Review & Photos | Yonder Mountain String Band | Brooklyn
Words By: Chadbyrne R. Dickens
Yonder Mountain String Band :: 10.29.13 -10.30.13 :: Brooklyn Bowl :: Brooklyn, NY
Check out Chadbyrne’s full review after the Suzy Perler’s gallery!
“I like playing in New York because it is where my mom is from and I have a strange sense of pride as if I want to do good for her.” – Jeff Austin
Listen carefully and one can hear the sounds of a musical revolution currently filling the airwaves. On the night before Halloween, there was a plethora of delights rather than frights. The Yonder Mountain String Band (abbreviated YMSB or Yonder by some) bombarded a nearly sold-out Brooklyn Bowl for almost two and a half hours of intensely passionate and rewarding music. The bluegrass outfit again demonstrated they are trailblazers for the quickly ascending genre. As expected, YMSB demonstrated they offer more than just a bluegrass show.
Through bombastic music via a mesh of tantalizing sounds including the mandolin and banjo, bluegrass-tinged rock – or “jamgrass” -is taking over the scene. The movement includes veteran hard-working acts like Railroad Earth as well as respected and refreshing up-and-comers like Cabinet and The Infamous Stringdusters, but the unequivocal leaders are the quartet out of Nederland, Colorado. Bassist Ben Kaufmann credits the attention given the bluegrass phenomenon to the “wider interest in the sound of the banjo.” When asked what sets the 15-year veterans apart from their brethren, mandolin wiz Jeff Austin chirped, “We’re old.” Levity aside, ultimately the answer must be placed within the immense talent among the ranks of the band that has seen their recent bevy of CD releases all reach #1 on the Billboard Bluegrass charts.
YMSB’s place in the musical spectrum can never be pigeon-holed as it contains elements of reggae, rock, blues and bluegrass. Adam Aijala (guitar), Ben Kaufmann (bass), Jeff Austin (mandolin) and Dave Johnston (banjo) share a myriad of songs that are stylistically diverse by setting up a traditional bluegrass framework and using their improvisational prowess to flourish around it. The bustling set at Brooklyn Bowl was clear evidence of their varied attack. Yonder’s tried and true formula of country melodies meshed with jam band wizardry was immediately evident after they took the stage. The third selection, “At the End of the Day,” from their debut Elevation album, inspired many to frolic to their musings. The setlist featured a blending of eras including “Fingerprint” off The Show album, “My Gal” from Mountain Tracks Vol I and “Little Rabbit” from Mountain Tracks Vol 3.
Known to provide an entirely different setlist every single performance, highlights from this show included the layered mesh of the rainbow of instruments slowly building to crescendo in “Spanish Harlem.” “Just the Same” rewarded those with patience as the deliberate ditty grew in intensity and demonstrated patented Yonder fluidity. The contagious subdued rhythms within the cover of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” effectively entranced the audience. Brooklyn Bowl is a jam band haven with a regular ardent fan base well versed in classic music, so it was no surprise that the buoyant and bouncy cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Althea” provided the band with the greatest amount of deserved adulation. The show was chock-full with barn burning trade-offs and contagious call and response sessions from colorful musicans with master chops.
“See now you’ve got me, but I’ve got one last surprise,
You’re gonna have to wait to see”
Unquestionably, what sets the band apart from other acts is not simply their utilitarian approach towards who is the lead singer. The band splits vocal duties equally in a fashion Austin claims is, “democratic.” Yonder has made their mark through a frenetic balls-out affinity for up-tempo time signatures. The rapid pace not only lends itself to dancing, but also allows no time for melancholy self-reflection; rather one is forced to focus on a straight forward jam session that leaves an indelible perma-grin on one’s face. After years of performing together as a unit, the players know how to give appropriate space when someone is soloing and have grown very adept at filling in successfully around that space. What ultimately sets these string visionaries above the rest within their bluegrass brethren is that their contemporaries often work the soft underbelly of bluegrass with ballads, hymns and spirituals, while these Coloradians steam full-speed ahead with a precise attention to toe-tappin, hootin’ and hollerin’, up-tempo frenetic euphoria.
Not surprising for a band that garnered their reputation and popularity due to relentless determination, the band still maintains an absolutely rigorous touring schedule. They have announced a tour to commence in early 2014, with the first seventeen shows to take place without Austin, who has decided to spend the time at home with his family and new daughter, “Nothing in this world is bigger in life than family…and in this case, not even the music I love so dearly.” The band will persevere but the loss of Austin will no doubt be a void for the legions of fans engrossed in his every facial tick. I once wrote here that Austin looked like David Naughton from American Werewolf In London and changes his countenance in such intense manner it was as if he was turning into a werewolf. Well, upon further examination, Austin is so mesmerizing and intensely focused it’s as if he invited us to the cabin in the Evil Dead and he is simply the first one to be demonizing before our very eyes.
Fans of the Grateful Dead are “Deadheads,” Lady Gaga has “Monsters” and YMSB possesses a die-hard loyal following labeled with the moniker “KINFOLK.” Kinfolk are defined as, “A group of people united by collective passion, sharing in a journey YONDER.” If one can’t catch the band as they zigzag across the country on an annual mission to share a stellar musical experience, one should specifically look for them at the two festivals they are involved with: Arkansas’ Yonder Mountain’s Harvest Festival and String Summit in Oregon.
When I asked Austin if there was a certain point where he knew he made it, he immediately retorted with sincerity, “I think if I ever say I made it, I better breath my last breathe. If you get content, you die, due to apathy and no growth. I never high five myself that I made it.” Well, we all know that they’ve made it and we are better for it. If they continue the same level of effort and integrity, the sky is the limit.
Set I: OTR>Polly Put the Kettle On>OTR, At the End of the Day, Spanish Harlem, Fingerprint, My Gal, Katy Daly, Country Boy R&R, In the Seam, Dawn’s> What the Night Brings //
Set II: Looking Back Over the Shoulder, Raleigh and Spencer, Lonesome Letter, Maid O The Canyon, Just the Same, Finally Saw the Light>Dear Prudence, Part 1> Althea>Pass This Way>Little Rabbit>Casualty // Encore: 2 Hits
JamBase | Country Boy Rock N Roll
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