written by Dorothy St.Claire
Colin and I took our time leaving Missouri. I knew there was no way we were getting down there in time for Pert Near Sandstone at noon, so I figured we would get a decent night of sleep after tearing the roof down in Columbia the night before. We hit some rain on the way down, then a rock hit my windshield. Got a nice big chip from that one. Once out of the rain, the car started overheating. The coolant tank was completely empty, so we filled it up and hoped for the best. We made it safely to the mountain, and as soon as I saw the Mulberry Mountain sign welcoming us in, I forgot about all the troubles we had on our way down. It was a little after 4pm when we got in. It didn't take us long to find our friends and we were soon set up within Walker's Point.
The first music for some of us was Ivan Neville's Dumpstafunk. It was a loud and funky set, and a great way to shake off the tension of the road and get down to boogie business.
The Punch Brothers hit the main stage next, and I was excited to see this band for the first time. Colin and I also took our first trip backstage and up into the hawk's nest during this set. It was pretty sweet!
The downside to a festival this jam packed with musicians is that sometimes you've got to cut a set short to run and see another set. This was already happening as we left the Punch Brothers to go check out Larry Keel and Natural Bridge in the Harvest Tent. We were stocking up on good tunes, and this set delivered. They had Rushad Eggleston and Jeff Austin sit in on a couple tunes, and I don't think I've ever seen Jenny Keel have that much fun.
Then, before we knew it, we were running back to the main stage for some Yonder. Hell yes. Even though we just saw them the night before, and I had spent the whole last week seeing them, that first time I saw them set foot on that festival stage just gave me goosebumps. And as Jeff asked us if we were all ready, I felt it... that energy of the band and the Kinfolk all coming together out in the festival air. "It's so nice to be back in the big old mountains of Arkansas with all of you freaks and musicians!" Jeff threw in as they tore through "Sideshow Blues" to start their night. Darol Anger was with them for the whole weekend, of course, and fell into place with the boys right away. "It truly is nice to get to play outside one more time this year... in the U.S." Jeff said as they tuned up for the next song. Adam replied with a quiet "America", and Dave with an even lower "Cuba" before starting "Night Out".
"Loved You Enough" came next, with a whole lot of fancy fiddlin' coming from Darol's side of the stage. Then we got a beautiful "New Deal Train". I've really been enjoying this song lately. I could feel every word that Ben sang. Dave's solo was full of purpose, every note doing exactly the right thing... then Jeff came in and the mandolin and banjo melted together to create some amazing sounds, which Darol then picked up and took to a whole new level.
Then we got a real treat. Rushad Eggleston came out of the shadows with his cello and a smile. Ben introduced Rushad as he plugged in, "You may know him from such hit songs as 'I peed on a Bird'..." I would find out the next day that this song really does exist. Darol's instrumental whirlwind "Polly Put the Kettle On" came next, along with big smiles from everyone in sight as the sweet sounds of the cello and fiddle hit our ears. Then it happened. What could very well have been the best "On the Run" ever. Yeah, you heard me. The best. The fiddle. The cello. Some of Ben's lyrics came out in a growl of aggression. The buildup to "The man stood in the shadows, just thinkin' bout the past" was one for the record books. I'll take one of these, anytime.
Rushad left the stage after "On the Run", and Jeff kicked off a heavy "One More". Colin, Michael, and I were visiting with folks backstage as the next song played... and I remember thinking how bad our timing was... it was a heady "Crooked Hitch", and even though we weren't out with the masses, I still enjoyed what I could hear from where we stood. "Northern Song" was next, followed by a solid "Ragdoll". Then Dave sang "Winds of Wyoming" and the smiles spread across faces all around.
