Yonder Mountain String Band, Belly Up, Aspen, CO 3/16-17
Night two of the Aspen Yonder run was upon us.
“You guys ready to get rowdy tonight?” Dave asks. Everyone cheers, absolutely.
As electric distortion fills the space, ʻEast Nashville Easterʼ begins. The mando and fiddle support the banjoʼs righteous solo before all joining together to produce a complex and chaotic symphony of strings. “St. Patrickʼs day is always an interesting holiday; Iʼm happy to see most of you still upright,” says bassist Ben Kaufmann. “So hereʼs a bluegrass song; try not to throw up on your neighbor.” With that, ʻWalking Shoesʼ fuels the whiskey jig in the grassy crowd. And, Jason Carter was still with the boys for one more night on the fiddle.
Heʼs great at telling jokes too. If you ever see him in a dark alleyway ask him about the pretzel hole,” guitarist Adam Ajala remarks.
The relatively new ʻLonesome Letterʼ is up next. It steadies the pace with some meditative banjo riffs.
“The man on the banjo sure can name a song; David Johnston everybody,” says mandolin player Jeff Austin.
“Strophe-y for an unsung albatross, Reeseʼs pieces,” Dave replies in typical wildcard fashion. ʻStropheʼ was the instrumental being alluded to here. The crowd is given a chance to soak up the melodic harmonies before some midwest bluegrass, ʻIllinois Rainʼ. Passion shines through every lyric and mandolin strum.
A brief pause, and then, ʻJack A Roeʼ. It satisfies all the Heads in the crowd, and a traditional too, justified with great authenticity.
“Anyway hereʼs a great big rock and roll number,” Ben laughs. “Itʼs called ʻStraight Lineʼ, and I hope you like it.” A mellow rhythm, and reflective verses fill the air. As ʻRipcord Bluesʼ gives way the beat picks up, and things get a little more grassy. Thick fiddle riffs saturate the Belly Up. Then, a lengthy ʻMotherʼs Only Sonʼ. All the crowd sings along, and our minds wander in the strings of this incredibly detailed jam. The stage grows quiet as the song ends, yet lone mandolin notes kick off a ʻRaleigh And Spencerʼ! So much energy is suddenly being exchanged. The crowd lets loose, and so do the boys up on stage. Adamʼs guitar soloing is perfection, and Jeff holds nothing back on the mando. Glancing around, Yonder has brought many smiling faces. There isnʼt
one motionless spot in the entire venue. Another round of solos? Why not. Such an electric conclusion to the first set.
You folks ready for more?” Jeff asks
ʻKentucky Mandolinʼ starts it off. Thereʼs so much going on instrumentally that a lack of verse isnʼt even noticed; the strings more than satisfy on their own. The bass lines get jazzy, and Kaufmannʼs bass faces are even better. Then, a quick segue into Adamʼs ʻLeft Me In A Holeʼ. The Belly Up echoes the chorus back to the stage.
“Cheers everybody”, Jeff says. He sips on a drink while sporting some mighty festive, flashing green shamrock shades. Then itʼs Jasonʼs turn to sing. An incredible fiddle player with an equally talented voice; itʼs deep and smooth for those bluegrass tunes. This oneʼs ʻLonesome Onʼry & Meanʼ.
“We were talking about it earlier, how in the confines of this space, experiencing the energy that you guys put out, and how awesome that is to feel, so thank you,” Ben says. He jokingly adds, “And for those of you listening at home, put some clothes on for crying out loud; itʼs disgusting”.
The grassy good times continue with ʻRedbirdʼ. Singing all in unison, theyʼre really pulling from those traditional roots.Yet things start to get a little funky with ʻShake Me Upʼ. Everyone takes full
advantage and grooves along. More of those bass lines fill the space; the mandolin supports the jam with quick contrasting strums. No time is wasted as ʻWinds of Wyomingʼ begins. Daveʼs low voice adds an ominous tone to this ʻsweet countryʼ song. Another good Adam song, itʼs ʻAnother Dayʼ follows. The notes have quickened once more as we are sweetly serenaded. The vibe remains high inside the Belly Up; St. Paddyʼs day is being more than enjoyed by all around.
“I had this thought in my head lately that I just want to say aloud; the gravy is made out of leprechaun blood,” Dave says.
“What color is the sky in your world?” Ben asks.
After such an introduction, ʻEasy Come Easy Goneʼ. As Ben had mentioned, this one isnʼt played as often, and itʼs always nice to hear a more obscure song in the mix. Itʼs a quick and low-noted bluegrass song, with some more quality fiddle. The comes, the much-loved instrumental, ʻMidwest Gospel Radioʼ. In fact, there had been lots of quality instrumentals over this run. Yet, each of them unique. MGR brings a relaxed and pensive sound. The jam gains momentum, elevating the beat to louder, funkier levels. Then suddenly, the mando leads a segue into…ʻPeace of Mindʼ! One of the most popular Yonder songs, and for good reason; everyoneʼs beyond ready to stomp around. Even better, the jam gets greatly psychedelic while maintaining that high energy funky sound. The pace slows as a serene ʻMorning Dewʼ arrives. Yet the soft notes become fast notes. We had never heard a Morning Dew like this before, but itʼs a fun rendition. Then the pace relaxes once again, but not for long; time to finish off that ʻPeace of Mindʼ. The crowd is bouncing around the room.
Returning for the encore, Ben has no bass in hand, which means itʼs time for ʻHoldinʼ. Joyful guitar melodies blend with sweet mandolin as Ben serenades. Always an enjoyable encore, everyoneʼs feelin good in the Belly Up.
“Have yourself a good ass night out here,” Jeff tells us. “Show those folks in Aspen what you’re made of; be good to each other, and if youʼre out there sitting on your couch, worn out from tearing up the rug in your living room, thanks for listening to us…we hope you had a good time”.
Fortunately we had one more. Hello ʻSouthern Flavorʼ. Intense bass lines take over as the other strings sing. Yet another epic instrumental to conclude a quality St. Paddyʼs, courtesy of Yonder Mountain String Band.