Marathon Music Works - Nashville, TN (February 10, 2012)

written by Jeff Green

The cool, damp, grey days of a Southeastern winter are tempered by the heat generated from Yonder Mountain String Band’s annual Cabin Fever Tour. This yearly migration through the Southeast and Midwest was made even more remarkable when the Infamous Stringdusters were added as the opening act to a number of the show dates. This Nashville-based string quintet has gained considerable momentum since emerging in 2007, and is an excellent fit for Yonder’s style of playing and fan base. This year was a little different as Travis Book, the bassist for the Infamous Stringdusters, was sitting in for Ben Kaufmann while he was out with his wife and their new baby. Huge congratulations are in order for the Kaufmann family! You were sorely missed, Ben, but Travis did exceptionally well with the catalog, playing and vocals. 

A new venue to Nashville, Yonder’s twelfth played in the city, served as host and delivered an excellent concert experience for those attending. Marathon Music Works provided security that was easy to navigate, beer and bathroom lines that were short and sweet and, most importantly, impeccable sound, which is something that has been lacking in years past. Mix together a Friday night in Music City USA, a smoking local band to kick things off, and Yonder with Kinfolk in tow, and an evening can quickly get out of control.

The Infamous Stringdusters took to the stage a few minutes early and began to burn through their setlist. This band is so tight and polished, and has the creativity to craft intricate improvisational pieces to extend out some of their songs. Stage presence might not be the life blood of the Stringdusters, but their quiver never empties of fresh, hot licks; which is really what fuels a touring group like this. Working the crowd into an early frenzy and leaving us foaming at the mouth is where I like to be following an opening act. The Infamous Stringdusters certainly can pull their own weight, but it was nice to see them teamed up with Yonder. As such, it could only be expected that members of the ‘Dusters would accompany Yonder on a few tunes. What lay ahead on this particular night, however, was more than could ever be expected.

Yonder emerged on stage to a jubilant crowd ready and waiting to absorb their favorite band in a city that, despite its music purists, likes the way Yonder makes them boogie. Jeff Austin, with a huge smile etched onto his face, did little to hide his enthusiasm for what the night might bring. This is the part where Yonder Mountain String Band spontaneously transformed into the Yonder Mountain Stringdusters. Introducing Travis Book on bass and Andy Hall on resonator guitar, the band performed a quick tune-up, briefly introduced themselves to the crowd, and plowed right into a huge “Dawn’s Early Light"> "Cuckoo’s Nest.” This well-paced opener is not a regular at this position in the setlist, but it did appear recently at Yonder’s 5-night stand at the Boulder Theatre (12/27/2011), and does well to get the crowd riled up early. Jeff Austin thoroughly worked through a great version of “Dawn’s Early Light” as Andy Hall shredded every last bit of open space. Following this one-two punch, the floor was turned over to Adam who jumped into one of my favorite Dylan tunes, “Spanish Harlem Incident.” I absolutely love the lyrics of this song and the way in which Yonder goes about covering it is beautiful. The next tune in rotation for the night, “I’ll Stay Around,” completely blindsided me out of left field. This song had not been played in six years and only twice in the past ten. What a wonderful, well played chestnut to have nestled in the first set, which was a first for me. The band cranked through a fun “Deep Pockets,” a great, witty Dave tune, before inviting Alan Bartram, bassist for the Del McCoury Band, out on stage for a couple of numbers. “Going to the Races” is always welcome at a show, along with a Hank Williams Sr. song, “You Win Again,” that was a debut for the band. Bartram’s treasure of a voice harkens back to a more traditional era in the vein of Del McCoury, and did well at filling the air with bluegrass soul. Finishing Alan’s two-song stint, Yonder decided to play “revolving bassist” as Bartram was replaced for the next pair of songs by Bryn Davies, bassist for Peter Rowan and Tony Rice, and Justin Townes Earl. “One More” and “Steep Grade Sharp Curves” were both well executed and contained a little extra meat, but were relatively standard versions of both songs. I’m sure that Bryn was feeling a little lonely on stage as she and Ben Kaufmann frequently share his instrument for a huge bass breakdown during her sit-ins. Despite being a little on the shorter side at about fifty-five minutes, who could complain with how this first set shaped up. It contained an excellent mix of Yonder standards, well selected covers, and extraordinary sit-ins that served well to get the crowd fueled for round two.

Following a relatively short setbreak, Yonder returned again with Travis Book on bass, but now introduced Jeremy Garrett on fiddle, replacing Andy Hall. Dave got the opening nod on what would prove to be a busy night for him, and lead off with “Ripcord Blues.” This is a tune that I have really grown to like despite being partial to Dave’s earlier songs. That said, his playing at the Nashville show was in top form and he afforded the audience some interesting banjo licks. The band pushed through a standard “Another Day,” before diving head first into an outstanding “No Expectations.” Although no longer a favorite of mine, having seen this tune more than any other, Jeff Austin took his time and varied the intro, which was a nice change-up. The improv work throughout the song was exceptional and made for an enjoyable version. Dave was tapped once again for “Don’t You Lean On Me,” which is a good song, but one that I could take or leave at a show. It certainly was not poorly played or placed within the set; just not one of my favorites. Any cover by the “Big Mon” is always a welcome addition to any set, especially when that tune is “Blue Night.” Another number only played twice in ten years, and having endured a 641 show gap, this was an absolute treat! Travis Book’s voice is outstanding and really did this cover justice. Adam jumped in following “Blue Night” for a very quick “Corona.” This is a song that is not varied much by the band and typically is short and sweet. This brought us back to Dave again for “Winds of Wyoming,” a fantastic tune that served as a short respite before the band opened things up a little to wind down the show. What followed was nothing short of pure pandemonium and provided Jeremy Garrett with a nice platform for some aggressive fiddle sawing. One of my favorite covers that Yonder has in their rotation, a great J.J. Cale number, “If You’re Ever In Oklahoma,” received a full work-over, sandwiching in a huge “Whipping Post.” This is how I want a show to close; leaving my feet aching and my body heaving for air. The crowd roared with approval when Yonder faded back into “If You’re Ever In Oklahoma” to round out a most wonderful night. Sure the second set also came in a little short on time at about fifty-eight minutes, but look at the ground these two bands managed to cover, and besides, who is counting minutes anyway.

This show ended with what might be the most “jammed out” double encore that I have witnessed live from this band in almost sixty shows. Yes, it was a bit sloppy, but, with Yonder Mountain and the Stringdusters both on stage, group picks can become a “clusterpluck.” That being said, the two bands ripped into “Death Trip” and would not let go. Although the jam almost petered out at times, Jeff was able to keep everyone focused and on track, and after about fifteen minutes of back and forth insanity the night still was still not over. A song that I love to hear in any set, “Freeborn Man,” sandwiched a blistering “Wheelhoss”; that is two for Bill “Big Mon” Monroe tonight, as this almost thirteen minute monster rounded out the encore in Music City USA. Clocking in at almost a half hour, this encore was madness set to music and completely erased any sense of a short show. Add in “Oklahoma”> "Whipping Post"> "Oklahoma" and you have got yourself fifty minutes of raging Yonder. Last year’s show was a monster that spanned over three hours. This year’s show was a similar beast, shorter in duration, but it definitely brought the musical goods. Another great Nashville show has come and gone, but one thing’s for certain, there’s still rambling in this rambler. See you guys next year to shake out the winter blues!

Written by Jeff Green

Yonder Mountain String Band
2/10/12 Marathon Music Works, Nashville, TN

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