Yonder Mountain String Band
Mishawaka Amphitheatre | Fort Collins, CO | 06.08.02

The Mishawaka Amphitheatre, a gloriously natural work of art, is confined by steep, canyon-esque mountains that rise above each side of the highway and a river that runs through it. It is the type of venue that turns a single show into a festival to remember.

Cars were lined up alongside the narrow mountain road for at least a mile on either side of the venue, echoing the merry sounds of tailgate festivity to compliment the distant roar of the raging Cache de Poudre River flowing in the background. This tiny oasis of a venue, tucked 15 miles up an arid canyon, was packed solid by five in the afternoon. Spread above the tips of the rugged canyon peaks was the smoothest shade of blue to ever grace the Colorado Rockies. And, to top it all off, the entire purpose of being in this beautiful spot was to listen to bluegrass music in the mountains, the very environment from which the genre grew.

Like a match made in heaven, the mountains echoed the beautifully intense, intricately wound, organic bluegrass melodies from the strings onstage and ricocheted throughout the canyon. Although there were several alleged Vince Herman sightings in the “lot” - or Highway 14 West, if you will - having Vince play a few acoustic numbers to warm up the crowd was unexpected yet amiably appropriate. It was even more exciting when he popped up to play a few songs with Yonder Mountain String Band.

Yonder Mountain’s playing itself was clearly inspired by the communal energy and surroundings. Their improvisation came and went like gusts of wind surging through the canyon, hovering over the audience. At times it felt as though the music blended and morphed amongst the geographical elements that formed the setting. YMSB has this wonderful ability to manipulate their jams with agility, moving through space that traditional bluegrass only fringes upon. Their dynamic, being a quartet that doesn’t stray from strings, allows them to really lock into each other’s mind frame and keep everything fresh and interesting in a situation that could produce redundancy. Their songwriting ranges from soulful tunes to fun knee-slapping songs, and they always throw in good covers, whether a frequently played song or something new and fitting. What it all comes down to is that the level of fun they had was simply contagious for the audience, and vice versa, and the outcome was a high-energy night of ripping bluegrass set just deep enough into the mountains.

All in all it was a great night for music. I’m sure the grass was a little more musically fertilized as day broke over Mishawaka Sunday morning. Yonder Mountain and friends nurtured the crowd with lovely music designed for locations of equal beauty. Indoors or out, Yonder Mountain String Band puts an edge on the uniquely standard bluegrass show. Catch them if you can, as they’re leapfrogging from festival to festival until they commence a more consolidated tour in early August. This summer they’ll be hopping on the JamGrass 2002 bandwagon with acts like the David Grisman Quintet, Dark Star Orchestra, Peter Cowan and Tony Rice, Sam Bush and John Cowan.

Ian Koudstaal
JamBase | Colorado
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[Published on: 6/12/02]

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