written by Dorothy St.Claire
Kelli and Jamie picked me up from the Charlotte airport and we headed straight into the festival. Pilot Mountain greeted us on the highway heading in, and once inside the grounds, I couldn't believe the view of the mountain we had right from our campsite.
Thursday was a pretty relaxed day. We wandered the festival grounds, found some friends, and got ready for the party that would start tomorrow.
Friday was a beautiful day. We wandered up to the main parking area and met Eric, Clint, Carla, and Ashley, who we quickly added to our camp. We wandered for quite a while, taking in the scenery, until we finally settled at the stage for Larry Keel and Natural Bridge.
Larry's set was really fun, and was a great way to ease into the festival. The energy was high, as were most of the people in attendance, it seemed. Keller came out and added his vocals to a couple songs, but my favorite part of the show was probably their cover of "Ramble on Rose" towards the end of the set.
One of the coolest things about Jomeokee was that the two stages were right next to each other, giving us no overlapping sets (other than the 2 workshops on the pickin' stage) and no hike between stages. It was a physically easy festival for me, which I am always grateful for.
Next, we headed to Lester Flatt's Pickin' Stage for Larry Keel, Del McCoury, and Patterson Hood. It was a workshop, which basically meant the guys told stories and answered questions between playing songs. I love any chance I get to see Del. It was pretty damn awesome.
We headed right back to the main stage after the workshop for a little Keller and the McCourys. I hardly ever get to see Keller anymore, and I still hadn't gotten a chance to see him with the McCourys, so I was extra excited for this set. And let me tell you, they didn't disappoint. They opened with "Mullet Cut", threw in a fantastic "Hobo Song" in the middle, and had Jeff Austin and Larry Keel come out for the last two, "Bumper Sticker" and "Pumped Up Kicks". Even Del came out to sing a verse of "Pumped Up Kicks".
After Stephen Marley hit the second stage, it was time for our main event: Yonder Mountain String Band. It seemed ages since we were all dancing at the Kinfolk Celebration in Colorado, and now, many miles away, there were only a handful of the same folks here in North Carolina. But we were ready to dance our asses off. The festival emcee came out (as he did between each set) and tutored us in the correct pronunciation of the festival name, "Jooomeeeoookeee!!!" After we all got it right, the band came out to wild claps and cheers.
Yonder's first night started the same way as most of the best shows lately - with "Pretty Daughter". I didn't go up to the photo pit right away... for the small size of this festival, there were way too many photographers there. Maybe 30 people with cameras, and a few without, packed the photo pit, so I stayed on my rail spot and raged it with Kelli instead.
"Pass This Way" came next, giving us Dave's newest treat. This song has quickly come into its own and has already found its place within Yonder's huge catalog of music. In classic Yonder style, a new song was followed effortlessly by an old song, "My Gal". The energy was high all around and the crowd was loving it.
Finally the photo pit cleared and I decided to make my way up. We had VIP tickets, which included a special up front viewing area... well, it wasn't so great. Yeah, it stayed nice and spacious, but it didn't go all the way across the front of the stage. It actually started in front of Adam and went to about the first mic stand on the second stage. So most of the space in front of the VIP viewing area was in front of speakers and between the stages. Pretty crummy viewing, if you ask me. Needless to say, it was nice to get into the photo pit and actually see our band.
I picked a great time to go up front, too, because next came "High on a Hilltop", which was followed by screams from the audience of "Jeff Austin for president!". "I don't want the responsibility." Jeff answered, "I just wanna hang out and party with all of you." Amen! Then the familiar strumming began and I made my way quickly back to my rail spot for "Looking Back Over My Shoulder". Do I really need to keep telling you how much I love this song? I didn't think so.
It was time for an instrumental, and what's better than a banjo tune? Dave's "Strophe" filled that spot with countless precise banjo rolls. A beautiful and long "Years With Rose" followed and progressed into a huge "Girlfriend is Better". They just let go on this one. The pedal... dear God, that pedal. Jeff and Adam both went off and took this song to a really funky place. Then it was time to speed things up again with "Spanish Harlem Incident".
