My Two Night Run with Yonder Mountain String Band

I knew that these were the last two shows I was going to see in the United States for a year. I had to make these two count the most. June 25th and the 26th. I would be going on a little mini tour of one of my favorite bands the Yonder Mountain String Band. The first show was at Penns Peak in PA. I have been here once for a RRE earth show in January. The venue is perfect. It is like a huge ski lodge. I was pumped to see YMSB there.

There were many thoughts racing through my mind before the YMSB show on 6.25.2009. My parents had told me that Farrah Fawcett died that day. Now, I did not really know who she was. I heard her name and I remember what she was famous for. This was some big news; however, the mother of all news was about it hit. Michael Jackson has been reported to have died. This was big news. HUGE news. My boy Stack was coming to the show with me, so I was sitting around waiting for him to give me a call from the train station. He finally calls me around 7 o’clock that he is here. Now, the show starts at 8 o’clock, so there is no way that we were going to make it on time.

I picked up Stack and started off towards PA. We drove as fast as we could to get to the show. My stupid ass GPS gave us the scenic route to the venue, so we were probably 15 minutes later because of that damn computer. This would not be the last time that I would be pissed at my GPS. We got to the venue finally around 9 o’clock. I was hoping we would only have missed a couple of songs. I mean what kind of band really gets on at the exact show time? I asked someone waiting outside of the venue how long has the band been on. He told me that they have been on for about an hour. Shit. We started to walk in and I could not believe my ears. They were of course playing a Michael Jackson song. This is the only bluegrass band that I know that will even attempt to play a Michael Jackson song. It was the end of “Gonna be Startin’ Something.” The whole place was going nuts during this song obviously. Jeff Austin was doing all kinds of Michael Jackson moves on stage. He was also wearing the white glove that Michael Jackson always wore too. They ended the first set with only one more song which was the Ramblin’. We got there and caught two songs and it was set break. Just Great.

Set II: Started off with ‘My Gal’ which is a song I enjoy thoroughly. What I have noticed about Yonder shows is that the crowd is a lot more wild than at normal bluegrass shows. The crowd is way younger and just way more rowdier. The band definitely feeds off of this energy which makes them play tremendously. Of course the crowd favorite was soon next which is ‘2 Hits and the Joint Turned Brown.’

Now this song is always good, but sometimes Jeff can get carried away. One of the reasons I love this band is because the band is always interacting with the crowd. In between every single song one of the band members is talking to the crowd. I love that. But what comes with that is that sometimes the most eccentric one of them all, Jeff, can get carried away. Sometimes I can do without Jeff’s antics on stage.

Oh well. This song is a crowd pleaser.

All of a sudden Jeff started to sing the lyrics to Ring of Fire which was interesting. I don’t think the band expected this. This went right back into 2 Hits. At the end, you could tell that Ben had no idea that they were going to go into Ring of Fire because he made a comment on how it was nice to go down to the fire which he was not expecting. ‘Sideshow Blues’ came next after a couple of songs. I was in the bathroom when they started to play this and I was in a rush to get out of there. This is absolutely one of my favorite songs that the band plays. I fell in love with it during the first show I ever saw of the band at Bonnaroo 2004. Some of my favorite lyrics of all time in this song and Jeff sings it very well. Right after ‘Sideshow’ another one of my favorite covers was played.

I remember turning to Stack during the middle of the set and tell him that something is missing with this band right now. There are four members in the band and one thing was missing. Dave Johnston, the banjo player, was real low. The banjo was not turned up loud enough. You could barely here it. The banjo is an essential instrument for a bluegrass band and it was not loud enough this night. I was disappointed that this was the case. Dave is a phenomenal player and the band was definitely missing something because I could not hear him. This would not be the case tomorrow night in Bridgeport.

‘I am the Slime’ by Frank Zappa. Now, who would ever think that a bluegrass band could cover Zappa? It is totally insane when they play this cover. Jeff was really out there during this song. He was getting really animated singing the lyrics and making hand gestures throughout the whole song. I do not think the crowd knew what song this was and who it was by. They ended the second set with the ultimate chase song with ‘On the Run.’ I love this song because the story is so good. The main character slept with the sheriff’s wife, so that is why he is on the run. The lyrics are great and the music that goes with is right on up there. This songs always gets the crowd stomping. It a hoedown when Yonder comes to town. This ended the second set with the whole crowd wanting more. We were stomping on the floor as hard as we could. You could actually stomp and feel the floor vibrate a little.

