Yonder Mountain String Band, Belly Up, Aspen, CO 3/16-17
The two day Aspen run had sold out long before opening night, yielding great anticipation. As if that excitement wasnʼt enough, it was apparent upon arrival at the Belly Up that this venue was a real gem. Itʼs small, intimate, and every spot in the house is superb. Such a set up enables rail riders to be within mere inches of the band. In this case, upright bass in your face.
As the Yonder boys walk on stage mandolin player Jeff Austin is quick to say, “Thereʼs nothing like being home in Colorado”. Everyone cheers. Itʼs Yonder time.
This evening Jason Carter would be joining on the fiddle, which hadnʼt happened since the first leg of Winter Tour. What better to start off the night than with ʻTenʼ. The fiddle sings with sweet smoothness, adding a dimension to the Yonder sound that just belongs. A melodic guitar riff from Adam Aijala further adds to the blissgrass while Dave Johnston chimes in on the banjo and plays with such perfection you wouldnʼt even think about looking away. The jam becomes explicitly spacey, with brief funky greetings from the mandolin. The verse returns and the beat quickens for a final huzzah.
Ben Kaufmann (Upright bass) then asks the crowd, “Iʼm just curious, does anybody know where I can get a $1200 sweater in this town?”
“Or maybe an ascot?” Adam says.
Ben laughs and retorts, “Iʼd like an asc-actually I’m not gonna say that word in the microphone anymore, ever”.
ʻPolly Put The Kettle Onʼ fires up next. This instrumental has a very strong tone, bringing out all the air banjos, mandos and guitars in the crowd.Itʼs quite the sight. A more traditional song, ʻAinʼt No Way of Knowingʼ then arrives. It carries the familiar and much loved foot-stompin bluegrass beat. ʻPocketsʼ keeps it going; the fiddle adds a noticeable zing. It really is too bad that
Jason Carter hasnʼt hopped on the Yonder wagon for good, but he has responsibilities in ʻMcCoury landʼ, or so theyʼve deemed it.
A lengthy ʻPass This Wayʼ offered more soulful fiddle licks. Perhaps it was just because the fiddle was usually absent, but Jasonʼs playing was really shining through, meshing together effortlessly with all other strings present.
“Thatʼs David Johnston right there on the banjo,” Jeff says.
“We are here for you mountainous pleasure,” Dave replies.
A McCoury tune, ʻEli Renfroʼ, brings some dark verses in typical bluegrass fashion.
Next, itʼs Daveʼs turn to sing one again with ʻDonʼt You Lean On Meʼ. Itʼs short, and sweet. Well, as sweet as such a song could be.
“Think about it,” Dave says.
An instrumental for which words do no justice, ʻElzicʼs Farewellʼ, is upon us now. Everyone contributes their own masterful piece as the solos make their rounds. The sound is intriguing, and thought-provoking; itʼs easy to get lost in these riffs. Suddenly, ʻLooking Back Over My Shoulderʼ has given way. Ever so smoothy transitioned from that Elzicʼs, the verses speak of that ʻbitter windʼ, ʻrunning all alone in the nightʼ. Yet, it unites all the Yonder heads in the crowd; they all made it here.
And, like that, set one is done. Fortunately, there was much more to come.
As ʻKing Ebeneezerʼ starts things off, itʼs quite clear this next round is gonna get rowdy. Some groovy chord progressions, and strange, but wonderful vocal distortions begin to heat things up. Yet, itʼs getting quiet, and Jeffʼs mando solo turns into ʻBoatman.’ If ever a song to get down to, this is it. In fact, the Belly Up has erupted in celebration. The vibe is high and the notes are fast as the verse prompts the crowd to raise their hands to ʻpass the whiskey roundʼ.
“Why donʼt we have Jason sing us one?” Adam says.
The time has come for that ʻVamp In The Middleʼ. A well-known Hartford tune, itʼs delivered flawlessly. Carter has an incredible full-bodied voice. And, of course, that fiddle. A ʻfast bluegrass numberʼ from Danny Barnes is up next, and itʼs ʻGoing Where They Do Not Know My Nameʼ. Fast ass, dance grass indeed.
“Letʼs rage some Neil Young,” Dave says.
And with that, ʻEverybody Knows This is Nowhereʼ. Glancing around, everyone is thoroughly enjoying themselves. If too good a time were such a thing, this Colorado crowd had certainly achieved it. ʻTo See You Coming ʻRound The Bendʼ keeps the feel-goodness rolling, and the fast notes are back with ʻHigh On A Hilltopʼ.
“Yet another song by Ben Kaufmann that has far too many chords, faaaar too many chords,” Adam says.
“Breaking rules in bluegrass folks, breaking the rules, thatʼs what you got to do,” Ben replies.
ʻFinally Saw The Lightʼ follows The emotion filled verses pull on our heartstrings, but in the best of ways.
“And it is only because itʼs such a good song that we allow all those chords to be played,” Adam adds.
Many such expressions fill all our faces as ʻLay It On The Lineʼ begins. Delicate mandolin scaling gains passionate intensity as the verse arrives. And itʼs Adamʼs turn to sing to us with those guitar strings. The instrumentals are just as powerful as verses, and voice what words cannot.
“Itʼs really nice to look out and see so many familiar and friendly faces. Like I recognize most of you since, forever. See all of a sudden something got up in my heart and made me feel good just then,” Ben says.
Dave chimes in, “Yeah, I think I got about eight or nine scrabble games going on with you people”.
After a slow and steady ʻWinds on Fireʼ, the end of our sentimental little Yonder journey is signaled with the opening notes of ʻTraffic Jamʼ. Itʼs time to heat things back up. As one ʻstops and takes a look aroundʼ it would appear the Belly Up is enraptured with bluegrass. Dave delivers a fire banjo solo; the notes go on an on, with seemingly limitless jam potential. Jeff follows suit on the mandolin, and as the song begins to change direction, Adam takes us into a ʻYears with Roseʼ. What a sweet transition, from a raging T-Jam into a soft and serene Rose. The charming verses are briefly contrasted with a sinister fiddle jam. Then, the climb begins once again, and ʻTraffic Jamʼ is back! There are incredible amounts of energy pulsing through the crowd.
The second set had flown by, but at least there was still that encore. A familiar cover, ʻOoh La Laʼ, gets the crowd swayin and singin along.
As ʻSideshow Bluesʼ begins Jeff adds, “You folks have yourself a good time in Aspen tonight, I wanna hear all the good stories tomorrow….do me proud people!”
Rightfully so, everyone takes full advantage of their last chance to dance. Itʼs one of the most high-spirited ‘Sideshows’ Iʼve ever heard, and itʼs hard to believe the night, or rather the show, has already come to an end.
Well itʼs past midnight, Happy St. Patrickʼs Day folks, see you all tomorrow!”
One night of Yondering down, one to go.