Bell's Brewery - Kalamazoo, MI (July 10, 2012)

written by Dorothy St.Claire

I have always wanted to visit Bell's, but have never been able to make the trek out to Kalamazoo.  This year I finally made it, and I'm so happy that I did.  Colin and I woke up in Omaha after a fabulous show at the Slowdown the night before.  We were tired, but I was also pumped for the big day I had ahead of me.  We drove to Des Moines, where I dropped Colin off at home, and jumped right back on I-80 toward Chicago.  I don't do many road trips on my own, so it was a fun experience, and that drive across Iowa seemed to go by pretty fast.  I wouldn't have done the whole drive to Kalamazoo by myself, but Rick and Melissa made this trip possible (and awesome) by inviting me to their house in Illinois, where I stayed that night before we jumped in the Caddy for a nice short trip to Bell's in the morning.  

Pure Michigan.  I haven't spent much time in Michigan, but every time I go, I find myself in a beautiful spot.  Bell's Brewery was no different.  It was in an odd part of town, right off the railroad tracks, but the beer garden was such a gorgeous place to see a show.  It really felt like we were just in someone's back yard.

As the Yonder boys entered the stage to a somewhat quiet audience, Adam spoke in his best Russian accent, "Ve need complete silence, ven ve enter ze stages."  Jeff didn't let the audience stay quiet for long, and got us all riled up before starting the night with "Pretty Daughter".  Dave took over with his instrumental, "Strophe", and after Ben sucked up to Adam a little bit, we got a fun "Idaho".  This show was off to a great start. 

"I forget where we were, because that happens, but we stumbled across a town that was really into the old stuff.  This is an old one."  On our drive that day, Melissa had said that she wanted to hear some old stuff, so when we heard Ben say this, we both gave each other a curious look.  "40 Miles From Denver" was the old number they played, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  We also enjoyed a newer one, "What the Night Brings", which came next.  "There's nothing better than playing music outside in the summer, there really isn't." Jeff said, with a huge smile on his face and a beer in his hand.  "I might add, when it's not 100+ degrees, too." Adam said.  "I stand by my statement." Was Jeff's reply.

"Rain Still Falls" came next.  I hadn't heard that one for a while, and I really enjoyed it.  "So, banjos are awesome.  I always thought so, anyway." Ben said. "Even as a child, a very very small child, you'll see it - children gravitate towards the banjo.  Which is troubling, because the banjo player is usually the creepiest.  Not in our case, though." Dave took it all in stride as Ben introduced him to the crowd. "We've got a wonderful gentleman, officer, over here on the 5 string banjo.  That's David 'By God' Johnston!"  "I love that inhabitants of Michigan are called Michiganders.  Give yourself a couple points for such a cool moniker.  This song's called 'You're No Good'.  About my face."  Holy cow, Dave.  He punched right into it, giving us no time between laughing and dancing.  And let me tell you, not only was Dave funny tonight, he was on fire, playing some really great fills, licks, and solos.  

Donuts' favorite new song, "Straight Line" came next, and it was just a shame he wasn't there to hear it.  I always think of him when I hear this one.  Then it was time to welcome to the stage Paul and Anders from Greensky Bluegrass.  Or as Jeff called them "Fiddle and Faddle".  Hell yeah.  They got all tuned up and ready for a big "musical spin the bottle", which started with "Sideshow Blues".  It was a fun one, and Anders' dobro sounded amazing with Yonder.  Then they came through with possibly my favorite Yonder song, "Looking Back Over My Shoulder".  This song has a whole new meaning to me now than it did when I first heard it years ago.  At first, it was just a great song.  Then it became the name of this blog.  Now it's so much more.  I've been on this Yonder journey for a while now, and I can't really describe what it's meant to me to be a part something so magical.  

It was a bouncing, multi-dimensional performance of "LBOMS", with Paul and Anders adding their own flavor as it progressed.  As if on cue, just as most of the band went quiet and Jeff brought the song back around, a train roared by behind the stage, blowing its whistle in an explosion of energy that we all could feel.  This energy only increased as they gave us everything they had with "Raleigh and Spencer" to end the set.  Everyone was dancing like mad, totally in the zone, including one of the security guards who spent way more time watching the band than watching us.  Awesome.

