Yonder Mountain String Band was back at the Planet Bluegrass Ranch in Lyons, Colorado on September 12th and 13th for their annual Kinfolk Celebration. This celebration of local bands and fans has become such a popular event that the Yonder Boys added an extra night to this year's festival.

Folk rocker Willy Porter got things started on Friday with his one-man guitar act. Though the crowd was just trickling in at the time, Porter played a tight set with a sound much fuller than one would expect from a single guitar. Sounding a bit like John Mayer, Porter's music was a little out of place at a bluegrass festival but it was easy to recognize his talent.

As light began to fade, Yonder took the stage for the first of two weekend performances. With fiddle great Darol Anger in tow, the band played a show full of guest appearances and different combinations of members jamming together. One such combination had guitarist Adam Aijala picking the banjo while bassist Ben Kaufmann sang and played the bouzouki.

One of the most memorable moments of Friday evening's performance was Yonder's Johnny Cash tribute "Ring of Fire" that led into the Three's Company theme song commemorating the life of John Ritter. It sounds a little depressing but the crowd loved it.

That evening, the frigid Colorado air was full of acoustic music from numerous impromptu picks throughout the campground. Fighting numb hands and the effects of cold on stringed instruments, aspiring musicians huddled together with wide grins on their faces. Jeff Austin remarked on Saturday, "you know it's a true festival when you hear pickin' in 38 degree weather."

How do you get the fans to come out early for the show? Give High on the Hog the opening slot and watch as the festival grounds quickly become a dancing mass. A neighbor of Yonder Mountain String Band in Nederland, Colorado, High on the Hog plays traditional American fiddle music, much of it older than bluegrass itself. Their old-time sound, high-energy stage show and willingness to engage with fans made High on the Hog my favorite supporting band at Kinfolk. After their set on the main stage, Hog played in the crowd between acts, repeating last year's extremely popular in-crowd performance.

The Wayfarers filled the second slot on Saturday's schedule with their brand of Irish ballads and jigs. Featuring Jeff Hamer of Single Malt Band on tenor banjo, The Wayfarers brought an international feel to the festival and gave a glimpse of what fans could expect at their upcoming performance at Festival of the Mabon, also at the Planet Bluegrass ranch.

Reeltime Travelers followed with a set of traditional rural music. This band, which had a very strong following at the festival, is comprised of accomplished musicians with roots that run deep within their genre. Producing a sound I would compare to the Carter Family, Reeltime Travelers perform a good mix of covers and original tunes. Guitar player Martha Scanlan is a gifted songwriter whose voice has a haunting blues quality and has won her numerous awards.

Next up was a compilation of musicians from many of the Kinfolk bands playing under the name The String Congress. Darol Anger, Ben Kaufmann, Heidi Andrade, Rushad Eggleston, and Brittany Haas made up this all-star group with the help of many others who sat in from time to time. The String Congress mixed it up a bit incorporating Led Zeppelin guitar riffs into their performance as well as what I believe to be Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee," a classical piece frequently used in motion picture scores (and many cartoons as Kaufmann pointed out).

And finally, Yonder Mountain String Band came on for the closing performance, once again with Darol Anger who sounds much more like a band member than a guest musician. Their first set seemed a little subdued without much jamming and included many of the band's friends including producer Sally Van Meter. Yonder also brought out Benny Galloway, the writer and co-performer of their latest album Old Hands. Much to the amazement of many Yonder fans, I really enjoy when they bring Benny Galloway on stage. This isn't a musician singing about being a cowboy, this is the cowboy who wrote the songs he's singing and that authenticity really comes through when he performs.

After a short break, Yonder gave the fans what they had all come to see; those old foot stompin' favorites that made them popular back in the day when they frequently played the Mountain Sun Brewery in Boulder. The jams were long and the energy high as Yonder delighted the frenzied audience. By the time the show was over, myself and those around me were exhausted, all of us with that silly grin on our faces that said more about the show than words ever could.

Words and Images by: Luke Rutherford
JamBase | Colorado
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[Published on: 9/25/03]

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