Lifestyles Community Pavilion - Columbus, OH (February 17)

When I’m at a Yonder Mountain show, I’m not there only as a fan, I’m there to completely immerse myself in the soundscape, to experience and feel every aspect of it. Let me share just a little of what that’s like… I was at Front Street Tavern earlier that Thursday, on my Yonder Mission, watching the Rumpke Mountain Boys start off what I can only describe as a night of music transformed into electricity and motion. They were creating a great experience! I remember hearing a Tom Waits cover as I stepped out onto the patio for some air. It was the nicest evening Columbus had seen in a while. The weather had miraculously turned around that morning as if anticipating the arrival of our guys, YMSB, who would create their magic later that night. “Looking back over my shoulder” on that Thursday, I realized that it was the preceding experiences, as well as the actual Yonder Experience, that completed my immersion. The richness of the total soundscape that is the “Yonder Experience” is just overwhelming!

My immersion into the Yonder Columbus show had begun about a month ahead of time. I was “Street Teaming” for the Kinfolk group. Weeks prior to the show I was at Woodlands Tavern in Grandview promoting YMSB during the Greensky Bluegrass and Rumpke shows. I recall having a conversation with Ben and Jason from Rumpke about Yonder and how they were excited to be playing both the pre and after shows in Columbus and Covington. Their excitement fed my excitement further….

As I continued my promotions in the weeks preceding at Umphrey’s and various other local shows, I was energized by the amount of great people I was meeting in the process who were also wildly anticipating the approaching Yonder show. This was all intentional on my part. I fully recognize how the advance work I contributed was actually pumping me up even more! I proceeded to make Columbus look as “Yonderful” as possible as I strategically placed neon orange and yellow Cabin Fever Tour posters over each and every surface I could find. As the weeks passed, my anticipation of the Yonder experience was building. It was palpable, almost painful; excitement in its rawest form!

Suddenly it was the day of the show. I awoke that morning earlier than usual, literally jumping out of bed. With some Yonder pep in my step, I proceeded to go through the motions of my work day, while constantly counting the minutes to the approaching evening. I was thinking back to my last Yonder experience at the House of Blues in Boston and specifically about one song. I loved that song. Would they play it that night?

Seven o’clock rolled around as my friend Sarah and I headed down to The LC a bit early. We were there to complete our work with Kinfolk and collect names for the mailing list before the show. The second we hopped out of the car, I noticed the place was swarming with beautiful faces and positive vibes! We walked into the venue and up to the merchandise stand where we met another fellow Kinfolk comrade. As Sarah and I surveyed the lobby, we were ecstatic to converse with fans, attendees, and friends from near and far as we compiled and recorded quite the lengthy list of Yonder followers on our clipboards.

The opening band was doing work on stage as the twangs and rifts of bluegrass music sliced the heavy air with promise of what was to come. Just as we finished our before show duties, we grabbed some whiskey (only fitting). Right on time, the lights dimmed and we heard the rush of shouts and cheers as the band took the stage. The long awaited moment; Liftoff!

Sarah and I rushed to the front of the pit as Yonder began their introductions. “Hey everybody! How you all doin’ here tonight?” Jeff exclaimed. After complimenting the Columbus crowd and expressing their own anticipation for the show, they jumped straight into Out of the Blue, and we were off and runnin’. The crowd immediately picked up their feet, and a gigantic rush of energy exploded with the lights and sound.

A brief pause to calibrate and the band hopped straight into the next song as Ben sang Rag Mama. Following that peppy tune they brought out Ed Caner from the opener Hey Mavis on the fiddle as they went into A Father’s Arms. The fiddle added a beautiful serene quality to an already heartfelt song. The next three songs were exceptionally picked covers ranging from classic bluegrass oldies like Red Rocking Chair and Polka on the Banjo, to the highly popular new cover Althea by The Grateful Dead. As they began Polka on the Banjo, Jeff drew attention to Dave’s broken hand as he took his turn singing the song with the familiar deep toned voice we all know and love. He shocked and awed us all as we witnessed him pick the hell out of the banjo with two fingers. The rest of the first set was filled with energy and nostalgia as the band played an all time favorite Ruby, as well as Not Far Away, and How‘Bout You. Closing out the set with an energetic Illinois Rain> Troubled Mind> Illinois Rain, they sent the crowd out for set break reminding us, “be good to each other”. Wise words to live by at a show.

As set break came to an end, everyone around me was buzzing with anticipation, awaiting the next set. The wait was not long before they kicked into Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down. The LC was absolutely rocking. I can only assume that during the set break we all recharged our energy times ten to rock the house until it was over. Left and right fans were throwing arms in the air, howlin’, jumpin’ and movin’! Yonder just brings out the best of this town! Jeff took a moment to reference the rowdiness of last year’s epic Columbus show, commending us for living up to our reputation. Following that appraisal, the band kicked it into high gear with Honestly, Casualty (one of my favorites), and Train Bound for Gloryland, and Columbus was literally “Onboard that Train”!

