MUSIC REVIEW ‌ Yonder Mountain String Band 

click to enlarge JAMES MOSER
  • James Moser

The night was clear, the hippies were dancing, and the smell of patchouli, clove cigarettes, and beer filled the air at the Yonder Mountain String Band performance in IOP. The venue provided a very personable setting for the increasingly popular band and their many dedicated fans who snatched up tickets before the show sold out. So many people were dying to get in at the door that managament ultimately posted a sign stating, “Don’t ask for tickets.”

The opening act started promptly at 9 p.m. The Two-High String Band out of Austin, Tex. played a 45 min. set and they did a great job of getting the crowd hyped. The group consisted of two guitarists, an electric upright bassists, and a mandolinist with a make-shift rope strap. They looked somewhat nerdy and unconventional, but don’t all bluegrass band members? After opening with a 10-minute jam session , the set continued with rather traditional, but up-tempo bluegrass songs. People in the audience could be heard saying, “Who are these guys again? They’re killin’ it.” They had great vocal harmonies and effective stage presence.

Yonder Mountain hit the stage at 10:15 p.m. with tons of energy and big smiles on their faces. People packed the floor to get as close to the stage as possible, which caused the small venue to heat up quicker than a brush fire in June. They kicked off the show with “Sideshow Blues,” and the sound was solid right from the start.

Lead singer and mandolinist, Jeff Austin, stated several times how excited he was to see such a big turn-out on a Monday night. The band is taking a couple days off from touring to spend some time in the Holy City. This is actually a home-coming for bass player, Ben Kauffman, whose family lives in Charleston and was able to make it out to the show. Also, it was guitarist, Adam Aijala’s birthday at the stroke of midnight, so everything was looking on the up-and-up for a great night.

Throughout the evening, the show included random stories, jokes, and killer jam sessions. When the band got into the sixth song of the first set, “New Horizons,” the crowd really got jumping. After that, the band took a quick breather, just long enough of a break to kill their beers and wipe the sweat from their instruments.

Towards the end of the first hour and a half long set, Austin called Two-High mandolinists, Billy Bright, out to the stage. It was quite a spectacle as the two mandolinists fed off of each other’s energy in an unscripted jam. Banjo player, Dave Johnston danced in the corner as if no one was around. The set closed out with “Nothin’ Be Nothin’ and a wicked rendition of “Ruby.”

The second set started just after midnight and it was as if the guys had never left the stage. They opened right back up with the fast bluegrass songs that kept the crowd dancing and feet stompin.’ Austin’s facial expressions pretty much spoke for the entire band: the more ridiculous he looked, the harder they were playing; and for the first half-hour of the set, he looked pretty ridiculous. They mixed in some of the tricks featured on their most recent album, like plugging in the mandolin and adding effects to the bass. It wasn’t until around 1 a.m. that a few of the band member’s faces showed signs of weariness and some of the fans in the crowd had slowed down a little bit. At this point the bartenders decided to give the sweaty crowd a bit of a pick-me-up by spraying cold water over them. Thank goodness.

The set wrapped up at 1:30 a.m. Instead of a traditional encore, Yonder stayed put and Austin stated, “We’re not gonna leave the stage now, but you guys can still cheer us like we have.” So, after about five minutes of cheering the band played two more songs and announced that this was the best Monday they’d had in a while. It was “a jam good time,” indeed.


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