After a four hour drive west, we “rolled” into Tuscaloosa Alabama, home of Crimson Tide and… I’m sure some other nice things that I’m unaware of. I do know that it is, for tonight at least, the home of the Yonder Mountain String Band. It’s a chilly Thursday night outside of The Bama Theatre, night 2 of everyone’s favorite winter tradition, the Cabin Fever Tour.
“Who’s interested in more Yonder!?” I scream, flashing handfuls of yellow Asheville and Atlanta flyers. After a while we decide to head inside. Once at will call, I’m handed a small red ticket, like the ones they hand out for some sort of cake raffle. Once inside, my hand is stamped and my ticket ripped in half. So much for saving this show’s ticket. But hey, you can’t argue with re-entry! Now that we’re inside I can really feel the buzz of excitement. Before we make it past the restrooms I can hear familiar voices, amplified from the auditorium. They’ve gone on! After a quick “hello” to Scotty we scamper inside. This is when I learn that by Bama Theatre, they pretty much mean old movie theatre. It’s a cool place, lots of detail and interesting paint work on the walls and ceiling. It’s also full of seats. And the seats are full of asses tonight (although at this point no one is sitting). The dance floor extends about 5 feet from stage to seats. Needless to say, it’s packed. Ben asks the crowd what would happen if he said “Roll Tide” as we get as close as we can to the stage. This gets the crowd going and Jeff goes to work on the strings. "Cuckoo’s Nest". I haven’t seen the boys since Harvest Fest, which might as well have been years ago! I’m overcome with joy. No denying it at this point. I am where I belong. Thank you, John Hartford. Thank you, Yonder Mountain.
"Cuckoo" got everyone ready for a great "Dawn’s Early Light"; then a crowd-pleasing "Bolton Stretch", followed by "Pockets", one of my new favorites, "River", and "Mental Breakdown". After that we get "Blue Collar Blues", "Honestly", another favorite, and "Naughty Sweetie". Then things really pick up for "Fastball". It’s at this point I notice Dave’s face. He doesn’t seem all too pleased with Fastball. He actually seems to be… in pain. After the show I noticed his hand covered in ice. The next night in Nashville, the ice would be replaced by a cast. All this only leads me to conclude one thing. David H. Johnston is a badass dude.
"I’d Like Off" is next, complete with light spectacle, electric distorted mando, and a raucous applause that meshes with the beginning of "Sometimes I’ve Won", which at some point becomes the ever-pleasing "2 Hits". And that wraps the first set. Remember when I said something about re-entry? Time to go chug cheap beer and head back inside!
At this point we’ve made it a little closer to the stage, so I take a piece of paper, a sharpie, and write "Ruby"> "Reuben’s Train"> "Reuben & Cherise". Now I know there is no way this is going down tonight, but hey, I’ve got all tour, and many more tours to come. I fold this piece of paper into an airplane. At some point of my engineering they’ve begun "Ten". Then we finally get some Dave with an extra rockin "Fingerprint". After that "How Bout You" pumps us up, "Jail Song" strikes us to the core, and "Out of the Blue" gets everyone screaming. Then Jeff says a little something and “Well!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”….. Well, you know how that goes. "Rambler" seems fitting in Alabama. The “shots” get brought on stage, and here’s my chance. I take careful aim from the rail, and toss the airplane, which lands right at Ben’s feet. Ben sets the bass down, sips the Pellegrino, and steps up to the mic, seemingly ignoring the airplane that has crash-landed at his feet. This followed by a chorus of “doo’s” can only mean one thing, more John Hartford. Nothing like "Holding" to bring a room of once strangers together. Especially when sandwiched between "Rambler". Needless to say, after a "Rambler"> "Holding"> "Rambler" sandwich, it takes a second for the crowd to die down. During the ovation Jeff happily walks to the airplane and snatches it from the floor, unfolding it as he walks away. I give him the thumbs up, he reads the note, nodding slightly. After the crowd dies down we get "Lonesome Heart", and an awesome "Mother’s Only Son"> "Polly Put the Kettle on"> "Mother’s" sandwich. The lights dim, and the band plucks at strings randomly. “Have you folks had a good time here?” asks Jeff. They continue to strum. I get an overwhelming feeling of excitement. I grab my friends shoulder, “This isn’t?” I trail off. Jonny laughs and tells me they haven’t started playing anything, but I knew better. In that moment I could feel the excitement.
The plucking starts to come together. Jeff wails. Something about how he searched low and high and far. At this point I’ve basically lost it. Now, you have to understand, "Ruby" was one of the first songs I remember truly losing my mind to at one of my first Yonder shows. And I do love a good version of "Ruby", especially with some "Reuben’s Train" in the mix, and who doesn’t love "Reuben and Cherise", hence the airplane. And a spectacular version of "Ruby"> "Riverside"> "Ruby" was just what they had in store. Jeff screams “…for my Ruby!” The music comes to a loud crescendo, and a halting stop. “This is dedicated to my muse” says Jeff, “Ruby!” Now, I’m not going to get away with myself here, but could this mean the airplane, or a better version of the airplane request may one day come true? Only time will tell. A chorus of “little girl, follow me down” leads us into "Riverside". This song has come a long way. With a great story about the little girl, and some creative fun from Ben Hines, taking Jeff’s voice to a creepy, low octave, to tell us about the pick ax, and the hacksaw, doin’ the deed. After this, Jeff walks to Dave, says something in his ear, Dave nods, Jeff walks away. This is when Dave throws a little "Reuben’s Train" into the mix. Imagine my excitement at this point. The chorus of "Reuben’s Train" leads us back into "Ruby". "Ruby" comes to a huge, climactic end, and they proceed to walk off stage. Wow.
It doesn’t take too much yelling to get them back onstage. A short and sweet "Sharecropper’s Son", but wait, time for one more!? They finish the night with a Danny Barnes number, "Death Trip". Perhaps you’ve heard it?
Well, needless to say this night was all it took to seal my weekend plans with the boys in Tennessee. Their second night on tour, but night one of Cabin Fever Tour for me, and it started and ended the way every Cabin Fever Tour does, with amazing music, and great friends, old and new. See you in Nashville.
Written by Eric Martin
|Yonder Mountain String Band|
1/27/11 Bama Theatre, Tuscaloosa, AL
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