Article by Sarah Powell Cassada
My friends were in complete and total disbelief that I had never been to a Yonder Mountain String Band show. To be honest, I’d barely heard of them, let alone be able to recognize them if their music piped through my speakers. And, so, as an excuse to get to Louisville and escape the cold snow of Wisconsin (or so I was hoping), I decided to meet up with some friends for Yonder at Headliners on February 17.
After 420 miles, 7 hours, 2 stops, 5 warm hugs, some pizza, and a wardrobe change, we headed for the show. I knew from the parking lot that I was in for a treat. A car load pulled in next to us, and out spilled my kind of people. My friends and I chatted it up with them in the freezing (I brought the damn weather with me) cold. They learned from us that we were from Kentucky, Ohio, and Wisconsin. We learned from them that they were much younger than we, were all attending college at Eastern Kentucky University, and that the spokesman for the group was a Phish fan. However, we learned…Phish is only his second favorite band. This begged the question…”who is your first favorite?” We expected it to be Yonder, but it was Goose Creek Symphony. Of course, we had to google Goose Creek Symphony, as the young man loved them better than Phish. We learned that Goose Creek Symphony is a blue grass band of older men from the Louisville suburb of Goose Creek who have been strumming together since the 1970’s. Nice.
So, we get in to the show, and my one friend, who has been to countless Yonder shows was pleasantly surprised by the small venue. Headliners holds about 2000 people, has a reasonable cover, and relatively inexpensive drinks. We drank New Castles for $4.50, which is unheard of at most concert halls. There are ample restrooms, and even a little balcony area. I knew that since the balcony was open, they expected Yonder to draw a crowd. It did, but there was still plenty of room to dance, which is important to me.
Lights down, and Yonder takes the stage. Who is Yonder? Well, thank you Jeff Austin, he introduced us. From left to right: Dave Johnston on the banjo ; Ben Kaufmann on the upright bass; Jeff Austin on his nugget; and Adam Aijala on the collings guitar. Put them all together, and you’ve got Yonder Mountain String Band, a newgrass band from Colorado.
The boys opened with an old favorite of mine, “This Train is Bound for Glory,” which I had just heard the Friday before at my first grader’s “All Things February” concert. When my daughter learned this, she wanted to know, “Who sang it better?” “Your first grade class, of course!” This made a seven year old’s day.
The rest of the first set went like this: Fingerprint, Troubled Mind, Big Spike Hammer, Kentucky Mandolin> Yes She Do(No She Don’t), Rambler’s Anthem, Night Is Left Behind, Rag Doll, I’ll Never Love Anybody But You, Counter Reaction> Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie> Raleigh & Spencer.
The energy was extreme. I was all smiles through the entire set, and found myself able to sing along with songs, even though I was only hearing them for the first time, like when they played “Yes She Do(No She Don’t).” Much like at Phish shows, the crowd went wild at just to first couple strums to each song, excitedly anticipating the rest of the song. A great deal of their show is musical jam, and easy lyrics to grab and sing along with.
Set break came too early. I spent the time chatting with a group who asked if this was my first Yonder, as they told tales of following them, and how they were gearing up for Columbus the next day, and Saint Louis for the days following. I was thrilled with the music and the people from the first set, and my new nomadic friends told me that the first set was “jamilicious,”but that the second set is always better. I wasn’t sure it could get much better. But, they were spot on.
The second set opened with one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs, “No Expectations.” I’m most familiar with Joan Baez’s cover of this song, and the way Yonder was able to transform this song in to an upbeat, jammable good time was amazing to me. I held a smile throughout the entire second set, so much so that my cheeks hurt.
The set went on: Don’t You Lean On Me, Life’s Too Short, I’d Like Off, Fastball> 2 Hits & The Joint Turned Brown, Old Plank Road, How Bout You?, Fine Excuses, Town, Red Rocking Chair, Elzic’s Farewell> Traffic Jam> Looking Back Over My Shoulder> Traffic Jam E: At The End Of The Day, Let Me Fall.
I was most impressed with “Fastball,” a bass driven song that was a special treat, as the crowd went wild with applause, cheers, and acclaims after hearing just the first beat. My favorite song for the entire night was by far “2 Hits & The Joint Turned Brown.” I dare you to find me a woman who does not love hearing Jeff Austin sing “Oh, sweet momma…oh, pretty baby.” Yummy.
After the show, we went on the hear Rumpke Mountain Boys ramble on for a bit, ate some breakfast, and fell fast asleep. By mid day on Thursday, we headed our separate ways. My one friend was headed to Columbus to catch some more Yonder, and I was quite tempted to go along for the ride. However, by 10 that evening, I was glad to be at my friend’s place in Louisville in my jammies, ready to hit the sack.
So, have I become a Yonder fan? Oh, yes. In fact, preparing to see them once again in Chicago for Saint Patty’s Day.