Yonder Mountain String Band, Marathon Music Works, Nashville, TN – 1/11
Photo by Todd Powers
It is not a well guarded secret that Nashville, TN is known for its rich musical ecosystem, characterized by collaboration and innovation within the framework of traditional American music. While the glitzy lights of Broadway and the Grand Ole Opry draw conventional country music fans to Nashville, the intimate music halls, trendy clubs, and seedy bars host the essence of musical evolution for modern string band music. Yonder Mountain String Band’s second stop of Winter Tour 2013 did little to invalidate this conception of Nashville. In their annual endeavor to eradicate cabin fever, YMSB with special guest Jason Carter of the Del McCoury Band, romped through imaginative originals and expressive covers that acknowledge traditional influences while expounding the bounds of folk music with a little help from some special “Nashville” friends.
An uncharacteristically warm and muggy January Friday night, in an unassuming warehouse district, provided the setting for an uncharacteristically potent show. The Marathon Music Works, a converted brick warehouse, hosted the evening’s festivities with a retro industrial ambiance. Early in the evening a diverse crowd, spanning multiple generations and genres of music enthusiasts, lined the uneven sidewalk. Tie-dyed hippies, horned rimmed hipsters, and dated geriatrics, all waited anxiously to grab prime floor space as the doors opened around 7:30pm. As fans streamed in, Austin based Wood and Wire, a traditional 4 piece string band steeped in Texas singer-song writer and swing, warmed the crowd with a cache of expeditious original numbers.
Shortly after 9:00pm Yonder Mountain String Band took the stage to a raucous roar from a fervent and passionate set of admirers. After a quick tuning and a brief hello, YMSB commenced with “Illinois Rain,” a torrential down pour of speed mandolin upstrokes, banjo rolls, fiddle runs and guitar noodles, leaving little doubt toward the direction of the evening’s amusements. 40 Miles from Denver frolicked past with longing vocals pleading for “cool mountain air”. “Loved You Enough” began with an inside joke amongst the band about “some new lyrics” and concluded with a rambunctious multitude of bouncing audiophiles. The instrumental ode “Strophe” switched the tone to a more exultant mood inspiring cheerful ruminations. Changing gears again, “All the Time” scampered forward as each member took a crack at imaginative solo ventures.
As the first set escalated, Flecktones’ percussionist, Futureman (Roy Wooten), joined the band on his custom Pearl drum box. The relationship between YMSB and Futureman began on the 2004 Acoustic Planet tour, and burgeoned as YMSB shared duties with Bela Fleck, the Flecktones and Keller Williams on a nightly basis. The set took an ethereal turn as “King Ebeneezer” slithered into the well timed resolution with the Marley-esque “2 Hits and the Joint Turned Brown,” complete with the obligatory crowd sing along. Following a declaration from Austin expressing “the need for more bass and drums in his life”, Kaufmann and Wooten took charge with a funky drum and bass beat down complete with a crowd dance off. Dave Johnston took the lead with orbital banjo licks and a trace of the high and lonesome on “Don’t Worry Happy Birthday.” A rather concise “Idaho” breezed past with collective sprint. Closing the set, Angel with its cathartic vocals, led the crowd into an emotional liquidation resulting in a boisterous and sustained round of applause broken only by a mad dash to beer lines and bathrooms.