"They're gonna let us play a little longer tonight, so we're grateful for that." So were we, especially when "Ragdoll" started next. This is one of Kelli's favorites, and it seems like she gets it on every single run. I have no complaints. I love this song, and it's always the best when I get to boogie with the best dance partner out there. It was far too soon when we heard that final "yes Jenny I'm leaving on the first thing smokin'...", but as the song came to its end, it just kept on going! Was this a new "Ragdoll" jam we were hearing? Why, yes. Yes it was. And it was phenomenal. After a heavy couple minutes the chorus came roaring back, bringing the biggest smiles all around.
There were plenty of audibles on stage as the band figured out what they had time for. I heard something like "Let's not do 'Riverside'. We'll leave it for tomorrow." They finally made up their minds and "Sharecropper's Son" brought the bluegrass back... but we could feel the end coming. "Happy birthday to our friend Michael, it's his birthday." Jeff wished our very own Stray a happy birthday, but he wasn't paying any attention. He was talking to someone next to him, so I gave him a little elbow in his side, "Hey! Jeff's talking to you!" "He didn't even notice" Jeff said with a shrug, and they pushed their way into "Angel" to end their set.
This didn't feel like a festival set. It was more like we stepped into the second set of a killer Yonder-only show. It was more than satisfying, especially with the jammed out "Ragdoll" that would be talked about all weekend.
Saturday was another gorgeous day. I can't believe I never made it to North Carolina until this year, but this year I can count five Yonder shows in North Carolina alone. We spent a couple hours hanging out at our camp site and looking at Pilot Mountain in the distance, then made our way to the Pickin' Stage for Drew Emmitt and Ronnie McCoury. This workshop was way cool, with lots of great stories about the start of Leftover Salmon, and of growing up in the McCoury house.
Then it was time for us all to migrate over to the main stage for the Emmitt-Nershi Band... with Jason Carter. Oh, how I love Jason Carter. This was probably the very best Emmitt-Nershi show I've ever seen. It flowed well, they made some fantastic song choices, and the addition of Jason Carter's fiddle filled in all the gaps.
As if the Emmitt-Nershi Band wasn't enough, next we saw the Del McCoury Band. I can't even begin to explain what it's like to see Del perform. If you haven't seen him before, drop everything and do it now... or whenever he is playing near you. The band looked sharp in their suits and put on a phenomenal bluegrass show. I absolutely love the way Del asks for requests, tells random stories, forgets half of the requests, and laughs and laughs. What a treasure.
Then it was time for our second dose of Yonder. After our first fantastic night from our favorite band, we were extremely enthusiastic for what was to come. The band seemed to share our energy as they tuned up and busted out "Sideshow Blues" to start their set. We all bounced to the phenomenally fast song - instantly transported back to our happy place.
Ben's oldest new song "Straight Line" came next, followed by a Davie Johnston banjo number, "Maid of the Canyon". I love the swing of this instrumental. I can just see the boat rocking back and forth on the waves, especially when Jeff comes in with the galloping mandolin. That's probably my favorite part of the whole song. And, not only did the banjo bring out the boogie in all of us, it also brought the first glimpse of rain. It was just a sprinkle, but would be a sign of things to come.
Dave wasn't done rocking our socks off, and he continued with one of his heavier numbers, "Fingerprint". With Adam's "All the Time" coming next, the boys were really giving the audience a wide variety of songs to show what they were all about. They continued their showcase as the feedback started to fill the air and "East Nashville Easter" penetrated our ears.
Ben brought us back to some classic Yonder with "Mother's Only Son", which always feels like home. It's just one of those songs that's not only an amazing piece of music, but brings you to a comfy, safe place. I've heard this song, let's see... 33 times, and each time I know they're going to bring it. I know they're going to take us on the protagonist's emotional journey through their extended solos, and although it is essentially the same each time, it can bring varying emotions to the surface for everyone. And no matter where that journey takes us, it always leads back to home.
Another one of my favorite Yonder originals, "Another Day", came next; and like always, made me really miss Colin. Although this was only the beginning of what would be a huge trip for me, I was already feeling the distance between us. But, I knew we would see each other soon, and I was brought back into the moment by Dave's "Don't Worry Happy Birthday".