The band took a brief pause after Blues, as Jeff informed us about the song to come. It was one he wrote with two others in Nashville, Tennessee. “It’s about a woman who was a total bitch…” he said. What followed was arguably one of the most elevating moments of the night as they ripped into Nothin’ But Nothin’. The crowd went wild. It was appearing as if the night was only going to get better from there on out. And we were right. What followed next was a song I don’t think I expected to hear that night, but thinking back, it was perfectly fitting. One friend next to me began jumping straight up and down as the familiar guitar rift of Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown began. As the band intermingled Ohio references into the quirky and goofy song, the crowd wailed “Ooohhh sweet mama! Ooohhh pretty baby!” loud and clear. And just as I thought there was no getting better than that, I was corrected. Ben said, “this is one of those rare songs where the song is in control, from the beginning to the end…and we just kinda hang on for dear life”. Jeff joked around saying, “the hips of every women in this room are also partially in control of this song”. And then it began. It was Damned If the Right One Didn’t Go Wrong. I was five miles high at this point and I wasn’t coming down. After playing another favorite Part I, which I was in utter disbelief at the amount of amazing songs they were churning out that night, as well as Fingerprint, there was a noticeable shift in the air. Something big was coming. You could feel it.

Without notice, it came… Snow on the Pines. As if this wasn’t enough, as my immersion continued, I recalled the song I had so been looking forward to possibly hearing and wondered, could this be the time? As Snow on the Pines wound down, I could feel a transition to another jam coming in. It slowed down, the room grew dark, as I got chills down my back. The all too familiar guitar rift picked and popped as I realized this was it… Follow Me Down to The Riverside! It picked up pace, faster and faster, as Jeff let out a wailing scream.

This version of the song was different than any other way I’ve ever heard it played. Jeff’s voice was layered above what I describe to be the haunting voice of the devil as he sang. Once again, chills up and down. After the dark song wound down, they went straight back into Snow on the Pines. Unbelievable! I knew the show was almost over, and there was most likely only one more song of set two to come. It was Raleigh and Spencer. Columbus was already absolutely wild with energy, but I’d say that Follow Me Down brought out a touch of madness and insanity in us all!

As Sarah and I caught our breath, we looked at each other with wide eyes and smiles from ear to ear! We awaited the encore which was yet again two perfectly picked covers, Ooh La La and sending us off into the night with a Misfits cover 20 Eyes. I was struck by a combination of thrill and disappointment that it was over.

After the show ended, the crowd filed out into the cool night. There was a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and exceeded expectations in the air as we proceeded to Front Street Tavern to jam with the Rumpke Boys. A perfect end to a perfect night. I was nothing but excited and elated because I still had the Yonder Covington show the next day. My immersion wasn’t ending with the last set, or the jam with Rumpke Boys. My Yonder Experience soundscape immersion was rolling on!

A week has gone by since the show in Columbus, and I must say, the energy is still here. People are still vibing and reeling from the amazing show. At Dick’s Den there’s a bluegrass jam every Tuesday. This Tuesday the bar was filled with talk of Yonder as they even played Yonder over the sound system in between breaks. A few days ago, I realized how haunted I was still feeling by their rendition of Follow Me Down… I decided to do some investigation.

Going directly to the source, I contacted Jeff Austin and asked him about it. I was curious because the last time I heard the same song in Boston, their inflections gave me the notion that it was a love song about a girl. I was perplexed by the dark version they played Thursday and was wondering if I had been mistaken about the song. It turns out I was.

Jeff explained to me that, "It’s something fun me and our FOH (Front of the House Engineer) do. We have hand signals where I can control the pitch. I point down, he drops the vox an octave…also just adds to the creepy nature of the tune".

I was shocked at his next remark when he explained that, “It’s about dismembering a person and feeding them to the pigs and dogs!”. I inquired if a lot of fans knew this about the song or not?

I also asked him if he modifies the song based on how he feels in the moment. He responded saying, “[the] song is a murder ballad. Woman wrongs man, man goes crazy, man murders woman. Taken from so many ballads that and before…and yes it changes every night depending on how I’m feeling and the vibe of the room. Never ends well for our lady however”.

The true improvisational character of Yonder, to me, is such an important aspect of why I believe they are so successful in drawing a devout following of fans and audiences. The Columbus show really revealed this characteristic about them. Yonder was reacting to the energy of the room, modifying the sound based on how they felt at the time. They gauge the vibrations of the audience and make decisions about how to present the music in an according manner. That’s talent.

What I believe to be an accurate statement of what Yonder Mountain successfully accomplishes in each and every show is “getting people to move and pick their feet up.” That’s what bluegrass is all about. Giving you the motivation and energy to keep on going, to keep pushing ahead in the face of whatever may stand in your way. This is something I can personally speak to. This explains what Yonder does for me as a fan, as well as a person living the day- to-day life. Motivation. Energy. Electricity. Yonder Mountain is by far one the most accomplished bands out there in this department.

Going forward, I will be continuing to immerse myself in a variety of live soundscape experiences such as this one, and I can’t wait for the next to come! If anyone shares my enthusiasm in this respect, drop me a line!

Written by Ali Lane

Yonder Mountain String Band
2/17/11 Lifesyles Community Pavilion, Columbus, OH

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