Harlow's - Sacramento, CA (April 17, 2012)

written by Dorothy St.Claire

I parted ways with Colin in San Francisco, where I also met up with my mom.  We spent the weekend in Napa, then picked Lori up in Vallejo on our way to Sacramento.  It was a beautiful day, and there was a park right across the street from Harlow's, where we spent a little time with Stella and her cute dogs.  We saw more friends right away and had a very pleasant wait with Brian, Rebecca, and Dale before the show.  Brian even saved Yonder's bus from getting a parking ticket... unfortunately, we weren't quick enough to save Brown Bird's van.

We got inside, and I immediately saw why my friends were so excited for this show. Harlow's is tiny, and we were right up against the stage.  My mom and I went all the way to the end on Adam's side, and with the semi-circular stage, that actually put us beside him.  It was quite a long wait before Brown Bird came on, but it was good to see them again (after having their songs stuck in my head for two days), and my mom really enjoyed their set.  The room finally started to fill up as they played, and by the time Yonder hit the stage, we were packed in.

As the Yonder boys came out to an exuberant crowd, I could feel the buzz of excitement.  We were all so close; there was almost no barrier between the band and the fans, and we all knew we were in for a treat.  Jeff asked Ted to bring the lights down low, for a more intimate feel, and I noticed that he was still wearing the Yonder hat he had been spotted in earlier.  I got a kick out of seeing him rocking his own merch.  As they strapped in and tuned up, I had a feeling.  A "Bloody Mary Morning" feeling.  Ben talked to us for a second before getting started, "... remember, it's always good to say something into the microphone before you sing something into the microphone."  That was good advice, and led me to assume that Ben would be the first to sing.  The show began, and as they opened with "Part 1", I shrugged off that feeling I had had before, believing it was probably just wishful thinking.  I squeezed my way through the crowd to take photos during an awesome and unexpected "Steam Powered Aereoplane", and as I started to make my way back to my spot, I heard it begin.  It was my "Bloody Mary Morning".  I knew it!  It's not necessarily one of my favorites, but I was craving it. Dave took his solo as I was passing through the Dave-side crowd; wailing on the banjo, and wowing all of the lucky folks standing mere inches away from his flying fingers.

Speaking of flying fingers, over on our side of the stage it was Adam's turn to take over, with "Pride of Alabama".  Holy cow.  We had such a cool viewpoint for this show.  I love being close enough to actually hear the music come directly out of their instruments, not just through the speakers, but this time we were close enough to have been smacked in the face with the head of Adam's guitar if we all weren't careful.  Even though this was a cool view, being that close to Adam meant that sometimes my mom and I were caught in his spotlight.  That felt kind of weird, but I just took it as an opportunity to close my eyes, lower my head, and bounce to the music.  "Hello, state capital of California!" Dave exclaimed after "Pride of Alabama".  They were all clearly enjoying themselves, and I couldn't believe my ears when "Pow Wow the Indian Boy" came next.  I have only heard that song one other time, so this was a real treat.  Dave was tearing it up, and I didn't think it could get any better... until I heard his follow-up after the song: "Looks like it would be pretty hot in here, but I tell ya, this is really the right gauge flannel for this evening."  As they started the next song, I wasn't sure what it was going to be.  It sounded like it would be either "Sideshow Blues" or "Free To Run", so I looked towards Brian to see if I could tell what he thought.  We gave each other a little shrug when it turned out to be "Sideshow Blues", because we were both hoping to hear a good "Free To Run" before the week was out. 

Adam strapped on his harmonica for "Amanda Rose" next, which I think my mom enjoyed. Then after an unusually long tuning break, they busted out "Head of That Woman".  This was another song that I had only heard once before - in 2007, I think.  It had been a while.  This song has a great swing to it, and is almost a tongue twister with all the words that are crammed into a quick couple minutes.  It was really cool to hear it again, and it was followed by a fast "Out of the Blue". "What do you got, Dave?  I know you got something.  I can see you over there, thinking." Ben was eyeballing Dave, who was covered in an ear-to-ear grin.  "You guys wanna play 'Little Lover'?"  Turns out, they did want to play "Little Lover". And I definitely wanted to hear it.  "Funtime" followed, with Ben filling in the low end while Jeff's solo set a groove that Adam and Dave easily fell into when it came to each of their turns.  This groove was not meant to last long, however, and we were jolted back with the frantic intro to "Raleigh and Spencer".  The whole crowd snapped up and started jumping.  Everyone raged through this entire song, and it could have been the end of the set.  But no!  Ben immediately took up that favorite familiar bass line, the smoke started to roll, and they played "2 Hits and the Joint Turned Brown".  Jeff had fun with this one.  "You smell so lovely tonight.  What is that cologne you're wearing?"  After hearing that this venue wasn't very smoke friendly, I didn't expect it to get as hazy as it did; but the crowd loved it and by the end of the song you could see the huge cloud suspended in green light over the center of the crowd.  

