Photos by Derek Martinez
Yonder Mountain String Band consists of Jeff Austin on mandolin, Ben Kaufmann on bass, Dave Johnston on banjo and Adam Aijala on guitar and last Friday, they played Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom.
The night began with revelers in the parking lot looking for that one extra ticket to the sold out show. It reminded me of the old days of Grateful Dead lots and hippie folk asking to trade their soul for a ticket. I pulled into the lot to find one of my friends standing in an empty parking space. I asked her if she was saving it for someone and she said, “sure, you!.” Already, the night was looking promising. I met my contact, photographer Derek Martinez who had our tickets already and we both dragged our gear into the show. I searched for a safe place to open my Mac Book Pro (you never know when someone might just spill a beer) and started taking notes. The place was packed to the walls with excited concert-goers and fans awaiting the opening song. Then, it was on!
The show began with a sweet “Spanish Harlem,” followed by “Rag Doll”. Already you could feel the heat emanating from the stage. The band was warming up, much like an old tube amp does when you first turn it on. The glow from the lights was getting brighter as the crowd began to sway.
Next, my feet started moving with some quickness as “Ain’t No Way of Knowing” was followed by “Jesus.” My friend had shown up by this time and we started dancin’ a jig like we were at an old time Southern spiritual.
The gospel-grass feel continued as “A Father’s Arms” was followed by “2 Late Now” (as written on the set-list). Then the vibe began to swell like a tidal wave as they pulled a “Sideshow Blues” out of the hat. It all peaked for me when they began to play “Fortunate Son!!” At this point I think I entered Yonder heaven. Everyone was raging and singing at this point. Through the night, they kept dropping “Nashville” into the lyrics and the crowd would go wild. The air was so electric that it would probably charge the cell phone in your pocket.
The next song was “Keep on Going.” Ben played a sick bass solo, “talking” back and forth with Jeff on the mandolin. At this point, Andy Hall (Infamous String Dusters) joined in with a super crazy solo on the dobro. There was a hint of reggae in the background as the crowd was building to a crescendo. Then Jeff took it all home with a solo that got you higher than a yonder mountain. At that time, the lights were flashing strobe style and… then…. “New Speedway Boogie!” I had to pinch myself at this point to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. As chills ran up and down my spine, the voice of the late Jerry Garcia seemed to creep through the music. The harmony was beautiful between the members of the band. Suddenly, the lights went out and the crowd chanted, “One Way or Another!,” “This darkness has got to give!” Wow… is all I have to say about that. I was truly speechless. The red and blue lights were flooding the stage now as the band played on. Then Jeff took his hands over his soul and…. BLAST!… White lights burst from the back of the stage as the darkness finally gave!
At this point, they slid back in to “KOG” and finished the set with “T-Jam.” “T-Jam” brought some great riffs of reggae mandolin vibes and Jeff had sweat dripping off of his face. A stuffed monkey appeared to surf over the crowd as another dobro solo brought it all home to a spacey jam. Suddenly I realized that Dave dad a cast on his pickin’ arm and was ripping notes like you wouldn’t believe. He was playing the whole show with a full sized cast with just his fingers sticking through! This should go into the Guinness Book of World Records.
The next set opened with “What the Night Brings.” The next song, “KY Mando,” was dedicated to Dale McCoury. They used a pink wash with Celtic spirals in the background. A special guest came on stage, Bryn Davies, who started mad pickin’ the bass. Then Ben joined in and they both picked two of the strings and started jamming together on the same bass!
“Funtime” was dedicated to Danny Barnes and they were rippin’ some more solos. Dave had another sick banjo solo and Jeff was egging him on with some provocative mandolin licks. Peace signs were flyin’ in the crowd.
“Raleigh and Spencer” began with a crazy solo by Jeff as the floor started to shake from the dancing crowd and Jeff’s eyes were blazing and staring straight ahead with a passion as the mandolin and dobro joined forces in an orgasmic crescendo singing, “The whole damn world’s gone dry!” Ben pulled out a big green Incredible Hulk hand and pretended to punch in Jeff’s direction. I have no idea what that was about.
The next song was “My Gal” and then they floated into “No Expectations.” The song began with a dark stage and bright white lights shining from behind. Jeff ripped a solo and then it was Adam’s time to shine with a heavy guitar run. The song was a classic, old-school, Celtic Appalachia style. Then they pulled out a “Redbird” with another dobro solo and the crowd went wild. They dedicated “Redbird” to a fan named Mike who celebrated his 100th show! Next, Bryn Davies came back on stage and played the bass with her tattooed hips swinging. You could see the S-hole, black tats on her back as she leaned into the bass solo.
Then they pulled out an “End of the Day” that took me back to the first set gospel vibe. After that, Jeff asked the crowd if he could play one more while he made fun of Dave and his cast, joking about him playing pretty good for taking so many Percocet’s. They apparently recorded “Night is Left Behind” in Nashville from what I could gather from their announcement on stage. It was the next song to fly.
“Corona” was great, with wonderful harmonies. Then they played a “Rose” into “POM.” It was after one o’clock at this point and they were still jamming strong! “POM” led to “Ebenezer” and then went back into “POM” again with smooth transitions and meandering jams that were highlighted with bouncy mandolin chops.
During the last jams, Jeff talked to the crowd saying, “We sure have learned a lot here tonight! And every one has something special deep down inside cause we’re all moving together here tonight in Nashville, TN.” Jeff said, “Nothing in the world can get me down… I was standing outside without a ticket and now I’m in here with all you beautiful people!” The crowd raged as Jeff did a rockabilly like vocal to finish out “POM.” Then, they left the stage.
The crowd continued to cheer as the band made their way out for an encore finale of “Ooh La La” and “Hit Parade.” The crowd and the band chanted back and forth… “You… and I” as the band finished out, saying “We love you… Please love us back!”