Yonder Mountain String Band, Marathon Music Works, Nashville, TN – 1/11
Photo by Todd Powers
The second set opened with the guitar styling of Aijala on “Jail Song.” A special highlight appeared early in the second set as the band treaded delicately into Garcia’s “Althea” featuring Carter’s fiddle work. “Althea” is one of those unique songs that stylistically lends itself for treatment by a string band with opportunities for soul stirring fiddle counter melodies and banjo and mandolin peppers, intricate guitar work and a sliding base line. “Althea’s” raw emotion provided a scaffold for melodic interpretation that resonated well with this particular audience. After an unusually long ovation, Austin expressed gratitude with a sincere aside stating “That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”.
As the second set continued, Austin commented that “Confetti and plastic champagne glass were still on the floor from the Del McCoury’s Band NYE show” and subsequently introduced mandolinist Ronnie McCoury, fresh from the stage of the Ryman Auditorium. McCoury joined the band for “Katy Hill,” a traditional bluegrass standard made popular by Bill Monroe. McCoury stayed on board for “New Deal Train” and “Pretty Daughter,” trading mandolin licks with Austin in rock star fashion while demonstrating an innate melodious connection with McCoury band mate Carter.
After receiving a hospitable ovation, McCoury exited the stage as the fellows scuttled through the middle miles of the second set taking turns on an extensive “Honestly.” “ Smiles Like She’s Always Been a Friend” made its second appearance after its debut in Boulder on New Year’s Eve. Continuing with the banjo theme, “You’re No Good” steamrolled into a fearsome old school bluegrass breakdown.
The second set ended with an ambitious transitory passage beginning with “I’d Like Off” and escalating with a furiously paced “Ten.” As “Ten” dwindled, Carter’s fiddle slowly drifted into a whiff of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” with Austin crooning “Brother, Brother”. Breathing for just a moment, the band then ripped into a “Looking Back Over My Shoulder.” The impact on the audience was instantaneous as bobble heads nodded in the warmth of the stage lights. The energy of the transient jam back into Ten was visibly reflected in tantric expressions of the entranced fanatics. “Ten” charged to a sweltering halt leaving the crowd in ecstatic reverie.
Well after 1:00 am, the crowd clamored for an encore and was successively not disappointed. YMSB retook the stage with Futureman in tow for a two song finale. Frank Zappa’s “Slime” oozed through the speakers as Austin encouraged the audience “Don’t that dial”. In closing the band espoused a sense of clairvoyance and a heaving dose of foreshadowing as “Bloody Mary Morning” wrapped up a sore legged night of auditory stimulus. In an interesting turn of events, two fire trucks showed up during the encore with lights blazing and sirens blaring. It is unclear whether their arrival had anything to do with incendiary nature of the show. The evening ended with little pomp as the red-eyed crowd spilled into the cramped streets with visions of Bloody Mary’s dancing in their heads.
In the end, Yonder Mountain’s unique ability to tip the hat toward tradition, nod to the influences of one’s elders, and keep an eye continually focused toward innovation made for a powerful and pleasant evening of musical exploration.