written by Dorothy St.Claire
It was the first night of Cabin Fever Tour, and we were giddy with excitement. Colin had just gotten the time off of work a couple days before, and we were ready for this last-minute addition to our tour. We knew this show would be different, after hearing the announcement the day before that Ben Kaufmann would not be there for the first handful of shows, due to the very recent birth of his first child. We were sad that we wouldn't see him, but we knew the importance of staying with his family. There are always more shows, but the first days with your new baby cannot be replaced. Fortunately, they had the ideal replacement with Travis Book from The Infamous Stringdusters.
As we waited in the bar and then found our spots inside the venue, we got to visit with our crew friends and catch up a little before the show got rolling. We also got to know some new Kinfolk friends, which is always great. As the band came out and Jeff introduced Travis, "Don't hate me cause I'm not Ben," we were ready for whatever the night would bring. When everyone was tuned up and ready Jeff yelled, "When in doubt, let's boogie!" Travis fell into the groove right away with "Up on the Hill Where They do the Boogie", and any worry about Travis' ability to fit in dissolved as we all got our boogie on.
Next was "Little Lover", a song that I love more and more every time I hear it. As Dave sang and played this one it was clear that he was on his game tonight, throwing in new lyrics and just plain rockin' the house. "That's Dave Johnston, adding lyrics. Every time, he sings something different." Adam said, introducing Dave. To which Dave replied, "It's just so much process man, it's just so heavy." "Pride of Alabama" was next, and I thought this was starting off as a great show. Of course, it only continued getting better as it came to Travis' turn to sing "Things in the Life".
After singing, Travis spoke to us for a minute, and it was obvious how happy he was. I don't know why they call it a sh*t-eating grin, when I would hope no one would grin in that situation, but that is exactly what was plastered on Travis' face throughout the entire show, "This is like a dream come true for me, and I really appreciate you all being so kind and so forgiving as I do my best to fill Ben's shoes." We shouted and cheered as we rolled into the next song, "Pretty Daughter". I was hoping for this one. I always hope for this one. By this point in the show the energy was so high, and I'm not sure if the band was consciously trying to make up for Ben's absence with this increased energy, but it felt like they were playing this show for him. A smoking hot "Winds of Wyoming" was next, and as Jeff and Adam went back and forth, I could feel myself getting lost in the jam. They were all playing so well, and it felt really good to be dancing to Yonder again. "You guys sure do yell stuff a lot." Travis remarked as they all tuned up for "A Father's Arms". Nice! Then came "Crow Black Chicken", and each time Jeff said the word 'yonder', a bunch of girls would scream. By the second time around, it brought a little laugh out of him. I love that people will scream just because you say a certain word. "Yonder!" "AAAH!!"
Jeff took a moment to say some kind words about Arkansas and how good it has been to play there over the years. "We have friends who have fallen in love backstage at our shows, and have shown it to us directly," he said as a few of us looked at Cathy and Garrett, knowing the hilarious story behind those words. As he wrapped up his sentiments, the band slowly started strumming something familiar, but I thought I had to be mistaken. As the music sped up and became more clear, I realized that I was not mistaken, and it was, in fact, "Traffic Jam". As Travis stepped up to the mic and started singing the popular Ben song, I couldn't help but grin with shock, awe, and joy. Travis sang his heart out on this one, and the band played it like they hadn't played it hundreds of times in their career. And Dave... what can I say. You just have to listen to it, because I really can't explain the banjo playing that was taking place. "Traffic Jam" morphed into "After Midnight", causing all of George's Majestic to jump with joy. The sandwich eventually came back around as they finished "Traffic Jam", leaving us with the set break to ponder what just happened.
The floor got pretty tight during the set break, and by the time the band came back to the stage, we were smooshed and ready to dance back into our space. Adam kicked off the second set by playing us into a raging "Oklahoma". During the set break I met a couple a little farther down on the rail, who was attending their first Yonder show. As "Oklahoma" came crashing in, I couldn't help but watch them. I love seeing people's first Yonder experience; the look on their face as the Yonder wave hits them, they feel the energy, and get pulled into it with the rest of us.
One of the cool things about having Travis with the band was that they put him next to Adam, which put Dave and Jeff next to each other. This was fun to watch, and to photograph. I think these two have a really great stage dynamic together. It was also fun to watch Adam, who as guitar player had the job of leading Travis, and making sure he didn't miss some of the tempo or key changes. I've watched this band so many times, that even though it never gets old, it's always fun to see something new.