"Sometimes I've Won" came next, and it was smooth, full of heart, and just what we needed before Larry Keel joined them on stage. "My Gal" started as Jeff and Darol played "Over the Waterfall" back and forth to each other. Then Larry and Adam played "Whiskey Before Breakfast" together before Ben broke through, "Folks, I gotta admit, that was some ferocious pickin' by these four fellas. So please, one time, won't ya give it up... for ME AND DAVE!" "Sometimes man, you just gotta trust people to imagine the notes that are there." Dave said with a grin, "It's a high level of respect I'm paying to our audience." Then Adam chimed in with something that came as a surprise to no one. "As per usual, Larry broke a string. He'll be back. He's running." They picked the song back up, assuming Larry would be back for the next one. Ben had to remind us where we left off... "So we've established that the rich gal, she likes to drink the straight whiskey. The poor gal, by the way, she would also like to drink the straight whiskey. But you see..." And finally, "My Gal" took off, with Larry joining in mid-song. He stayed for "Cuckoo's Nest"> "What the Night Brings", which also marked the end of the band's set. They had time for a nice fast encore, and they chose wisely with "Southern Flavor".
Some of us slowly headed back to the Harvest tent for a little Everyone Orchestra, but to be honest, I usually blow all of my energy at Yonder, and tonight was no different. It was a long day, and after a couple songs it was time for me to head to bed.
We woke up Friday to gray skies moving in. Although we were seriously stuck in denial about the rain, we managed to prepare our camp for water. That was a good choice. We ate a big breakfast, and just as we were about to wander to Rick, Melissa, and Kristen's camp, it started. A steady rain. It wouldn't have been so bad if it just blew over, but it just hung around. We delayed our trek, but soon it was obvious it wasn't letting up, so we ventured out. We ran into a soaking wet Nicole, and hung out at Nicole, Cy, and Chad's camp for a while before moving on to see Rick and Kristen. The rain was steady, and was already creating rivers that snaked between cars and tents.
We missed Brown Bird at the Backwoods stage, thinking there was no way they were going to play in that weather. Yeah, we were wrong. Not much later, we could hear music coming from the Harvest Tent, and when we sloshed through the mud and got inside, we saw a whole slew of people watching Darol and Rushad play some amazing music, including Rushad's "I Peed on a Bird". We stayed just long enough to catch a few tunes and get used to the thought of being dry, when it was time to slosh through to the Backwoods Stage to see if Adam and Larry would play their set.
We got there, and sure enough, there they were. Singing and playing to a small group of people, in varying levels of protection from the rain. It was a really good set, but the cold rain was too much of a distraction for some, including Michael, who had to go dry off in the warmth of the car for a while. The key is to keep your feet dry. I was uncomfortable, but I wasn't miserable. All thanks to the boots. We finally made it back to camp after Adam and Larry's set, where we waited out the rest of the storm. It rained from around 11am - 3pm, but when it was done, it turned into a pretty nice day.
With the rain gone, we headed to the main stage... ready for some Sam Bush. And we weren't the only ones ready for some music. People were filing out of their cars and tents, all different levels of preparedness showing through their clothes. As we followed the road to the stage and made our way into the VIP area, I gave myself a pat on the back, once again, for bringing my rain boots. Mud. So much mud. We danced in that mud, so happy that the rain was gone and the music was on. Sam's set was amazing, and Michael Walker even called the "Vamp in the Middle" opener.
The Mickey Hart Band was next, but wasn't quite what I was in the mood to hear, so after a few songs, we headed back to camp for some dinner.
And then it was time. Yonder time. Adam kicked things off with "All the Time" and we were right back in it, as if we had just come back from set break. We forgot about the rain, the mud on our shoes, and just danced. "Steep Grade Sharp Curves" followed close behind, with Darol using his fiddle to fill in all the gaps.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Yonder Mountain String Band's one thousand, four-hundred and ninety-ninth show." Ben said with a smile. It was indeed a big night, and a big weekend for the band, and they played just as hard as always, effortlessly falling into "Finally Saw the Light". "Can I croon one for ya?" Dave asked before singing "Ripcord Blues". But he wasn't done! "You guys wanna hear a banjo song now? It's like a god-damn rock block up here. Martha Quinn's all up in my grill. I like Martha Quinn, I follow her on Twitter." Wow, Dave. Just... wow. After making us laugh, he made us boogie, with "Maid of the Canyon".
