Tennessee Theater - Knoxville, TN (January 10, 2013)

Better Than My Birthday
written by Betty Vandenberg

There's nothing quite like waking up in the morning and knowing that your day will absolutely kick ass because it's a "Yonder Day." In my book "Yonder Days" are THE BEST days. They involve calendar countdowns with my hubby, arranging meet-ups, time off of work, plane tickets or miles on my car, hotel rooms, falling in love with new towns, Kinfolk I cannot wait to see again or meet for the first time and an amazing night with my favorite band! Sounds pretty good, eh? YES!

To anyone who asks, I always describe a "Yonder Day" as "Better than my birthday!" If your passion is live music and you were born in the month of January like me, chances are super slim that you'll be gettin' down to your favorite band on your b-day. What band wants to hit the road ten days after a 4-day New Year’s Eve run in Boulder when they could be enjoying that post-holiday time with their families? I get it. Every year when my nearest and dearest ask me how I want to celebrate my birthday I always say the same thing. “I want a birthday show!” Every year we do something else. Not this year! The stars have aligned, thank you, thank you — years of asking and two babies later, it's finally happening!!!! Yonder brought me the best present of all, my very first birthday show. Yeeeeeeeehaw!

If you could believe there's a cherry on top, here it is... to my great joy, my sweet friend Dorothy got me in touch with the right folks that granted me a photo pass for Knoxville after reviewing some of my concert photography. Not only do I get a birthday show, but I also get my first professional photo pass. This is truly a dream come true for someone who has a point-and-shoot in her hand at every show.

Now the only thing keeping me from this show was finding amazing childcare for my two babies (24 and 6 months), so me and my hubby can have our first overnight alone in... ummm... a long ass time! As luck would have it my wonderful sister was home from Colorado and more than happy to watch our little babes.

We said our goodbyes and we were on the road with a 9 hour drive ahead of us, loving the rare winter sunshine and 45 degree weather. The very first thing I saw out the car window was a tiny little rainbow nugget in the sky! Feeling blessed a million times over that morning, I took it as a sign of good things to come.

The drive to Knoxville was everything you want a road trip to be: good conversation, good tunes, too much caffeine and laughing your head off. We made it to Knoxville a couple hours before the show began and had just enough time to see the venue while it was still light out, check into our hotel and grab a bite.

We had heard from other Kinfolk that the Tennessee Theater is quite the looker and I could not wait to go meet her! If she's anything like some of the places I've seen in Nashville, I knew we were in for a treat.

The warm, 60-degree hoody weather made for a great evening stroll downtown as we walked to the venue from our hotel. After picking up my photo pass and proudly slapping it on my dress, I was ready to get nutty with my camera. The Tennessee Theater is the place to do it. She's a jaw-dropping beauty and easily the most gorgeous indoor venue I've ever seen. Every little thing in this place is fancy fancy!

As I busily snapped away with my Nikon, I somehow lost my ticket. I lost it! In my 20-year live music obsession I have never lost a ticket. I was already in the venue and wearing a photo pass so I wasn't all that concerned, but my hubby knows me well enough to know that before the night was over I'd want a ticket for my mass collection of ticket stubs at home. All things happen for a reason; little did we know then that losing my ticket would help someone get to their first show later in the night.

We walked down toward the rail to scope out the scene and mainly check for any photo restrictions I'd face since this particular show didn't have the standard photo pit. For Yonder, it was turned into a very secure VIP area. While talking with a Tennessee Theater employee I couldn't help but let my smile grow wider and wider as I looked over his shoulder and saw Peggy and Kelli walking toward us. If you haven't met them yet, make it happen because they are both lovely. There's nothing quite like meeting Kinfolk for the first time in person that you already know and consider your friends. We shared hugs and smiles and barely got to say a word before Michael Walker arrived and gave me one of the greatest birthday hugs of my night. Seriously. My Yonder experience has Michael painted to the rail at every show we catch. Without fail, he always makes me smile!

