Yonder Mountain String Band, City Hall, Nashville, TN- 2/22
Nashville, Tennessee is famous for many reasons. High amongst them is bluegrass music. Around every corner, one can hear the plucking of a banjo, the soaring of a fiddle, the deep plunk off of an upright bass. It plays on the radios, in the bars, and in the people’s hearts. So it might make sense that for a band like Yonder Mountain String Band, playing their own brand of Colorado JamGrass, that Nashville would probably not slow down and make room for them on a cold February night. That of course is far from the case. I showed up at the venue right at show time and I wound up standing outside throughout the first half of the first set. So many people showed up, excited and ready to dance, that the venue could not process us all. They moved people from side to side, constantly changing their instructions on how the situation was to be handled. No one was upset though, we could hear the band getting started inside, and it got us moving as we stood outside on this particularly cold Nashville night.
The City Hall is a big venue and it was near capacity. The show was already well under way as I finally made my entrance, but I entered right at the start of a flatpicking solo from guitarist Adam Aijala. I knew that it would be a good night yet. The first set was strong. They brought up guest dobro player Todd Livingston, a regular in Grammy Award winning Jim Lauderdale’s band. He pulled out an electric dobro and changed the whole dynamic of the set. In general the band had a more reverbed and amped sound throughout the evening than I have seen in the past. They subtlety used electric toys on their acoustic instruments. It helped them fill the hall and keep the roughly three thousand people inside moving and warm. They played old favorites like “Dance” and New Horizons.” They did two great tracks off of John Hartford’s Aeroplane (pronounced Air-E-O-Plane) album. They nailed the title track along with “Holding,” a happy little ditty if there ever was one about being in life together, through thick and thin, with all of those around us.
The highlight of the night was without question the emergence of Brin Davies on stage. Brin Davies is force on any stage she occupies. Davies, who also plays with Jim Lauderdale, is Peter Rowan’s full time go to gal for her bass abilities, but also for her beautiful harmony vocals. She even got to take up the late John Kahn’s low end role for the reunion tour of “Old and in the Way.” She came out, for the first of two times, for a song called “No She Don’t.” She did not bring up a second upright though, and bassist Ben Kaufman made no move to hand his over. I assumed that she would solely be singing along, and I was not too disappointed, although she is a killer on her instrument. Then the first verse of the song ended and the chorus began and Brin was at the bass. I had missed the switch, but I was paying attention now. The chorus ended and Ben jumped back in as the low end of the band. They went back and forth flawlessly switching off the largest instrument in the bluegrass family. Then the words stopped and Ben started to solo. Mid-note, Brin took over and continued right where he had left off. The two of them went back and forth, trading solos, and feeding off of each other and the audience for a good while. Then, it seemed to be over. Brin had the bass and she was playing some low walking lines. Ben crouched down and found his way in between her and the bass and started soloing on the high strings. With Jeff Austin comping on his mandolin, and the rest of the band watching, Brin played the low notes while Ben soloed on the high ones. It was truly something special.
It was a good long night. There was ample time for each of the boys in the band to show what they could do. They kept the people dancing and out of the cold for several hours. At the end of the night, Brin came back up. No dueling bass solos this time around. It was a simple encore. Brin was there to sing harmony vocals on Jim Lauderdale’s "Red Bird." The show was over and it was time to brave our way home.