It was then time for a special treat. Sam Bush joined the boys on stage for some serious bluegrass pickin' and grinnin', singing "Little Girl of Mine in Tennessee". When the song came to an end, Jeff turned to Sam as happy as could be, "Choppin' wood, Sammy! Damn!" before gently leading the band into a huge "Shake Me Up". This usually isn't one of my favorites, but there was a whole new energy inside it this time - with Sam and Darol grabbing onto the melody and spinning it around each one of us. Sam couldn't stay for more than these couple of songs, but as he left we heard Jeff say "He's a happy man, because in the 9th inning the Cardinals tied it up." Colin and I were standing next to the Walker brothers, who had been trying to follow the game all night (with little luck, due to the spotty reception), and at this news, they both raised their arms and whooped.The heartfelt "Jail Song" was next, but Jeff wasn't done dishing out the good news to the Cardinals fans in the audience. Immediately after finishing "Jail Song", he blurted into the microphone, "Well, baseball fans, in the 9th inning the St. Louis Cardinals have won, 9-7." There were a lot of "boos", but there were also a lot of cheers, including the screams of Michael and Stormy Walker. I really don't know anything about sports, and I really don't care (sorry), but I enjoy seeing my friends happy about their team. Yeah! Go team! Ben then reminded us of the rain, but reassured us pretty quick, "We've been working on an ark, nobody panic".
"Don't Worry Happy Birthday" was next, and we all turned around and wished our pal, Ben Hines, a happy birthday. I love that we get to celebrate it with him each year down at Harvest Fest. A funky "Criminal" was next, and made me remember when they played this one at Harvest Fest last year. Jeff had just gotten his new pedal and was super excited about bringing it out, and it was the first time this song got really funky. Now that's what we get every time. So great.
Then came a huge surprise. Jeff busted out "Angel With the Golden Hair". Seriously. I've heard that one once, maybe twice, and I wasn't the only one amazed and excited to be dancing to this murderous gem. "Get out your polishing cloths for that old chestnut!" Dave exclaimed afterwards. They were still feeling angelic and murderous, because a huge "Angel"> "Follow Me Down to the Riverside"> "Angel" cut through the night air and pushed us down to a dark and dirty place. And muddy. A dark, dirty, muddy place.
"I mean come on, Darol! What was that?" Adam looked over at Darol with disbelief as we all tried to digest the sandwich that they just shoved down our throats. Tonight's show was supposed to be a full show, with two whole sets, but due to the rain, everything got pushed back a little and Yonder had to squeeze to one long set. They were clearly making up for it with their incredible and unexpected song choices, which continued as they played "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" next. Really! It was so beautiful, and I hardly absorbed it before Adam softly began "Gilpin Swing". Holy smokes. Jeff and Darol joined in, and as they all played a little louder, Dave rolled in. Ben started walking the bass line into the mix, and it got just as funky as could be before fully kicking in. "Gilpin Swing" is a song like no other, and I only wished Carin was there with us to enjoy her favorite song. "Things You're Selling" followed these surprises and precluded another huge sandwich. "Ten" came fast and grabbed a hold of us as it traveled through the air, weaving between the swaying shadows of Kinfolk. As the song progressed, it was soon clear that it was going to change, and right as it got to the precipice, I felt it. I think we all felt it. "Snow On the Pines" roared in and I don't think the crowd could have been happier. I closed my eyes and soaked it all in, losing myself between the layers of instruments. Jeff, Adam, and Darol brought "Snow" to its breaking point and back down again before ushering "Ten" right back in. It was seamless and inspiring.
