The sky was overcast as we headed east bound on I-70 out of Kansas City; the temperature wasn't too bad but the cloud cover was definitely present. As usual, my friends and I were trying to contain ourselves as the spirit of anticipation ran rampant through the car. You can't really help but laugh when you know you're about to experience something so epic in such a short period of time. We cranked the Saturday night Liberty Hall set to 11 and sped off towards the gateway to the west!
We arrived at our hotel around 4 o'clock and by the time we reached the front desk I could already tell that we had picked the right spot. Yonder fans seemed to be surrounding us; checking in, leaving for the hotel bar, carrying ice to their rooms, it was like a gathering all in itself. As we got to our room I heard bluegrass through the door two doors down and a lady excitedly talking to someone on the phone down the hall. She could barely contain excitement as she shouted "Yonder in Saint Louis!" to her awe-struck friend. That was on the fifth floor. I could only imagine what was going on the other four floors.
The clock read 5:15 and it was time to hit the Halo Bar. As my friends and I finished up procuring a decent buzz, we got a call from our taxi driver that he had arrived at the hotel, and soon enough we were on our way. We arrived at the Pageant in less than ten minutes and got our will-call tickets in under 5 - I guess showing up early has its perks. For the next hour and a half or so we mingled around and helped ourselves to the always wonderful discounted PBR tall boys until they finally opened the door at about 7:45. We were in the back of the line but we still found a decent spot to the left of the sound stage on the aisle line.
The fans were pouring in and it felt like you could cut the energy in the air with a knife. As the lights faded and the house music came down, the 23 strings of disaster mosied their way onto the stage. 12 months of preparation and anticipation all culminating into this one glorious moment in which all Kinfolk would be united as one with the knowledge that this band and this time and space would be the only way to ring in the new year, knowing that there is no turning back now, and joining in the peace of mind that you would never want to be anywhere else but right there, had all come down to this moment in time. With the boys back in Saint Louis and a more aerodynamic Ben Kaufman, all bets were off and the weekend was ready for kick-off.
It wouldn't be a far-fetched claim to say the first set was one of tales about the road, love and loss and above all, finding your way back home. There are many Yonder tunes that could go in these categories but an arrangement such as this, in my opinion, is more valuable than many other similar sets that we've seen throughout the year. The abroad words of "Southbound" and the blatant realities of "Ramblers Anthem" confirm this thesis. Following these classics was "Ripcord Blues" and once again Davey Johnston writes us a metaphor for the ages, "a corner makes the room, the room goes to the street, your heart'll hang your head and your body moves your feet," as if to say keep walking buddy and take it all in stride. A "Redbird" gives us a short pause from our lonesome blues for a little bit of floor stomping goodness before they went on to an 18-minute "Honestly", "Complicated", "Ragdoll" ramble.
If there is anyone out there who has beef with the "Fingerprint", I think you might be at the wrong show. This is by far one of the Dave Johnston fans favorite anthems and will be so for many years to come, not to mention a perfect icebreaker for a gem like "Must've Had Your Reasons". This is a testament to Yonder's ability to deliver such a crush groove right before a classic three song mash up followed then by one of the best sandwiches of the night. "Ruby">"Ten">"Ruby". Need I say more? Set two? What would they think of next?
As I stand waiting for my two tall-boys in the smoke filled Halo Bar, I overhear someone say that the boys are back on stage, which prompts me to leave a ridiculous tip and sprint into the Pageant to see what song they would start out the second set with. I find myself in the middle of the first verse of "What The Night Brings" and I couldn't be more pleased. It seems as though Jeff Austin has mastered the art of writing songs that have driving verses that seem to seamlessly segue into rock steady chorus lines and "What The Night Brings" is a perfect example of this.
By this point in the show everyone in the crowd was feeling the Yonder Mountain Pageant vibe in spades and from "Southern Flavor" on it was a no-holds-barred throw down! I stood back and watched as my fellow Yonder nerds wiggled it out to "Damned if the Right One Didn't Go Wrong" and pounded the invisible walls of "East Nashville Easter". If you're in the mood for a treat, our brother Steve Day got a wicked video of the super spacey "Midwest Gospel Radio Piper" tease, not to mention all his slow motion videos( love 'em all dude!).
With a "Sidewalk Stars", "Boatman", "KY Mandy" and a "Steepgrades", we neared the home stretch and I began to think of what had been played and what was still left in the realm of possibilities. After a night like that what else could they do besides throw down another killer sandwich? Would they throw in a curveball? It wouldn't be a Yonder Mountain Show if they didn't. "Traffic Jam"> "Out of the Blue"> "TEAR DOWN THE GRAND OL OPRY"!> "Traffic Jam". Unbelievable!
Howls and hollers rang out in complete satisfaction as if that was the last tune we would ever hear. I knew what I had seen. I think it's safe to say we all did. An array of basically all the new material that they debuted in 2010 merged with the old-time numbers that have warmed our souls for so many years. The only thing that could make this night just that much better would be good old fashion Misfits cover. "Troubled Mind">"20 Eyes">"Troubled Mind". The crowd exploded in utter disbelief, the fellas put up there axes, made their way off stage, and left us with one of the greatest cliff hangers I have ever experienced.
All and all I am more than pleased with the Saint Louis Pageant run and I can't wait to do it again sometime! Special thanks to Jeff, Dave, Adam, and Ben. Ben Hines, Ted Atwell, Todd Zimmerman, Kevin Gregory, Scotty of the merch table and everyone else who makes our Yonder world go round. Thank you to all Kinfolk for making this the greatest crowd in music today.
Written by Dan Ottinger
Yonder Mountain String Band
12/30/10 The Pageant, St. Louis, MO