While we were chatting Peggy gave me bummer news that Tom Clinge's car broke down on the way to Knoxville. I've been excited to meet this fella for a while now, especially after he did the good deed of honoring Lilli Trippe by shaving his head a while back. And he's Chicago Kinfolk which is reason enough. Had I known about his car that morning, we easily would have given him a ride. Turns out Tom's amazing dad, Kevin, picked him up and drove him to the show all the way from the IL/IN border! I don't know too many parents that would be concerned about their kid catching a show after a 9-hour drive. You absolutely rule, Kevin! I hope I can be as cool a parent to my kiddos as you are to yours. After catching up we all took our seats in just enough time for me to throw my camera gear down, say a quick hello to more awesome Kinfolk — Eric, Kayla and Cheeto — and run back to the rail to catch Wood & Wire as they took the stage for the first time as Yonder's opening band.

I went into this show not knowing anything about Austin's quartet, Wood & Wire — featuring Tony Kamel on guitar, Matt Slusher on mandolin, Dom Fisher on bass and Trevor Smith on banjo — and left thinking they were the best opening band I had seen in a really long time.

Wood & Wire compliment Yonder so well in both energy and songwriting, as well as their ability to captivate an audience right off the bat. They had our crew up on their feet within the first few songs and by the end of their set and a raging number called "Mexico", there wasn't one person sitting in the entire theater. Well done, Wood & Wire! Y'all made me proud. We picked up their self-titled debut album that was just released and boy am I glad! It's fantastic! Here's their setlist:

Brand New Day
Ernest T. Grass
Nowhere & Gone - Love this song
Tennessee - (Jimmy Martin)
Rolling in the Washingtons
Fool Outta Me
Mexico > Big Mon > Mexico - What a rager!!

The crowd was warmed up and on their feet as the venue filled in and I found my spot on the rail. We didn't have to wait long at all before Yonder's smiling faces appeared on stage. My heart completely stopped when I thought I spotted cowboy boots in the shadows of the side of the stage and had to do double take to make sure. Ooooooh, I was sure!

I had to do everything I could to hold back happy tears when I saw Jason freakin' Carter of the Del McCoury Band walk out with them! Little did I know that while I was driving to Tennessee from Chicago, Yonder made an announcement earlier that morning that Jason Carter would be sitting in with Yonder for the first nine shows of this tour. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I LOVE me some fiddle. I've seen Jason play numerous times before but never with Yonder. Can my birthday get any better? Seriously! Life is so so good to me!!!!!!!!!! The boys kicked the tour off with a quick hello and the start of many welcome greetings to Jason from the band. Jeff: "Hi. Please give it up for our dear friend Jason Carter joining us!"

No surprise because everybody loves this, but one of my favorite parts of a Yonder show is the tuning at the beginning of every set coupled with the joy and excitement of guessing what song we'll be getting. Instead of the fast "ONE. TWO. THREE. FOUR." I wildly love, the tuning turned into heavy and fuzzy distortion that could only mean we're kicking the night off with "Sidewalk Stars." It's not the song I would have picked for a tour opener, but I do enjoy it. 

It was followed up by one of my favorite Burle numbers, "Ain't Been Myself in Years." So haunting and wistful, this song breaks my heart every time I listen to it. Awww, don't hear her laughing, Buddy! Think happy thoughts. Sigh! The lyrics demand complete vulnerability and Jeff nails that beautifully, of course. I'm always so impressed at the control he has over his voice and knowing how to emotionally connect with every line he sings. Whether he's selling it or really feeling it in that particular moment, I believe him every time. That's talent right there. "Sometimes I hear her laughing. Sometimes I see her face. Sometimes I think she's coming back, to fix this broken place. So easy to see right through me. Too late to change my ways. I'll tell ya friend I loved her when I wasn't in this haze"

Jeff: "Thank you folks and welcome. Thanks to Wood & Wire for being here with us. What a great group of guys. We look forward to hanging out with them more. This is the beginning of the first tour of 2013 for us and we appreciate you coming out on a Thursday."

