Because of Yonder, I was sold on Summer Camp (but this is my general attitude). When it comes to deciding where I’ll pack up and haul my bluegrass lovin’ self, distance is of no concern when Yonder is involved. I was ecstatic when I saw the amazing lineup of other bluegrass favorites that would be there like The Punch Brothers, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Cornmeal, The Avett Brothers, Greensky Bluegrass, and The Ragbirds. But to me, that hunk of greatness would be merely a piece without Yonder.
I also noticed that 30db would playing the first night of the festival, and I had been dying, literally, dying to let Bayliss and Austin rock my face off for quite some time. I was devastated when a turn of events kept me from getting there for Thursday night.
By the time my friends and I arrived and set up camp, there was hardly a second to sit before I had my musical ass handed to be by Chris Thile and The Punch Brothers. They were fantastic. Even more fantastic when I noticed Jeff backstage, watching Chris slay the audience with the devastatingly sweet sounds of his mandolin. He appeared to be in awe as well because I noticed him standing to the side, hand covering his mouth, eyes fixed on that dapper man in the grey suit. For a minute or two, my eyes were darting back and forth, from Thile to Austin, Thile to Austin, hoping that the next thing I would hear would be Chris calling Jeff out on stage and getting to see the two jam out together. But when that didn’t happen, I decided it was for the best because I believed, and still do today, that I would have died of complete and utter joy right there in that field. But hey, I’d go out like that any day. However, I couldn’t go down yet. I still had a whole set of Yonder coming!
After The Punch Brothers and a few others acts, I was incessantly checking the time because I knew I had to be as close as possible the second they took the stage. My friends were well aware of my love for Yonder as well as my plans for their set, and being the great friends they are, were on board and were hell bent on making sure it all worked out the way I hoped. When the three of us decided to stop by the campsite real quick before heading that way, I knew it was trouble. It wasn’t long before I heard the familiar twinkling tuning up of a banjo, mandolin, guitar and bass. Then I heard Yonder greet the audience. Luckily we had a prime campsite directly in front of the Sunshine Stage. The moment I heard the popping 1-2-3-4 of a mandolin, I looked at my friends and yelled, “Outta the Blue!” and took off. Leaving my friends behind, I ran (more so high-knee skipped) off towards the stage, singing as I went along. Looking back on it now, the people I passed on the way must have laughed to see me flying by. As I reached the stage, I ran straight into a brick wall of a crowd that had already formed, but this didn’t stop me. As I kindly wove my way through the mass of people, I smiled at each one as I sang, “All up to you! Outta the blue!” This was almost like a magic password for people allowing me to move forward. It was clear I had to be up front, and the people were kind enough to oblige me.
I arrived, surprisingly, front row just as the song came to a close and the boys headed straight into “Looking Back Over My Shoulder.” I’ve always enjoyed this tune, but found myself enjoying it much more than usual at Summer Camp. The message conveyed in the song is uplifting and relatable in the least, but this time I completely lost myself in the jammed out section. It started with the escalating twangs coming from Dave’s banjo. The moment Jeff (as he always does) did that little front foot forward, knees bent, lean back, step up into the microphone and began to play his part, the crowd cheered. Adam’s fluid picking up and down the neck of the guitar coupled with Ben’s strolling bass line that makes your heart beat (and I mean really beat, with love) submerged me into the depths of complete Yonder sound. Who knew what delightful or potentially dark places it would lead. It’s always a journey.
What’s great about being at a Yonder show, is that even if you are alone (as I was in that moment) you aren’t really alone. Yonder fans are some of the nicest people you could hope to meet, and will not hesitate one second to get down and boogie with their neighbors, stranger or not. “Another Day” came next. One guy beside me grabbed my arm and started a square dance as the two of us started to really pick up our feet. I don’t know what his name was, but he and I got down good and dirty for that song. I’ll always remember that.