They came out to a roar from the crowd. They started the encore with the first part of ‘On the Run.’ The song is called ‘Lord Only Knows.’ There are a couple of songs that describe the chase with the character and the sheriff. It is truly an adventurous tale. One more song before the night was up which was ‘Steam Powered Aeroplane.’ This is a John Hartford tune and is a great way to end the night. Just a perfect light song for us to all go out of the venue thinking about.

We were at this show for half of it and I still had a hell of a time. It was definitely still worth it to make the drive out there. This band continually grows and their playing is phenomenal. Now all Stack and I had to do was drive to CT to catch the boys one more time and we were both stoked to be doing so.

6.26.2009

Around 1 o’ clock in the afternoon Stack and I left his parents’ place to head to CT. We flew through PA and NJ until we got to the GW bridge. It was so ridiculous the traffic that we sat in. It must have been two hours to get over the bridge; however, it did not end there. We pretty much sat in traffic all the way up to Bridgeport. Fridays in the summer going up 95 could possibly be the worst thing ever. It is bumper to bumper traffic all the way. Not only were we in traffic, but a torrential thunderstorm rolled through the area. Hail started to come down and we could barely see out of our window. It was really intense and took us an extra 2 hours just to get to Bridgeport. We finally ended up in CT around 7, an hour before the show. We were meeting Whitey and Maggie at this show. Two of my good friends from college. Whitey and I have seen some shows together that will never be forgotten.

First thing that I noticed at this show was that that banjo was up. You could here the twang of the banjo playing. Already noticeably better with that banjo noise. The first half of this show was good, but I was still thinking about last nights set 2, so I was anxious for some hot pickin’ bluegrass. I started to feel it during Sidewalk Stars. One of their singles from their newest album.

All of a sudden you could feel a change of vibe from the show. An energy shift as you will. Jeff started to narrate some kind of story. It started off with someone in Bridgeport, CT being waking up not knowing where they were. This part ended with him realizing that he was in a jail cell. After that the band broke into a song. At the end of the song, Jeff jumped right into the story again. I think at this point everyone started to realize what was going on. Jeff usually always talks between songs, so we did not think it was anything unusual. He continued his story and this time he talked about a woman coming to bail him out of jail. The guy in jail is in love with this hot looking woman who is coming to bail him out. After they get out Jeff actually says that they are heading towards New Jersey. Of course being from NJ I shout out and yell. Jeff made a look like no person should be broadcasting that kind of information. They break into the song after this part of the story. The next part if my favorite part of the story. Jeff talks about how the guy has to dump the woman because he cannot handle her or deal with her. But as he was driving to NJ he has a revelation of how he loves this woman. He turns around and quickly goes back to her and they go into the best song of the first set. They get right into “They Love Each Other.” OH MAN!!! I could not believe it. I had a smile that was ear to ear. I love it when any band covers the Dead, but this song is great. The whole place was getting down with this song. YMSB had the everyone grooving hard to “They Love Each Other.” They continued this Narration in between each song till the end of the first set. It was one of the coolest things I have ever heard. The songs fit in with the narration and it was just perfect. This was done for the last six songs. It was something new. Something that I have never heard before. It was definitely something that I will remember forever.

Set II: This set was real solid. Just a great set through. Highlights for me was Steep Grade, If you’re ever in Oklahoma, and Raleigh & Spencer. I want to get to the more important part of this show which was the encore. The band finally came back out to a roar of cheers from the crowd. It was a small crowd, but we had the energy. We definitely gave them the respect they deserved. They decided to play unplugged at the front of the stage. The entire crowd got real close to the front of the stage and tried to get as quiet as possible. Of course there were some assholes screaming just making fools of themselves. It was really disappointing. The band was trying to do something special for us that night in CT. The band were trying to tell us to be quiet and wishing sometimes for those people to leave. They played 5 songs for the encore unplugged. It was truly amazing. They kept on wanting to give us more. Jeff was telling someone in the back only one more, really only one more. The band had some good friends in the crowd this night because they dedicated one song to a couple. It was the couple’s 5 year wedding anniversary. You could definitely tell there was a love feeling with all the songs they were choosing to play that night. All in all a great show too.

It was a great two night run with Yonder Mountain String Band. The last shows that I will see in a year and I would not want to end it any other way. I was happy to spend my last shows with Yonder. It was also great to spend it with my boys Stack, Whitey and Maggie.