"Well folks, I think it's time we have a good buddy of ours out here to play some music with us." Jeff announced this with a big smile on his face, and with all of the amazing musicians at this festival, I could only speculate which one it could be. When he started talking about amazing fiddle players, I knew my dream was going to come true. Jason Carter walked onto the stage with his fiddle in his hands, his boots on his feet, and the usual huge grin across his face. Before we could even prepare, they burst into "Ten" and we all went wild. Jason added a whole new level of emotion to the song, and I completely lost myself in its depths. I came out of my trance as Jeff's mandolin started ticking like a clock "You hear that clock ticking on the wall, sweetheart?" Could it be? "You hear your time running out?" Oh yes, it is. "You see those hands moving, little girl?" Oh yeah. "You feel that time running out?" Here we go. "Do I stand idly by and let the river flow while you go out and f*ck around? Or do I dig a big old pit, do I dig a big old hole and throw your ass in and make you beg for me to take you out of the ground?" Holy sh*t, it was going to be a good one. "Follow Me Down to the Riverside" came out of "Ten" and was darker and angrier than I've heard in a long time. It was just what we were all looking for and took us to that gritty place deep down inside. We crashed through the violent waves of Jason Carter's fiddle, and when we finally came back to the surface, the clock was ticking once again. "Do you still hear that clock ticking on the wall, darling?" Oh yes, we all heard it, and it brought us right back to "Ten", creating one of the best "Ten"> "Riverside"> "Ten" sandwiches I've ever heard.
This was the end of Yonder's set, but the All Star Jam was next, which ended up being basically a second Yonder set with a bunch of guests. It started with Drew Emmitt and Andy Thorn and a double mandolin, double banjo "Up on the Hill Where They Do the Boogie". The crowd went wild and could only be calmed by following the instructions of the next song, "2 Hits and the Joint Turned Brown".
It was time to switch off, and as Drew and Andy left the stage, Rob and Ronnie McCoury took their place. There was a little technical difficulty, but instead of dead air, Jeff and Ronnie played a little "June Apple" while Rob got his banjo in order. Then, BAM! "Casualty" came blasting through the speakers and into our ears. The McCoury boys were a great addition to one of my favorite songs.
"And the rotation just continues and continues!" Jeff exclaimed as Michael Kang and Al Schnier traded places with Rob and Ronnie, and joined in on the Danny Barnes tune "Deathtrip". It was cool, but I would have loved to hear something other than this song. Nothing against "Deathtrip", but we hear it with guests all the time, and I don't think it's the best song to showcase guests on fiddle (Kang) and acoustic guitar (Al). The All Star Jam finished off in style with Bill Nershi and Jason Carter taking the two guest spots for a killer "Shady Grove"> "Wheel Hoss"> "Shady Grove".
It was great that we essentially got two Yonder sets, and as we stumbled back to our campsite later that night, I think we were all fully musically satisfied. Unfortunately, not long after getting cozy in our tents, the rain started.
The rain went until dawn Sunday morning, drastically cooling down the festival grounds with a heavy fog that clung to the air. But we couldn't let the weather stop us, because the Del McCoury Band was doing an early gospel set that I was not going to miss. The crowd was sparse as Kelli and I made our way to the stage, but as Del and the boys started singing those sweet gospel tunes people were drawn out of hiding.
This was my favorite set of the festival. I love gospel music and no one does it like Del. His voice will never be matched, and his charisma brightened the gloomy day. I wish I could remember all the songs they sang, but I can't. What I do remember was the absolute joy I felt at hearing some of the most wonderful music with my friends.
The first Jomeokee Music and Arts Festival was wrapping up. Even though it ended with rain, it was one of my favorite festivals. With only around 1,500 people in attendance, it was such a comfortable place to see music. We packed up our wet tents, tarps, chairs, and tubs, said our goodbyes, and were soon on our way.
It's always hard to leave your Kinfolk, but we always know our next adventure is just around the bend.
Written by Dorothy St.Claire