written by Dorothy St.Claire
Bottles were clanking into trash bins, people were shouting and stomping, and smokers were taking their last puff as the clock hit show time and Dave, Ben, Jeff, and Adam took the stage. "Man, I just feel like Charleston, SC is a really great town." Dave stated as they all tuned up. "You oughtta give yourself a high five. Top notch!" You know it's gonna be a good one when you get Dave banter right off the bat. We started the show with "Spanish Harlem Incident", whipping the crowd into a frenzy from the start. Eric and I smushed into the narrow photo pit and watched as the fans went mad as Adam sang, "Well you have made me, you have slayed me, I've got to laugh halfway off my heels!" It was intense, and I knew we were in for a rowdy night.
"Here's a song about a river I like. And I was thinking to myself, maybe you should just call it 'River'. So I did." "River" flowed from the stage and through the crowd before Jeff lightly strummed and chopped us into "Girlfriend is Better". It was very cool, getting a funky "Girlfriend" so early in the set, and it seamlessly transitioned into "2 Hits and the Joint Turned Brown". This first set felt so much like a second set - if that makes any sense. We were nice and cozy in this show already, and it only got better when "Little Lover" raced in. Everyone was screaming like mad, so Jeff went ahead and introduced Dave to all of his adoring fans. Then he introduced Ben, who made my day by singing "Smiles Like She's Always Been a Friend". Hot damn! I love this song. It makes me smile... It's just like holding heaven right in your hand (in your hand).
By this time, Eric and I were nice and cozy up in the balcony with just a handful of other folks; and as Jeff sang "Get Me Outta This City", we watched the madness below. "Folks, that's Jeff Austin on the mandolin!" Adam shouted over the masses of hysterical fans. "He'll be with you ALL NIGHT!" Jeff got that bashful look on his face as Ben stepped up to the mic next. "So these are indeed ominous times, my friends. I'm just gonna point out, and it's gonna be hard for you to tell for sure because... just trust me on this. But for the first time in, I think, 28 years, Adam Aijala is not wearing a black shirt on stage. I do not know anything about omens..." "It just felt like a black shirt, I forgot." Adam said with a shrug and a laugh before he sang "Night Out" with Jeff and Dave. He might not have been wearing a black shirt, but he still played like he was... whatever that means. Even though it was Adam's time to shine, Dave was the one I was really listening to on this one. His banjo backup was exemplary - everything I needed in my banjo, and perfect for the song.
Then the strumming and noodling took a familiar turn and I closed my eyes in joy to take in my favorite song, "Looking Back Over My Shoulder". I got so lost and absorbed in the music, and as Adam emphasized those notes as Ben sang "I've seen things I should've done...", the music brought an involuntary moan from my mouth (the noise I'm gonna make if they find me), and I had to hold on to the balcony rail to keep my balance. And then they made one of the best moves of the night, following "LBOMS" with "Elzic's Farewell". Hell yeah.
The end of the set was coming. You could feel it. But not before a nice big stand-alone "Honestly". Honestly, I love this song. And again, Dave blew me away with all of his triplets as the song hit its transition. Damn, he's good. I was so overwhelmingly happy as I danced to this song, singing along to some of my all-time favorite lyrics, "Honey I've been holding out, hiding in the streets, you know that I hold onto you, hold you like my dreams hold me..." And then it was set break time, so I put myself back together and headed back out into the masses.
I had a pretty great street team for this show, and I spent my set break chatting with them before we all went back to our spots for another big set. I decided to do a few more songs in the "photo pit", so I squeezed in just as the lights came up, the band came out, and Jeff shredded us into "Sideshow Blues". It was as if we never left.
Jeff was grinning from ear to ear as "Sideshow Blues" ended and he said to us all, "I know when I stand outside of the building, it might be Tuesday night. But I walk in here and it says Friday - written all over it." The crowd certainly screamed like it was a Friday night when "Mother's Only Son" started.
After this great jam, it was time for some bluegrass and some Davey J love with "Loved You Enough", and then a little tasty groove with Adam's "Pockets". As per the norm lately, this "Pockets" was nice and long and jammed out, giving us all a chance to get lost in the music.
"There comes a time, folks, in every show, where the banjo can no longer be contained. Prepare yourselves." I had once again made my way up to my balcony spot, so I took Ben's advice and grabbed onto the rail just in time for the intro to "Maid of the Canyon". But wait a second... within a couple measures it had transformed into "Mental Breakdown", and I could see everyone looking towards Ben and laughing. It was a fun moment that seemed to go unnoticed by the crowd.
"They Love Each Other" came next and brought behind it an unexpected "Train Bound For Gloryland". Wow. As the song wrapped up, Dave and Jeff came together, picking up a storm, filling the air with notes until Ben and Adam joined in and turned it into "Shenendoah Valley Breakdown". Holy Cow. That was it. Right there.
I could almost smell that cool mountain air as Ben sang "40 Miles From Denver", after which Jeff just had to give props to Ben. "Thanks Jeff, thanks everybody. It's an absolute pleasure to be here, it's the best Tuesday night I've had in a long time, I'll tell you that. I can't even remember." It was again time to start preparing for the end of the set, and although it's hard to come to terms with a show wrapping up, that last half hour can be some of the best music of the night. They were almost ready for it, as Ben threw the reigns back to Jeff. "We're gonna turn this big old airplane over to Jeff Austin here, and let him pilot us through."
"Keep On Going" started, and from my toes to my nose, from my fingers to my fan, I was beaming. Yonder's music makes me feel so good, especially this song. "Keep On Going" pretty much always has a song in the middle - tonight Adam brought it into "Years With Rose". Jeff put everything he had into it, and it could have easily gone right back into "Keep on Going"... But there was more! Adam strummed harder, and Jeff went crazy on his pedal as "Robots" came out of nowhere. It was so dark and so funky and made me so happy. Adam's guitar got nice and distorted as he leaned into his solo, the lights echoing every emotion coming at us from the stage. And as Adam's solo turned to that familiar "Robots" riff, I felt like I could rock out to this song forever... but all good things must come to an end - after finishing "Years With Rose". And then when Ben brought it all back around with that lovely "Keep On Going" bass line, all I could do was smile.
What a show. I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't this. We got some real musical treats and the boys seemed to really enjoy themselves. So what more would we need?
The band came back for the encore to raucous cheers and frenzied claps, and I could only guess what was coming. "We'll close with a couple bluegrass numbers. Be good to each other getting out of here. We will see you again." Jeff said the magic word - bluegrass - and our encore started with "Big Spike Hammer." I was floored. They don't play this one much, let alone in the encore. And I think Big Dave Johnston really is the best hammer swinger in this big section gang. They finished off the night with a rippin' "Sharecropper's Son", and let me tell you... these boys can play some mutha flippin bluegrass. There was so much fire and energy in this last song that even though I was exhausted, I could have gone all night. But unfortunately, the bass is my fuel, and the second the bass was done, so was I. I was done. I was satisfied. I was ready to get some sleep, then head to the next one.
Written by Dorothy St.Claire; photos by Dorothy St.Claire and Eric Martin
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