Yonder Mountain String Band, Fillmore Auditorium, Denver, CO- 12/31
It was a night to be remembered. How would Yonder Mountain String Band answer the call? Billed as the “New Year’s Eve Extravaganza,” it had the makings of a winter version of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The line-up included the all-female bluegrass band, Uncle Earl, as well as Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt, formerly of Leftover Salmon, and Peter Rowan, the great bluegrass legend. On top of that impressive guest list, Darol Anger would also be joining YMSB on fiddle. The evening was sure to create some collaborations to remember and quite possibly a few surprises as well.
For many, a New Year’s Eve celebration in Colorado would not be complete without Yonder. This band is a pure representation of Colorado, home, friends, and good times. Their attraction is apparent as thousands of fans, several ticketless, descended upon the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver for their New Year’s Eve Extravaganza.
The Fillmore was a great venue for the show with a friendly staff and prime location, right across the street from Sancho’s Broken Arrow, home to an excellent jukebox and covered with concert posters. However, there was one problem that’s probably inevitable on New Year’s Eve: it was extremely crowded. During set breaks there was little room to even sit on the floor. The evening was a true test of physical endurance. But, these problems quickly drifted away as soon as the bluegrass and dancin’ began.
Uncle Earl started with an early, short set of traditional numbers mixed with original tunes. The beautiful pickin’ from these five women is perfect with excellent timing and sweet, alluring vocals that are reminiscent of the muses from Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?
The highly anticipated set from Drew Emmitt, Vince Herman, and Peter Rowan came next. Drew and Vince started with an energetic “In a House, In a Home.” Peter Rowan on guitar and Sharon Gilchrist on bass shortly joined Drew and Vince. They delivered a fine set of hometown bluegrass tunes, such as the crowd-favorite “Panama Red,” a nod to both their bluegrass and folk roots with Bill Monroe’s “Walls of Time” and an excellent “Hey Woody Guthrie.” Jeff Austin from YMSB came out and gave a sneak preview of what’s to come when he joined in on “Midnight Moonlight.”
The crowd was a buzz with excitement during the break, and rightfully so. Before this New Year’s run, Yonder hasn’t had a show together since their Boo-Grass Halloween Show and had not played in Colorado since they opened for Willie Nelson in the beginning of September. There was a certain energy in the air. Appropriately, the crowd broke out in song and dance as Tina Turner belted out “Proud Mary” over the PA.
Yonder took the stage to raucous applause warning us, “We’re on tonight, better watch out.” Before busting into a furious “Granny Woncha Smoke Some,” Jeff Austin paused to say, “Let’s all enjoy one final moment of sanity.”
Darol Anger added so much to the band; leading jams, exploring new territory with the fiddle and confidently taking solos. “On the Run” had some superb dueling between Darol on fiddle and Dave Johnston on banjo. This went into a new tune, “Postcard To My Son From Jail” with a nice composed section and then back into a frenzy with “On the Run.”
Now Yonder seemed to have surrounded themselves with some of the finest bluegrass pickers today. What could possibly make it better? Ladies & Gents, B Fleck! And what a tasty surprise he was for all in attendance. This banjo-pickin’ virtuoso melded right into the rest of Yonder for a funked-out version of “Steep Grade Sharp Curves.” During the jam, and throughout the night, there were little explosions of musical talent across the stage with duels and solos, yet they were all maintaining a dance-able groove.
It’s clear that the boys have been practicing and fine tuning the details in their time off. They sound new and fresh, with jams that continuously evolve before your eyes and musicians that have a definite flair for showmanship. This is quite possibly the beginning of a new era for Yonder Mountain String Band. Along with the sound, I have to mention the lights: a bigger rig and some excellent timing added so much to the overall experience.
Rayna Gellert on fiddle from Uncle Earl joined in for a fun “Polly Put the Kettle On.” Now there were two banjos and two fiddles on stage and to finish a great first set, Yonder and B Fleck delivered a tight “Peace of Mind>King Ebenezer Rap>Peace of Mind.”
The second set began with Yonder Mountain String Band plus Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman. Ben Kauffman thanked Leftover Salmon for what they had done to bluegrass music, saying “Without their help and belief, we would not be here.” They brought the heat with a little taste of Leftover Salmon. Some fine, energetic versions of “Jack London” and “Up On the Hill (Where They Do the Boogie)” were highlights and certainly got the crowd shakin’. B returned to join in on the New Year’s countdown that had Vince Herman leading the chant.
Shortly after, Vince and Drew left the stage and they powered on with a new song, “Angel” and then into “It’s All Too Much.” These featured some dark and thick fiddle playin’ by Darol, one nasty breakdown from Ben on bass, and a beautiful solo from B Fleck.
The ladies of Uncle Earl on the side of the stage couldn’t keep themselves from dancin’ with the rest of the crowd. B left the stage to join them and Yonder finished out the set with some fantastic pickin’ in “Ewe With The Crooked Horn>If You’re Ever In Oklahoma>Spanish Harlem Incident”
Whatever expectations you may have had coming into this evening, rest-assured Yonder Mountain String Band blew them out of the water as they played host to a mind-blowing, bluegrass-pickin’, dance festival with many stellar musicians taking the stage.
The encore was a special treat with Peter Rowan stepping up and leading a “High Lonesome Sound.” Every performer from the evening joined in for the final song of the night. They all started the sing-a-long “Tear Down the Grand Ole’ Opry.” While it was an excellent closer, one couldn’t help but notice a little symbolism. This band and this evening did tear down the Grand Ole’ Opry’ in challenging the rigid traditions in offering a new sound, a new future for bluegrass.