As "Ten" ended and the band left the stage to prepare for the encore, I started to feel the weight of the mud on my boots; the cold damp that had permeated my clothes. These boys had more than made up for our loss of two sets tonight, and as they came out for their encore, I felt satisfied and exhausted. "Sharecropper's Son" was our parting gift for the night, ringing in our ears as we tromped through the mud to our next musical experience, Leftover Salmon.
Leftover Salmon was already tearing it up when we ducked under the tent, so we found some spots by the side of the stage to enjoy the unique sound this band creates.
I didn't last long, and soon all I could do was walk back to camp, sit in a chair, eat everything within reach, and crawl into bed. I love camping sleep. It's some of the best sleep I get. The excitement of what was to come tomorrow was no match for my exhaustion from what we experienced that day.
Saturday was the final day of the festival this year, and it also happened to be Yonder's 1,500th show. That's pretty incredible. They had played their 1,000th show in my hometown, and I was excited to be a part of another landmark show. If only we all knew what was in store.
We started our day with leery eyes to the skies. Looking up, all we saw was a flat sheet of gray. There was no cell service, but there were plenty of rumors about the weather coming from anyone you asked. We had prepared fairly well the day before, so we made sure everything was secure, and headed out for one of the most anticipated parts of the festival.
Colin and I were the first couple people at the Roost, where bails of hay were just being thrown down in front of the stage. Noon comes pretty early on the last day of a festival, so as Jeff's golf cart zoomed in and dropped him off, there were only a handful of people milling around. Jeff walked up to the stage with his coffee and early morning backwards cap, tuned his mandolin, and told Todd that he wouldn't be needing the chair. He was hosting a workshop on improvisation, and as his voice and his Nugget mandolin rang through the speakers and into the nearby campground, the people came. Soon enough, the tent was crammed full of people who spilled out into the sunshine, most of them not at all awake enough to be standing around like they were. It was very cool to hear some of Jeff's stories about starting out on the mandolin, his inspirations for some of Yonder's most popular songs, and most importantly, letting go of fear.
The golf cart brought Ben over to The Roost just as Jeff was finishing up. He visited with folks and had some laughs before it was his turn to take the stage.
Ben's was a storytelling workshop, and he told us two stories. The first involved Golden Gate Park, an unfortunate porta potty incident, Mickey Hart, Bob Weir, and Joan Baez. The second story involved a teenage Ben Kaufmann, a van, Steven Tyler, and a chicken sandwich. It was quite endearing hearing him talk about some of his most embarrassing moments, and the anxiety these moments produced. He is a fantastic storyteller with precise comedic timing, and we were all transfixed as he went a half hour over time.
I wish I could have hopped on the back of that golf cart - everything seemed so far away by this point in the festival. But instead, I grabbed my bag and squished through the hay-covered mud to the main stage, where Cornmeal was already playing their final show with Kris and JP Nowak.
It was a sentimental show, and although I'm not the biggest Cornmeal fan, I found myself getting choked up as they finished their set and bowed to the crowd.
The sad fun times didn't stop, because up next was Split Lip Rayfield's last show before taking a hiatus. Gimme a break! They played a great set, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of those songs that I used to think they played too often. It's amazing how differently you can view a band once you know you might not see them again. Oh well. They'll be back.
The sun started getting low and it was time to prepare for the big night. Yonder's 1,500th show. The skies stayed flat and gray all day, but now we were hearing a lot of muttering about a big storm coming in around 9:30 - right when Yonder was going to hit the stage. I tried my hardest to stay positive, because we had so many fun things planned for this night.
Since Colin and I drove down to Arkansas, I had a bunch of costumes and wigs in the back of my car. You never know when you'll need a disguise, so I just keep that stuff in there. Rick and Melissa humored me and picked a couple of great wigs to wear for the night. I slid on my sequin pants and my tinsel wig, and we all went back to the main stage for Leftover Salmon.