Just as I was becoming familiar with my new found Yonder loves, an amazing thing happened. I had lost all hopes of seeing my friends again, which was okay, but sad in a way because I wanted to experience the show with them too. As I looked back at the gigantic crowd behind me, I was first surprised I had worked my way up, and second, accepting of the fact that Amy and Mike would not find me. Just as the last line of the song came, and my anonymous friend and I sang out “Can’t wait til’ I can see you agaaaaaaain!” someone grabbed me from behind. I turned around to see Amy’s smiling face. She told me how she was determined to find me, and that everyone she passed she asked, “I’m sorry I have to find my friend and bring her this whiskey! Have you seen her? She’s got brown hair, kinda tiny, loves Yonder?” I thought this was funny, good luck right? But something lead her straight to me, and we were able to enjoy the rest of the show together. I swear those boys have some sort of higher bluegrass magical power of unknown proportions, summoning things to happen with spells cast by their instruments. Somehow serendipitous events always find their way into my Yonder experiences. It’s context. It was also a pleasant surprise when she finally showed me the whiskey drink she had maneuvered, without spilling, through the crowd. In my book, the Yonder set was complete by song three.
Jeff introduced the next song, “Little Lover.” I could be wrong, but I had yet to be at a show where Yonder played a new song, and oh man was I pleased! Dave always discreetly shreds the banjo on ridiculous levels, so it’s a real treat to get to hear that mysterious deep voice sing out. I laughed when I heard someone nearby scream, “Professor David Johnston!” Another Harvest Festival veteran!
Following that tune, Jeff dedicated the next song to all of their musical buddies that were also at the festival. It was a Todd Snider cover, “Just Like Old Times.” I couldn’t believe it! I had first heard them play it in Covington, Kentucky this past February (the night after Columbus) and had fallen in love. For multiple reasons, one being personal, the other being a turn of events the week prior, the message of that song really stuck with me as I had been listening to it all week. Serendipity again! I’m telling’ ya, conjurors of musical magic! “Complicated” came next. You can always tell it’s coming by the feedback they create proceeding it. The more shows you see, the more subtleties you pick up on. Nuances and common elements that evoke the personality of the band, which, in turn, makes them so likeable. Even if you don’t really know them, they are your friends!
Two more new songs came next, “All the Time” and “Strophe.” At this point in the show I was completely overtaken by the pure emotion and excitement I was experiencing that I didn’t really have time to actually evaluate the new tunes. After purchasing the set and really getting to listen to them, I am genuinely blown away by their new material and anxiously awaiting this supposed new album to release. I adore “All the Time.” Lyrics, melodies, rifts, all of it! It was the go-to song on my iPod for many weeks to come as I grew more and more of an attachment and appreciation to it. Couldn’t wait to see it live again! As their serendipitous nature would have, I didn’t have to wait long… (All Good foreshadowing). After “Strophe” concluded, Jeff took a moment to acknowledge the plethora of like-minded bands that had passed across the Sunshine Stage before them. Declaring it the Bluegrass Stage, he then made a clever remark to stick around for the next band who would play saying, “We’re about to be followed by the greatest bluegrass band of all time called Umphrey’s McGee…they play it the old, old way. Pre- Bill Monroe”.
This is where the set really kicked into high gear. Wait for it… “No Expectations”> “Casualty”> “Whipping Post”> “Casualty.” Oh man did they throw it down, hard! They had the whole crowd singing with “No Expectations”, every last person dancing with “Casualty”, and each and every mind blown with “Whipping Post”. Of course they never let you forget where you were just before it all by bringing it back again. By the time this musical mash up of awesomeness was over, I looked around to see nothing but the faces of festivalgoers with their jaws on the ground. I’m sure some left them behind in the mud.
After giving the crowd a brief moment to collect themselves, Yonder set off on the encore. They dedicated the first portion to Kirk Rundstrom of Split Lip Rayfield, playing one of my favorite tunes of theirs “Crazy”. I had always hoped to hear YMSB play it. Check! After that Jeff said they had time for one more quick “fast-ass bluegrass” number. I loved that phrase. Jeff’s banter is some of the best in the business. “Troubled Mind” closed out the high energy set fittingly. When it was all over I hardly had a voice, but they sent me off with so much energy and love that, I believe, carried with me through the rest of that night. You can always feel the love at a Yonder show, and I’m positive that love stayed with all who experienced their set through the rest of the three day festival.
Written by Alicyn Lane
|Yonder Mountain String Band|
5/27/11 Summer Camp, Chillicothe, IL
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