Jeff introduced Travis to sing the next song, "We're just honored to be here with him." As Jeff said this I saw the look of amazement on Travis' face as he said almost to himself, "I think it's the other way around." He then sang "How Far I'd Fall", which was absolutely great to hear, and Dave, Jeff, and Adam put their Yonder stamp on it in the best way. After "How Far I'd Fall", Travis asked us all, "Do you have room in your heart for the 5-string banjo?" Well of course we do! Especially a great banjo number such as "Irondale". "Thank you, Arkansawyers. I will be introducing all the western states in tonight's show." Dave said, "With political commentary in some, and maybe socio-religious context in others... 'Idaho!'" Short and sweet, we all love a little "Idaho" in our lives. It took a couple minutes to get tuned up before the next song, and Ben's banter was noticeably absent as we waited for the music to continue. A swinging "It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train To Cry" was the song that brought us out of that silence. Well done, boys. Well done.
Next they played a charged up "Too Late Now" for Bill Thomas from the band Big Smith. I know I keep saying this in my reviews, but this song is really hitting home with me lately - "sometimes you gotta hit the road to wind up back home" - so true. Adam took the next break between songs to inform us that Travis was going to try not to play any repeats in these three nights filling in for Ben. "I just get one chance, one try." Travis said. "I must admit, I'm having an awesome time." We were having an awesome time, too, and I almost felt a little guilty for having so much fun. It was like we were cheating on Ben with another bass player. I swear Ben, it only happened once. It didn't mean a thing.
"Thank God for the Yonder Mountain String Band, am I right? Where would we be without these guys?" I would have to agree, Travis. "Kentucky Mandolin" came next, and unlike "Crow Black Chicken", Travis took on the bass solo, which was pretty cool and showcased the difference in the way he plays compared to Ben. It was a cool moment to have something so familiar be so different. Everyone played incredibly on this song, busting out some new sounds here and there. Immediately, Adam strummed us into a fast and fun "Corona", making sure to keep his hands in view to lead Travis in the chord changes. It was fast, and dirty, and really fun to watch. Adam was much more lively during this show than usual.
Jeff introduced the next song by saying, "Let's get Dave Johnston to sing another one. This is a 2-Johnston set." I'm all for this. We can never get enough of DJ Jazzy Johnston, especially with goodies like "Red Tail Lights". I mean, seriously. This was such a treat. Before the next song, Jeff spoke about the evolution of bluegrass, what it has turned into over the past few years, and that we are a pretty great bunch of people to play music for. Bill Monroe's "It's Mighty Dark" was next, with Travis taking the lead vocals. This was another tasty treat. Maybe even my favorite part of the night. I just love me some good ole bluegrass music. I also love me a good ole gospel tune, which is just what we got next with "This Train is Bound for Glory." Then we heard a familiar bass line as Travis started us off on "2 Hits and the Joint Turned Brown." As they played this crowd favorite, and George's Majestic filled with smoke, I thought that this was for sure going to be the last song of the set. Boy was I wrong. It was an intense, high energy, and pedal-heavy "Snow On the Pines", my pick for favorite original song in the Yonderpoll for 2011. This song IS Yonder Mountain. The set finished off with "Boatman", getting everyone's pulse up for the end of the show.
The boys came out for the encore, and even though the show had gone by ridiculously fast and Colin and I were only getting one show (for now), we were so grateful for the fantastic night of music we had just been a part of. "Loved You Enough" kicked off the encore, to my delight. It had been a while since I last heard that song, and Dave sang the hell out of it. "Take that, you little marmalade." Well, alright. Adam came and stood by Jeff's side as Jeff introduced the last song - a song for all of the ladies - and I would have sworn it was going to be "Cuckoo's Nest", but I was wrong. It was "Yes She Do (No She Don't)". That was a pleasant surprise and a satisfying end to a fun filled night.
Colin and I thought this was such a great show. It was exactly what we needed to recharge after 6 weeks at home. We all missed Ben, but we all knew he'd be back, and the band made such a great choice when they asked Travis to fill in. He brought something new to Yonder, almost as if it was a late night jam at a festival. I feel that in the past year or so, Yonder has been influenced by The Stringdusters a lot, with the most obvious example being their increased movement on stage. I think the musical relationship between these two bands can only continue to grow, and I am so excited to witness this in the years to come.
Written by Dorothy St.Claire
|Yonder Mountain String Band|
2/8/12 George's Majestic Lounge, Fayetteville, AR
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