I met some awesome Kinfolk during my set break visits, but in no time at all, it was time to get back to business.  It was my last Yonder set for a few weeks, and I was ready to take it all in.

"Are you ready?" Jeff peered into the crowd, as if looking for someone.  For a few seconds, I wondered who he could be looking for, but when they started playing "Polka On the Banjo", I knew he was looking for the guy we all turned to look at now, our dear friend Max.  "All the Time" came next, and I'm so happy they play it all the time, because it's a great song.  All of their new songs are great, and it's a good thing they play them a lot, because they're definitely in high demand.  The sweet bounce of "Town" got the third spot in the second set and was followed by "Romance Blues".  This was a definitely high point of my night.  They need to play this one so much more than they do, because it really is one of their best.

At this point, Anders and Paul came back out to pick "On The Run"> "Kentucky Mandolin"> "On The Run" with the Yonder boys.  This was a pretty cool sandwich, I mean, you can't really complain about hearing "OTR", can you?  The best part, in my opinion, was the return to "OTR", when Anders' dobro took over and put us all in a frenzy. Oh, and of course when Dave finished off the song with that old school "OTR" banjo lick. Just perfect.

"Turns out Anders went to college with my sister.  I think that's really cool.  Small world." Ben said, as Anders and Paul left the stage.  It was then Dave's turn to sing, and as they started his newest number, "Pass This Way", I turned to Bub and saw him light up with excitement.  Then it was "Get Me Outta This City", "Left Me In a Hole", and "Criminal", giving each of them a song to sing before getting to the dark and dirty final chunk of music.

"I'd like to make a very special dedication on these last few songs.  I got a friend of mine, we've known each other for about 35, 36 years, and tomorrow we have to break up."  There were some shouts from the audience as Jeff gave his dedication, "About a week ago, we were in Lawrence, KS, and I cracked a tooth, right?  I cracked a tooth... Well, this has become the demonic tooth from hell over the last week... I would like to dedicate this to my rear left molar, that's gonna be removed tomorrow.  We've had a lot of good times, buddy." Then Ben came in and shared his plan, "I'm gonna steal the tooth, and then over the next couple weeks you're gonna hear about a string of bizarre bitings.  Just a single tooth bite."

"This is dedicated to that painful little f*cker back there."  Jeff counted it off, and they blasted into "Ten", which is just what we needed for the end of this show.  But, that wasn't all, things got real dark and scary when "Riverside" came in, and Jeff took us on a psychedelic journey to an evil dentist.  We also got the return of the Lady Gaga's "Teeth" in the middle of all the madness. It was so intense, and kept going further and further, with the evil dentist holding the girlfriend down and pulling out her teeth.  The trip finally started to wind down as Jeff let his distortion ring, and Adam took us back into "Ten".  The whole crowd jumped in the air as "Ten" came back around - the security guard even asked me "Is this guy bothering you?" when Max kept jumping into me.  "Yes, but it's okay, he's my friend" was my reply.  We raged through the end of the song, and stood, panting, as the band left the stage.

I couldn't believe it was the encore already.  Even though this was one of their longer shows (I think they even went past curfew), it went by so fast, and I was not ready for it to be over.  Once more, Anders and Paul came back out with the boys to rage it for the encore.  Ben sang us an always welcome "Funtime", but then the most amazing thing happened.  Everyone conferred on stage for a minute or two, obviously trying to decide what to play.  My biggest request for quite a while has been "Going to the Races", and we talked about the song, and its alternate chorus on the drive to this show, while discussing our hopes for the night.  So, how could it have gotten any better than "Going to the Races" to close out the show?  I almost had a heart attack when they started, and I nearly fell over with excitement as the alternate chorus came in.  Seriously, did they bug the caddy?  Because they seemed to know just what we wanted to hear at this show.  

This was such a fabulously fun show, from the music, the guests, the Kinfolk, and the setting, it was a perfect night.  I never want to miss a Yonder show at Bell's again. 

Written by Dorothy St.Claire

Yonder Mountain String Band
7/10/12 Bell's Brewery, Kalamazoo, MI

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