Just off the road from two incredible shows in Asheville, Atlanta was now upon us. The inside of the Tabernacle was already packed upon arrival and this Georgia crowd was beyond ready for some Yonder.
The boys walk on stage and right off the bat we’re hit with a ‘Raleigh and Spencer’. Energy pulses through the theater already, and the acoustics inside are just too good. The Dave train is well in motion, and with such a charged opener I can’t help but wonder what kind of show we’re about to experience.
“Mr. Ben Kaufmann friends!” Jeff says.
“It feels incredible to be in here with you tonight,” Ben replies.
More bluegrass ensues with ‘Ain’t No Way of Knowing’, which steadies the pace after that fire Raleigh.
“For your entertainment pleasure the entire evening on the guitar, Adam Ajala my friends!” Jeff says.
“I’ll do my best to entertain y’all,” he replies.
And with that Adam sings ‘Another Day’. It’s a definite favorite, and we’re all singing along. Afterwards the introductions continue, “Of course down there commanding the five string banjo, David Johnston everybody!”
Dylan’s ‘Takes Alot to Laugh and a Train To Cry’ is up next. The rhythm intensifies and then steadies as mandolin and bass notes mix in the air.
Then Ben adds, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the most dangerous man in the room, but not for the reasons you think…Jeff Austin on the mandolin!”
So the familiar notes of ‘Pretty Daughter’ ring out, and they’ve got everyone dancing. The song builds up as Jeff’s vocals become darker, and the banjo follows suit. We touch back down with a solid ‘Straight Line’. Everyone’s groovin along as Ben sings.
“Whenever I get a chance to sing that song I always think about my grandfather who advised me to do something like math or sciences, and every time I sing that song I think to myself boy I sure am glad I didn’t listen to him.”
“Well you kinda do math, all night it’s like 1-5-1-5-1-5,” Adam says.
“That’s just counting I don’t think thats math,” Ben replies.
And then comes wild card, “This song is about math.”
So Dave sings the math-filled verses of ‘Pass This Way’, and man do I love this one. Dave is absolutely killing it on the banjo, and the end of this song culminates with everyone’s sound merging together just as the chorus and cheers of the crowd break through.
Jeff says, “We spent the beginning of this trip with a great fiddler named Jason Carter of the Del McCoury Band. He’s out their in McCoury land, so we’ll play a bluegrass number for our good buddy…‘Red Rocking Chair’!”
Fast notes and deep bass keep the Yonder fiesta going. More cheers erupt from the crowd.
Ben tells us, “We were reminiscing about the songs they used to play at the proms and dances we had in high school and then Adam started playing Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith and we got our rock and roll on backstage for a while.”
Then up on stage comes a little Sweet Emotion tease.
Ben continues the story, “And before you know it that segued into Dream On by Aerosmith and then the next thing you know we all go back together with our girlfriends from high school and we’re making out back behind the bus back there; sexy times.”
The banter is nonstop tonight, the boys are having fun up there.
“Anyways here’s a brand new song,” Adam says.
‘Lonesome Letter’ brings a catchy chorus and the banjo riffs near the end remind me of a steel drum, which was pretty awesome.
And, what’s that I hear? The beginning notes of ‘Traffic Jam’? Aw yea!
The energy inside the Tabernacle is insane. All the boys take turns soloing, and they’re all on fire. As I glance around I see the entire theater erupt in movement. As a jam breaks way, we segue into ‘After Midnight’. The notes are soft, and slow, but we all know it won’t stay this way for long.
“After Midnight we’re gonna let it all hang out!”
Jeff goes ham on the mandolin. It seems we can’t dance hard enough to keep up.
More jamming ensues. It’s time to finish off that Traffic Jam! The feeling is electric inside the tabby as the final notes ring out. And just like that a killer first set is over.
We can hardly wait for round two, so I’ll get right to it. The boys return to the stage and start things off with ‘Kentucky Mandolin’.
It’s a great instrumental. The rhythm is held together by some deep bass notes courtesy of Ben Kaufmann. I listen as each instrument makes lyrics of their own. The mandolin is going strong; it’s a four man symphony up there. Some electric foot pedals are in the jam mix as the boys go into ‘East Nashville Easter’.
