Headliners Music Hall - Louisville, KY (October 9, 2012)

written by Rex Thomson

I've been looking forward to writing this review for quite a while. Obviously, I love me some Yonder Mountain String Band, and I am lucky enough to see them and review their shows many times a year as a music writer and photographer. But in those instances I am forced to adopt a detached journalistic approach to my writing, rather than let my fan nature shine through. After maybe seventy shows, I can honesty say I have never seen a bad one. Sure there was a flat song or someone looked a wee tired... but they always put on a good performance. I saw them boo'd by a crowd of old school bluegrass fans who did not seem to be seeing the same show I was seeing. They were younger then, but the sly looks and the mix of hyper aggressive playing, quirky readings and the long, true mournful notes was still there. That wasn't my first time seeing them and the show I'm writing about won't be my last, by far. 

So, one of the bonuses I get doing what I do is I get to see certain bands repeatedly, take photos and even meet the players. Not that meeting Yonder is all that hard, as you all know. So many times I've seen them walk the crowds, come out and talk with the faithful lined up out in front of the venue before the show. It's truly gratifying to see them reach out to their fans, and always brings a smile to my face. Yonder comes comes through my home town of Louisville at least once a year, but I'm a "Within 3 hours" kinda guy. Even so, it's always nice to see the boys, get all filled up of that crazy jamgrass energy and then get to wind down and sleep in my own bed, so when Dorothy asked if anyone wanted to write about the show... well... I jumped at the chance.

Yonder has done more than just delight us all with the endless supply of shows and musical moments that steal our breath, they employ a small army to help them do it. And always the same faces, not a parade of temporary workers. They've built an entity, a living thing that moves across the country, spreading song and joy. Another point in the awesome column for Yonder is they're reaching out to up and coming bands of many styles, not simply limiting their openers to the bluegrass realm. On this chilly night in the 'Ville, they brought Brown Bird along for the ride. Many nights into their run together, the bands had gained a real respect for each other. Chatting with Dave Lamb and MorganEve Swain after their set, they went out of their way to talk about how much fun they'd been having opening for Yonder, and how well the Kinfolk had been treating them each night. The duo's sound is a wild mix of flavors, world gypsy flourishes on the violin and cello, with grinding Americana and folk all becoming something strong and unique. Their set went by quickly, and won themselves a bunch of new fans. As I spoke to them at their merch table, they easily sold ten cds to new fans. And, following the lead of their hosts, the two chatted with any and all who wanted to tell them how much they had enjoyed their set. After one helping I am hooked, and will be looking for them in the future.

Yonder took the stage for the 1,496th time I do believe, though I could be wrong. All those shows, and all those years haven't seemed to even slow them down. Easily looking healthier now than when I first saw them so long back, it's easy to forget how young they were when they set off on their road. The crowd at Headliners greeted them like returning heroes, which is what they are. This was my fifth show there, and they have always packed the room, forcing the balcony to become standing and dancing only. Right into "Fastball" and on into "Boatman" they went, careening along like an out of control train, crowd whooping and hollering in time. The front row, where I normally find myself, was packed with familiar faces I have seen time and again in the same spot but different locations across the country. Their silly side poked it's head out with a snappy "Polka on a Banjo" and their usual dark yet crazed take on Danny Barnes' "Death Trip". Each member took a moment to shine. Dave Johnston sang with his usual wry twist, Adam Aijala picked and sang with a tranquil demeanor that belied the soul and speed with which he played. Ben Kauffman joked with the crowd and showed his easygoing nature while Jeff Austin, predictably, raged like a madman, dancing and blowing our minds and his own with his performance. To step outside the review, let me just say that whenever I am asked to cover a music festival and I see that Yonder is on the line up, I know for a fact that one picture is already done. I just need one moment to get another crazed expression on Austin's iconic, blissed out face. Jeff makes my job so damn easy. But I digress....

After a short pause to let everyone catch their breaths, the band came out to suck us all back into their swirling interplay. Opening the second set with one of their better covers, the Talking Heads tune "Girlfriend Is Better", Yonder demonstrated their own style by taking the piece and making it their own. Over the years Yonder has truly become distinct... you don't much mistake any other band for them. A certain jangle-y energy, a blending of picking styles that fuses into a wall of sound that is strictly them. It's so interesting to see that personal style applied to other people's compositions, and hearing something new and wonderful come from it. As the song builds to the "Stop making sense" part of the song, the boys were strumming faster and faster, creating the illusion of a sonic waterfall that they controlled. A fun "Corona" was pulled out, popped and passed around the room musically, to the point where you could hear the squeeze of lime. Ben gave his usual impassioned read of "Complicated", to my ears a perfect song. Always wondered why that wasn't the number one hit it deserved to be. A rousing "Criminal" and "Angel" closed out the main set, with a slippery "They Love Each Other" dedicated to a newly engaged couple in the crowd. Sadly the night ended before anyone wanted it to, and the house lights showed everyone the exit they did not want to see. The band climbed back into their bus and prepared to do it all again the next night before heading to their big weekend at the Yonder Harvest Festival in Arkansas. As I said, I am one of the luckiest people alive, cause as soon as I got done clearing my memory cards I jumped into my car and went out, chasing the band. And honestly, when I am out on the road, following bands I love, like the Yonder Mountain String Band, I know in my heart there's nowhere I'd rather be. 

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you fans, who love these bands and devour pictures and articles about them, it gives me a life I could only but have dreamed of not too many years ago. As such, I feel I owe you all so very much. So seriously, if you ever see me at a show, stop me for a free picture. That's what family, Kinfolk, is for.

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