written by Dorothy St.Claire
I drove home from Chicago on Sunday. Hopped on a plane Monday morning. Kelli picked me up and we made the drive all the way up to Vermont. It's incredible how many states we passed through on the east coast! We made good time, and got settled in the Best Western that would be our home for four nights.
After a couple days of rest, relaxation, and photo editing, it was finally a show day. Kelli and I got in line way too early, as usual, but were soon joined by our good friend John. The lobby slowly filled with Kinfolk, and once inside I got my first glimpse of The Higher Ground. It was a great big open room, and I was ready to see it filled with dancing people.
Brown Bird was still with Yonder, opening for them on each of their Fall Tour stops. But tonight was different. As soon as Brown Bird started, they had a big crowd. People here were really excited to see them. This was close to their home turf, and their fan base was definitely bigger here than at any of the shows I had previously seen. They put on another phenomenal show as the crowd danced and cheered and got warmed up for the main act.
Brown Bird was great, and in our wait between bands the excitement grew and grew. And once Yonder finally hit the stage, we were ready for a party. After a quick thank you to Brown Bird, Jeff started the show with "Fine Excuses". Once again, not my top choice to open a show. But, that was only my opinion, and once the song ended and the crowd cheered, I knew we were going to have a fun first night in Vermont. They got to the bluegrass next, with "Walking Shoes". The crowd went wild. We came to hear some bluegrass, and here it was. Fast, loud, and right in our faces.
I was beside the stage with a great view of the crowd as they started "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry". Kelli and I shared an excited look. I knew this was one she had been waiting a long time to hear again. As the song went on, we sang our favorite line with fervor, "I wanna be your lover baby, I don't wanna be your boss!" It was a moment of bliss that only Yonder could provide. They blasted through more bluegrass with "Another Day", Dave's banjo rolling so fast, it was hard for my ears to keep up. Then Jeff led us into a haunting "Elzic's Farewell". It was so tight, and Adam's "porno riff" was extra nasty. Then "Elzic's" went straight into "Not Far Away", giving me chills.
"This is a song about one of them interweb sites." Dave started "Little Lover", and I was on cloud nine. "I was just speaking facetiously earlier, it's not actually about an internet site." Dave went on to describe his song, "... it's about the elusiveness of meaning." "You must think you're so smart" Ben said to Dave before turning to the audience, "Folks, over here on the mandolin, from parts unknown, the master of disaster, the man with the plan, is Mr. Jeff Austin." Jeff announced that these two shows in Burlington were going to be streamed live online, and said hi to the folks listening at home before starting "Lay it on the Line". Ben took his turn next with a fast and fun "Ain't No Way of Knowing" before they all had their turn on the mic with "Dreams". "Fastball" swept in and sped things up before hitting a home run with "Mother's Only Son". Not only is this a classic Yonder song, it's a phenomenal Yonder song. And my favorite part would have to be the bass. Ben hit every string with precision, placing each note in exactly the right place. I lost myself in the music, coming back to reality as the solos wrapped up and Ben came back in with "I am my mother's only son...". Magic. "East Nashville Easter" then came in with the distortion, and brought up the end of the first set.
My set break went by so fast. I met up with the street team, then lost complete track of time when my "Kiss me I'm Iowish" shirt led me to meet someone from my hometown. It's always great to meet a fellow Des Moinesian, and we spent way too much time talking about the sad end of the weather beacon, among other things. But then the lights dimmed, the crowd cheered, and it was time to get on with the show.
"Welcome back, everybody." As Jeff said those words, I shook off any stress that still lingered from all of my travels, and got ready to have fun and to really let go. This wasn't hard. The first set started strong with a pounding "Traffic Jam". They made this one count, stretching the song to varying degrees; and when Jeff came in with his solo, I thought the crowd was going to explode. The energy between the band and the fans gets so intense sometimes, and as Jeff's eyes rolled into the back of his head and his hands became a blur, I thought I just might lose it.
"So how are you guys doing?" Ben asked. "That was a lot of fun for me, I don't know about you..." The last of what he said was drowned out by the crowd, so obviously, it was fun for everyone. The crowd quieted just long enough to hear Adam pluck the intro to "They Love Each Other", before it turned into a free-for-all of happiness. The next song came in without saying any words, but as the banjo ran its runs, I quickly recognized one of my favorites. Dave, Ben, and Jeff sang the hell out of "High On a Hilltop", filling the air with those sweet sweet harmonies. Adam's guitar swept through and led us on the whirlwind bluegrass journey before continuing the longing for lost love with "Left Me in a Hole". He sang his oldest song like a pro before turning the lead over to Jeff for an energetic "Old Plank Road".
They weren't in the mood for too much chit chat in this set, and they started "Straight Line" before we had time to digest the last song. They kept it up by bringing in an instrumental favorite next, "Kentucky Mandolin". This song has a lot of my favorite solos in it, but I must say that Adam really had control over this one. When it finally wrapped, the audience filled the Higher Ground with their roar, letting the band know that they were definitely on the right track. ...And then it was time for a polka. It's never totally complete without Max, but we still thoroughly enjoyed this "Polka on a Banjo".
"Thank you folks!" Jeff exclaimed, "We hope you at home polkaed in your living room along with all of us." And then, there it was. Ben stepped up to the mic and delivered that unforgettable intro, "Well a rich gal, she drives in an automobile!" "My Gal" came in with all the fire the boys had to give us. It was huge. Lately Ben's been changing up some of his melodies during "I will see you in the morning if I live", and I absolutely love it. Love love love it. I think it makes the song feel more raw. Dirtier.
Adam started off "Years with Rose" after "My Gal", and I closed my eyes - drifting to my happy place. The song progressed, Jeff's solo filling the room and taking us on his sad but hopeful journey. As "Years" came to its end, Adam played harder. Jeff busted out the pedal. There were lyric sheets in front of Jeff and Ben, so I thought I knew what was coming... but I was a little off. "New Horizons" crashed in to joyous cheers from the crowd, and as the green lights swept over us all, we became one; a sea of people jumping, shouting, and dancing. The bow stroking Ben's bass strings took us to a whole new place before churning us up and throwing us into "Come Together". See? I knew it was coming. "New Horizons" soon came back in and finished off the sandwich and the set.
Jeff gave a final "Thank you" to the fans in the audience and at home, and Ben started our encore with Burle's "Blue Collar Blues". I sang along, without sarcasm, "I love my job!" and enjoyed taking some final photos during these last few minutes of music. But they weren't done! It was a good old 2-songer, and the next one was for all the lovers out there... Jeff told us, "No matter what you love, love it with all your heart." Ben started that famous bass line and we all showed our love for "2 Hits and the Joint Turned Brown". It was a fun way to end the night, especially with Jeff's message to those at home right in the middle of the song, "Ok, I'm pretty sure there's a fair amount of people all around the country sitting in their homes right now, in their pajamas, with their favorite implement in their hands at this moment. So what I think we should do, all of you lovely people there at home, if you're into that kind of thing... what I think you should do, is you should grab your favorite implement, you should take your favorite herb of destruction, and you should load it up... now we'll give you a second to do just that. And we'll say that every one of us here at the lovely Higher Ground in Burlington, VT are having a pretty good time, even without you all here." It was fun picturing all of our friends listening in and joining in on the fun for this last song, and as Jeff led a countdown to everyone enjoying their favorite herbal treat, the song blew up and we felt as though all of our Kinfolk were right there with us. Night one finished off right, and we were ready to get some food, some sleep, and some more Yonder the very next day.
Written by Dorothy St.Claire
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