Yonder Mountain String Band, Orange Peel, Asheville, NC – 2/11
Archival Yonder photo by Craig Taraszki
Yonder Mountain String Band is definitely rooted in bluegrass music. They have a traditional setup but they are far from a traditionally bluegrass band. If you are searching for a good old fashioned bluegrass show, Yonder might not be the band for you. If you are a fan of rock n roll in search of something a little different, you might want to give Yonder Mountain String Band a try because regardless of the string band name they put on a rock show.
Yonder opened the show with a few bluegrass tunes that included “Sharecropper’s Son” and “Another Day” before Ben Kaufmann brought out the electric bass for his tune “Complicated.” Billy Seawell also made his first appearance of the night on the drums. “Complicated” is a new tune that sees Kaufmann pull the electric out more often than not anymore and shows how Yonder is attempting to bend the rules of traditional string band outfits. This tune has gotten better since they started playing it live, but it will be interesting to see where it goes with more time. Seawell stayed behind the kit for “Steep Grade Sharp Curves” before Yonder did some more experimental jamming.
“New Horizons” has become a tune that is routinely broken up live. This Friday evening was no different as Yonder segued into the fun Adam Aijala song “Goodle Days.” “Goodle Days” is a fun, poppy tune that had a nice contrast from the “New Horizons” that sandwiched it, but the highlight of this sequence was the transition back into “New Horizons.” Jeff Austin led the jam on mandolin as he almost teased “New Horizons” several times before jumping back into the end of the tune.
A fun “Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown” saw the first appearance of Andy Pond on banjo. Pond stayed on the banjo for the set closing, high tempo “Traffic Jam” sequence. “Traffic Jam” has produced some of Yonder’s best improvised music over the years and this version would not disappoint. They nailed a nice jam that led into “Elzic’s Farewell” that saw all members of the band take turns soloing at high levels before Yonder dropped back into the closing of “Traffic Jam.” “Traffic Jam” is a great example of Yonder blurring bluegrass lines because they play the tune with a rock band intensity.
Yonder kept the energy up for the start of the second set with “Keep On Going” into “Pockets” and then into a reggae tune called “Overtaker Medley” sung by guest banjoist, Andy Pond, and guest guitarist, George Pond. Yonder has a great knack for playing reggae tunes that helped make this cover fun before the band slammed into the ending of “Keep On Going.” Jeff Austin has an incredible ability to rock on his mandolin and transitions such as this are perfect for him to show his chops on his instrument as well as provide some showmanship.
Austin’s “Half Moon Rising” and Kaufmann’s “Troubled Mind” were solid tunes that eased the crowd back down to earth before Yonder showed their versatility by totally nailing “Robots.” This was the point in the show where bluegrass fans looking for a traditional bluegrass show would probably groan and walk out but if you think about how Yonder is able to nail tunes like this with only string instruments it really is incredible. Yonder was able to do some experimenting with the tune while not quite losing the edge of the song before they segued into Dave Johnston’s “Fingerprints” off their new self-titled studio album. Kaufmann’s “Finally Saw the Light” was a solid sing-a-long that gave the packed crowd a bit of a breather before Yonder began the closing run of songs.
Yonder has taken “Girlfriend is Better” and really done a lot of nice things with it since they started playing it fairly regularly a few years ago. Some of Yonder’s best improvisations can come from this tune or they can play a fairly standard version in the middle of a tune. On this night, Yonder nailed the tune before going into a spacey jam that led into a dark version of Jeff Austin’s “Follow Me Down to the Riverside.” Over the years, Austin has been known to change the verse lyrics of this song before breaking back into the chorus. In Asheville, Austin’s lyrics were very dark and almost mean. Austin himself had the look of a crazed lunatic before the band would bust back into the chorus. This was an interesting take on “Riverside” but you have to give them credit for trying to keep older tunes like this fresh. “Riverside” transitioned nicely to the crowd pleasing “Raleigh & Spencer” that would end the second set. This run of tunes had the Orange Peel crowd rocking as Yonder left the stage before returning for an encore of “40 Miles From Denver” and “Let Me Fall.”
Yonder has developed a reputation for strong live performances and their Friday night show in Asheville was no different. They play with great energy and can appeal to an array of musical tastes. Yonder has the ability to play straight, high-tempo bluegrass or they can take a bluegrass number and really improvise with it. Then there are the nights when Yonder will play “Robots” and really change it up. Whichever Yonder you get you know you can count on one thing, they will bring a rock show.