As we settled into the set break and tried to wander around a little, it was clear how small Harlow's is, and how many people were packed inside.  My mom and I hung out with Scotty for a few minutes, and I met Jason - the street team leader for Sacramento.  All in all, it was a fun set break.

Jeff decided to let go of hiding his bed head, and came out to the second set with his hair all over the place and ready to rock, starting with "Southbound".  It was getting close to the end of the tour, so it was appropriate that "Rambler's Anthem" came next.  My mom definitely enjoyed this one, with the whole band playing their very best.  "This is David Johnston on the banjo, by the way." Ben said in response to all of the screams. "You heard what he did!"  Hell yes, we heard it.  We loved it. We wanted more... and we got more.  Dave sang "Ripcord Blues", with that crooning drawl that we all love.  And even though this is one of the things my mom told me she likes about Yonder, it was time for her to leave the rail and get comfy elsewhere.  Then it was time for the inevitable; because you can't see a block of shows without getting "If There's Still Ramblin' in the Rambler".  Some folks don't like this one.  Phooey on them.  It's a classic, it brings in some group participation at the Jagermeister shot, and anything can go in the middle of a "Ramblin'" sandwich.  Tonight is was a killer "Elzic's Farewell", and when they got back to the second half of "Ramblin'", it was huge.  They roared through it with as much energy as I can ever remember coming out of these guys, and the audience loved it.  They also loved the next song, but I guarantee no one loved it as much as Brian.  "Things You're Selling" is his all-time favorite song, and I couldn't help but watch him as they played it.  The women at the other end of the rail had the same idea, and they thoroughly enjoyed watching Brian freak out.  To top it all off, Ben sang "So thanks a lot brah, but I'll be moving on."  It was great.

We didn't even have time to catch our breath before Jeff came in with "Old Plank Road".  What a treat!  It was fast-ass-bluegrass at its finest.  As the band tuned up for the next song, Adam's noodling caught my ear, and I got super excited.  He had given it away, but only if you were listening close - "And Your Bird Can Sing" was next.  I love this song, and I love that they play it so often.  It makes me all warm and fuzzy on the inside.  From one big cover song to another, "Althea" was played to a very happy audience.  The noise from the crowd was deafening afterwards, which led Jeff to push everyone to let it all out.  We did, and somehow the energy in the room grew even more.  "So that's Tuesday, huh?" Ben asked as the noise died down.  "I think I can dig what you're sittin' on, folks!"  Then Ben sang a fantastic song request that was made at the beginning of tour, "Roll On Blues". Thank you, Donuts, for that request.  It's one of my favorites, and they played the hell out of it.  

"I seriously have to say that, per capita, you're the best smelling crowd of the entire tour." Jeff said with a slight cough.  "I don't know, New Orleans smelled pretty good..." Adam replied. "if you like body sweat and puke."  Good one, Adam.  After joking around a bit, he got down to business with a killer "Dawn's Early Light" intro.  But the joking wasn't through.  He started playing around with a little "Dueling Banjos", which Dave and Jeff both joined in on.  Ben felt left out, and threatened to add some distorted bass to the mix.  "Worst 'Dawn's Early Light' ever!" He exclaimed.  After all the silliness, Adam asked us, "I'm allowed to have fun, too, right?".  And as he finally started "Dawn's", Jeff introduced him as the hologram of Adam Aijala.  Yeah right.  No hologram can rock that hard.  Ben's prediction was wrong, and it was far from the worst "Dawn's" ever (even though Jeff forgot some of the words), and when it came time for Adam's solo, I was not prepared.  He blew me away.  Adam seemed to have the most fun out of anyone in the band tonight, even playing most of the show with one of his earpieces out.  He was on fire the whole night, which is nothing new, but his playing was different.  At times, he was heavy-handed on the strings - when he normally plays so soft, barely touching the strings.  There was one point in his solo where there was a palpable spike in the energy, and as I felt it vibrate through me, the crowd erupted.  They must have felt it, too.  It was one of those pure, magical moments.  "Dawn's" went on until all of a sudden it was "On the Run".  Oh, thank you!  This is one of the all-time best Yonder songs (in my opinion), and an always-welcome addition to a show (also my opinion).  It rocked, like usual, but when it came to the point in the song where they would either fit something else in, or finish it off, the momentum just stopped.  It wasn't the best segue ever, but it was still great to hear "Years With Rose" in this "OTR" sandwich.  Jeff led a little "Older Man / Younger Man" jam that was pretty cool, and before we knew it, we were finishing "On the Run" and the second set.  

This was an absolutely incredible show, and their encore choice solidified my opinion of the night.  "A little John Hartford encore, for you." Was all Jeff had to say before they played "Howard Hughes Blues" and "Granny Woncha Smoke Some" to finish the night; sending 350 people and a huge rolling cloud of smoke out into the streets of (where am I again?) Sacramento.

Written by Dorothy St.Claire

Yonder Mountain String Band
4/17/12 Harlow's, Sacramento, CA

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