. We all just saw Roger Waters do The Wall. Lasers and bluegrass, I swear it goes together.

Is there any special thought that goes into a New Year's Eve show?

Adam Aijala
by Tobin Voggesser
Adam: This year, we decided to do three sets on New Year's and one of the sets will be built by fans. People can write in on our website, Phantasy Tour or wherever, and we've given them carte blanche to suggest anything they want – things we've forgotten that we play, things they've always wanted us to play, even different jams, different seques. And we've been getting some crazy ideas! The more you sit with them and analyze them, the more cool they seem. Some really good ideas. And I think that's the case with our audience and the audience in this scene. It's a very educated audience musically. They have such a depth of musical knowledge that these people are throwing out things we've heard of but others we need to research. So, this year fans will build their dream setlist, what THEY want to hear, and then it's up to us to bring it.

This shows a respect for your fans, which has been a hallmark of Yonder since the start. You guys really seem to respect the time and money and affection folks invest in YMSB.

Adam: Absolutely! When you're a kid and you tell your parents, "I want to be in a band." Think of the look they give you – that sort of concerned, dropped thing – and now imagine telling them you want to be in a bluegrass band! That's a brown trouser conversation.

Ben: We're constantly amazed at the things we get to do. I think back to all the people along the way who said, "You guys will be limited. This is as big as you'll get," almost in the sense of don't dream too big. That's a horrible thing to suggest to somebody. That being said, when we look back at what we've done and look ahead to the dreams we've yet to accomplish, it's massive. I'm shocked by what we get to do, and it's all because of the fans. If they weren't there we'd be fucked.

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[Published on: 12/17/10]

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