Jeff Austin & Friends, Aggie Theatre, Fort Collins, CO – 3/12
Friend (n.) – "A person whom one knows, likes, and trusts."Jeff Austin, the lead singer/mandolin player from Yonder Mountain String Band, has been known to bring together some buddies for a side project called Jeff Austin & Friends — a happening that is now embedded as a yearly occurrence. The pickin’ party caravan usually plays three shows or so, all of which are located within the borders of Colorado. This year’s crew, Danny Barnes on banjo, Eric Thorin on bass and Billy Nershi on guitar, consisted of solid seasoned vets. This particular show was seasoned with covers, along with a song from Jeff’s recent collaborative work alongside Umphrey’s McGee guitarist Brendan Bayliss. Jeff Austin himself seems to be a facilitator, and these little shindigs are a nice way of showing that. Thursday night in Fort Collins found a good sized crowd on hand to witness this rendition of Friends. Starting things off, the opening band Taarka, which hails from the High Country town of Lyons, CO, warmed up the crowd nicely with thick harmonious melodies, touched by the virtuous violin of Enion Pelta-Tiller. Jeff and the fellas followed around 10:30, and in typical Austin fashion he greeted the crowd with his jovial and goofy rapport — continuing a fun discourse with the fans thorough out the night. The early part of the show seemed to be a showcase for Danny Barnes. Hunched over his banjo, Barnes stared at his strings intently while picking furiously — using his mind to extract all he could from his instrument. Now and then he would look up at his music-mates with a half smile, noticeably enjoying himself. The first set closed out with Taarka joining The Friends on stage; while Billy Nershi sat down to tend to the slide guitar on a fun version of The Stooges "Death Trip". A more full and robust crowd was in place as the second set got under way. As tends to happen, the second part of the show had a higher energy. Eric Thorin, who is basically a granite rock on bass, was allowed some room to pluck the fat thick strings a couple times during the second set. The high point for me came towards the end, when Billy Nershi stepped up to the microphone and swam through a beautifully serene version of "Pretty Polly." As the set finished, a very hot and wet crowd demanded the band come back for just one more. Obliging like any good friend would, the guys returned to the stage and jumped into Bob Dylan’s "Wedding Song." This proved a fitting way to end the night as the band sang to the crowd; "I love you more than ever/More than time and more than love". And as quickly as it started, it ended. It’s disappointing that this particular side project only comes around once a year but that’s also what makes it so damn fun: Getting to see some of your favorite friends who aren’t usually readily available due to various life commitments. But as strongly connected friends know; next year, there’s always next year.
***SET I: Jesse James, How Long Blues, Always Up, Everything Fades, Turkey Knob, Two Bottles Of Wine, On & On, Jesus Grant Me Mercy>Train Song, Death Trip* SET II: Raleigh, Screen Door, All About You, Love Songs Suck, Sunday Afternoon, On My Way Back, Looking For Air, East Virginia Blues, Pretty Polly, One More, Illinois Rain