What does "YMSB" really stand for, anyway? According to fans on www.yondermountain.com, it can stand for a myriad of things: "Yiddish Men Selling Baklava", "You Missed Some Beer", a number of variations on "Your Mama…..", and my personal favorite "Yellow Mustard Squeeze Bottle". Bluegrass and Jamband fans across the country are now well aware that YMSB is the affectionate acronym for Yonder Mountain String Band. This Nederland, CO based Bluegrass band has taken the traditional form of mountain music
and added extended jams, humor and a wide repertoire of cover songs that have probably never been covered with a Bluegrass twist.
Friday night was a special evening for YMSB: their debut at the legendary Fillmore in San Francisco. When a band finally scores a slot at the Fillmore, they are considered to have "come of age". YMSB took full advantage of their Fillmore debut, by playing 3 full sets of music before a sold-out house on the cold, rainy San Francisco evening. My friends and I had anticipated that the Fillmore wouldn't come close to selling out considering that their last 2 visits to SF were at the tiny Club Cocodrie and the Great American Music Hall which accommodates only half of what the Fillmore can. I casually rolled up to the box office at the corner of Fillmore and Geary and bought a ticket at about 9:30. After stopping at my new favorite Fillmore pre-party stop, my good friend Dave's poster and head memorabilia shop, located conveniently next door, I headed into the now sold-out show.
I knew that YMSB meant business when I missed the whole first set, which had been performed in the traditional bluegrass style with little amplification and only one microphone. Most bands would casually stroll on the stage fashionably late at about 9:30 despite a 9 o'clock show time on the ticket. Not YMSB. They were going to give their dedicated fans, many of which had flown in from CO, three full sets of music for their $15 ticket price. The first set break gave me the opportunity to munch one of the most delicious red apples I've ever experienced. Where does the Fillmore get those apples? I swear they must pick them right off a tree in Washington and fly them down the West Coast for each show, because I've never tasted such a crisp, juicy fruit. I think my buddy Adam (www.walfredo.com) would agree. He
must have eaten 3-4 of the apples throughout the course of the evening.
The red curtain behind the stage was covered with a giant white screen where various psychedelic images, beautiful colors, and mountain scenes were projected as the band performed. The crew handling this task did an excellent job of projecting images that corresponded with the theme and feeling of the music. My personal favorite was a panoramic shot of a rainbow over the Colorado wilderness. Another appropriate video clip showed a locomotive barreling down the tracks as mandolin virtuoso; Jeff Austin picked ferociously during one of his enthusiastic jams.
Rag Mama highlighted the second and third sets of the show, a bluegrass ragtime number that sent the crowd into a dancing frenzy. Left Me in a Hole, a song that Austin referred to as being about the feeling you feel "if you've ever been left", had the crowd sympathizing with him about love lost. Half-Moon Rising, my personal favorite YMSB song, brought me back to the last year's High Sierra Music Festival, when I stumbled upon this band I had never heard of performing on the Americana stage in a mountain meadow surrounded by a forest of pine trees. [See picture]
Mid-way through the 3rd set my crew and I had made our way to the center of the dance floor only a few people from the front of the stage. This was when the band took their performance to the next levels with an extended segue between two songs that without a doubt was inspired by Phish's Runaway Jim. Friends Adam and Jeff and I filled in the "Whoa oh whoa Runaway Jim!" lyrics where we thought appropriate. At this point my sentiments were that YMSB could do no wrong. Then, once again, they amazed me by taking a page out of
the book of Les Claypool and covered Pink Floyd's Pigs (Three Different Ones). Adam made the song call of the night, tabbing this one after only a few notes. I had heard about YMSB playing bluegrass covers of Crazy Train and Whipping Post, but I had no idea that a Pink Floyd tune was part of their song list. I think Roger Waters would be proud of the eerie, dark opening and lyrical fidelity provided by guitarist Adam Aijala. Hoots and hollers from the crowd suggested that I was not alone in my appreciation of this song.
Overall, I'd have to say that this show could be summed up with one of the acronyms for YMSB, taken on off the yondermountain.com web site: "Young Modern Smokin Bluegrass". The average age in the band can't be more than 25 years old. Banjoist Dave Johnston looks like he could be a high school senior, yet he picks like a seasoned veteran who was born with a banjo in his hands. Their particular style of jammin' bluegrass is no doubt much more modern than other bands classified within the same genre. Who else would dare to attempt bluegrass covers of Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath? Finally, I think that it goes without saying that YMSB plays some serious smokin' bluegrass. Don't miss these guys when they come through your town. I know I'll be front and center at both of their High Sierra Music Festival shows this summer in the beautiful mountains of Quincy, CA.
JamBase San Francisco Correspondent
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