Pretty much as soon as Salmon's set was over was when the wind started to change. Plans started to change, schedules got pushed back, and what was apprehension now was turning into a low panic. The storm was obviously coming. The question was how long would it last...
The decision was made to go ahead and play. At the last second, I was pulled to the side of the stage to take photos as the band received their 1,500th show cake. It wasn't the cake we had originally hoped to have, but like I said, plans changed. But the people were excited. We had been through some crummy weather and we were ready to celebrate this milestone with our favorite band. The wind blew through the crowd, caressing any bare skin it could touch, raising goosebumps as well as ponchos. And when it leaped up and onto the stage, I did my best to keep my wig on under my rain coat as the band kicked off their 1,500th show with "Part 1".
There's nothing like the feeling of impending doom while you're at an outdoor show. I could feel the weather barreling down on us. Even though the skies were pitch black from the lateness of the day, the pressure and electricity coming from the clouds was undeniable. Scotty and I made our way up into the hawk's nest on Adam and Darol's side. I had never been up there before, and it was a cool new view. It was also misleadingly pleasant up there. As I situated myself in the window and started to take some photos, Jeff sang an old goody, "At the End of the Day". Scotty and I stayed up top through "Idaho", then made our way back down to the side of the stage as they began a rushed "Traffic Jam". I was so far in the photo zone, that I didn't notice anything was off right away. But then the crew became frantic, "Traffic Jam" quickly ended, and we were all suddenly rushed off the stage. I found myself in the stairway, gathering my gear, my wig, and my wits, standing with Darol, Adam, Jeff, Ben, and Dave - each of them almost bubbling over with the adrenaline of an interrupted performance. I assured Darol that I had a safe place to go before we parted ways and I found Colin outside.
Apparently, lightning had struck close to the festival grounds. Once that happens, everything has to stop, and safety has to be the top priority. So, we were all told to go to our cars. Not our tents - our cars. It was pretty hectic, and incredibly dark, but we pushed through the wind and the rain and found our way to our camp. Eric found us there, and the three of us hung out in my car. How exciting. This was not how I imagined this night. I held on to the lingering hope that the storm would pass and the show would go on, but as the minutes ticked by and the thunder grumbled above us, my hope faded fast.
We sat in the Subaru for what felt like hours. I thought about all the plans we had made to celebrate this show. I thought about all the Kinfolk that had worked so hard to create something special. I wondered what the band had had in store for us. All of these thoughts filled my head and finally I was just too exhausted. I don't know how long I passed out in the car, but when I woke up, the rain was starting to pass and I could hear music in the distance. We ventured out of the car, where we could hear Mountain Sprout at the Backwoods Stage and Wookiefoot in the Harvest Tent. It was late. Colin ran to check out the main stage, and reported that there was no chance for any more Yonder. So I went to bed.
|Photo courtesy of Kayla Clancy|
It was pretty quiet in the morning. We were all obviously disappointed with how the final night of the festival went, and now we had to say goodbye. It was such an abrupt end to the festival, and the whole thing felt unfinished. Abandoned. I had the rest of the tour to look forward to, but most people weren't so lucky. These were the last Yonder shows of the year for many Kinfolk, and it was just a sucky way to say goodbye to everyone.
As we finally got in the car to leave, I noticed the new chip in the windshield. I turned the key in the ignition, and remembered the coolant leak that started on our way down. *Sigh* Sometimes things just don't work out the way you plan, but all in all, we saw some great music, spent time with some of our favorite people, and most importantly, we survived. The car didn't break down (it even made it home, just in time for a brand new radiator), and the storm didn't turn into a tornado.
Sh*t happens, and so does rain. But all in all, Colin and I had an amazing time with our friends. We saw some great music and had experiences that I wouldn't trade for anything. Harvest Fest 2012 was a blast, and we will definitely be back next year.
Written by Dorothy St.Claire
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