This song really shows off the rockin side of their sound, and the mandolin with that pedal is just too good.
“Remember all those years ago when they said the banjo couldn’t rock and we proved them wrong?” Damn right Ben. The audience cheers in reply.
‘Going Where They Do Not Know My Name’ is up next. It’s a fast beat tune that I really dig. From rock to bluegrass, we’re back again.
Next they dedicated ‘Winds O’ Wyoming’ to the original artist and Georgia resident, Benny Galloway. Dave sings us some real low notes, and the mando covers the high ones.
‘Only A Northern Song’ follows. While the chorus goes as per usual, the jam really stuck out. Adam closes his eyes as he solos, his passion shining through every note. A soft yet strong and soulful banjo solo follows suit. Each note builds on the next as he picks faster and faster. Dave’s playing has been continually on point, and in this moment especially I can’t help but close my eyes and take it all in.
As a new song begins there is quiet picking.
“Hello, all three levels of my friends here tonight,” Jeff says.
‘King Ebeneezer’ has arrived. The song begins steady and calm, but we all know where this is going. The mandolin rhythm is gettin funky, and with the foot pedal all the more spacey. The notes grow more ominous and fast. As they slow back down we change direction right into ‘Fingerprint’. There’s a little electric solo from the guitar before the song comes to a close.
Ben tells us, “They really don’t give out the award; no one would particularly care but me, but ’m pretty sure I hold the honor for having the most inappropriately placed distortion upright bass pedal in the history of bluegrass music”. We laugh.
A ‘Fastball’ instrumental flies by with some quick pickin, and the familiar melody of ‘Left Me In A Hole’ is up next. We all sing along with Adam as the sound of the mando and banjo blend together.
After a brief moment of silence the sound of ‘Snow on the Pines’ carries through the Tabernacle; here comes the Yonder heat. Right away Jeff brings it on the mandolin, and the chorus gets us all ready to get rowdy. As the banjo comes in strong the entire theater is moving about.
The jam becomes spacey as Adam solos slowly and intently on the guitar. Then comes some real loud bass slappin from ben, and electric foot pedal riffs echo all around. We have reached the rings of saturn, and it’s Phish’s ‘Sand’.
Seems we have left deep space for a moment as the verse arrives. The jam returns, and it’s eye-closin good. I hear different layers of banjo, and careful mandolin picking. ‘Sand’ comes to a nice and weird close with more electric mandolin space.
The jam carries on; we’re headed for those snowy pines. And just like that, there it is. The notes intensify and the chorus is fiery as ever. Then the pace slows, and I wonder where this could be going.
And it’s a ‘Boatman’s Dance’! The crowd sings and dances the loudest of the night, and there are Yonder smiles all around. There couldn’t have been a better song to segue into. Watching the excitement they were feeling up on stage was great. As Boatman’s finishes the set we cheer and stomp for Yonder.
The boys come right back for their encore. The vibes inside the Tabernacle are beyond great as the steady beats of ‘Holdin’ play on.
“You folks don’t sound like you’re quite done,” Jeff says.
The audience cheers in agreement.
“We’re gonna pick one more for ya and then we’re gonna pick another one because we’ve got time,” he adds.
A ‘Mental Breakdown’ is next on the list, and it’s one of my favorite instrumentals. The sound speaks for itself, seeming to turn a new corner with every measure. Each instrument chimes in, the mandolin and guitar mix really well, and of course there’s some more banjo goodness.
We’re all lovin it. “It’s okay because we don’t want to stop playing either,” Jeff says. “We travel a lot and every time we come through you guys fuckin deliver, so thank you”. Cheers erupt.
“We are at the Tabernacle so we might as well finish with a little gospel number”.
So Jeff sings us a ‘Jesus on the Mainline’. It’s a traditional number with a fast pace. The volume grows.
“Throw your voices up! Throw your hands up! Throw your body up!”
We all clap and sing for Yonder. Last chance to dance, and dance we do. The final notes of the night ring out, and when it’s all over I’m still in awe. Just when it seems a show can’t be topped, a night like this happens, and it’s pure Yonder bliss.