Holy fiddle is what happened next! Starting 13 seconds into Adam's funky "Pockets" that fiddle just rips right through you, making this particular version of "Pockets" the best I've ever heard. The energy in the room definitely picked up quickly and was felt by both audience and band as this song came to a close.

In true Yonder fashion, it was now DJ's turn in the rotation and he did not disappoint. The crowd was still cheering for that tasty "Pockets" when Davey came up to the mic and said, "Hell yeah, Knoxville! Give yourselves a pinch and wake up! That's right! I feel like I can say now without any pretense that we will play the diapers off of this next song."

We were definitely ready to turn the heat way up with something fast and the next song certainly blew the roof off the Tennessee Theatre. I about peed my pants with excitement when I heard the opening notes of Burle's cowboy tune, "Winds of Wyoming." Yes, another Burle gem for Set I. I love everything about this song — the cowboy lyrics that DJ's voice was made for, the intense solos, and now add some fiddle on top of that? Absolute perfection. This song was my first moment of the night that I lost all control and just had to forget about the camera around my neck. How does one dance holding a big Nikon camera while standing alone on some little steps without a railing on the side of the stage? And who wants to take pictures when you want to get completely crazy? Balancing super fan and photographer is hard work. My hat is off to Dorothy like never before! I was so happy to get this tune that I just gave up shooting. I took the camera off my neck, put it down next to me and raged. When I opened my eyes I was completely busted by a smiley Jason Carter staring at me. Raging with your eyes closed on steps without a railing is no easy thing! It's a little brave and a lot stupid. Thankfully I didn't fall.

Time for Ben to play us a little number. I appreciate a great opening line in a song just as much as I love the first line of a new book and I have to say, the first line of "Criminal" is so fun! It booms out of Ben and commands attention every time: "I'm going back to Colorado, with my suitcase and a gun!" Ooooh, what's that Ben? It's a screaming fiddle talking right back to you line-for-line!

You know when you go to the bathroom during a show and hear a song start that you really love faintly in the distance that makes you wish you didn't leave? All you want to do is run back to your sweetheart and freak out with them over said song? This is how I felt alone and on the rail when Jeff ripped into an incredible version of one of my favorite songs of the last year or two, "What the Night Brings."

Lucky for me this song is in heavy rotation right now because I feel like I wish for it with every show I see. Rail for this show turned out to be heavily-policed VIP seating that I had access to all night, but half the Kinfolk I wanted to get down with were either further back or on the other side of the stage. I practically ran to my crew so we could have this song together and was greeted with more birthday drinks than I could handle in one song. We toasted, danced and I got there in time for my favorite lyrics of the song that Jeff always belts out harder than the rest: "It's a little easier each time as I'm reminded of all the reasons why. It's a little easier on me cause I'm reminded of the man I used to be." The mando lick that follows makes me adore this song so much. My hubby is a huge Adam fan so I was happy to be with him for one of his favorites that came next, Adam's "Rain Still Falls." 

Jeff: "I'd like Dave to sing one via the request line."
Davey J: "Ah yes, this song's about economics."
Upon getting back to the rail I was stoked to see that Michael and Peggy got upgraded to VIP and were right on the rail with me along with Stray (Michael) who I've only known through PT. After a quick introduction followed by lots of hugging and laughing, we got right back to getting down as "Ripcord Blues" began. Sharing rail with these Kinfolk was easily one of the highlights of my night. They are nothing but good energy on their own — Michael singing along and fist pumping, Peggy glowing with a huge smile across her face and Stray is elbows in your face, dancing wildly and overflowing with joy! He's the guy at a show that constantly bumps into you and you barely notice or care because you know he's genuinely having the time of his life. I love those neighbors and I adore these Kinfolk. All their energy combined? I felt like I was dancing inside one big happy hug. It was Kinfolk love I wish I could bottle up and stick in my pocket for always.  They raged way too hard to capture a good photo of them in action but I tried!

Peggy was telling me our youngest Kinfolk in the house that night, the adorable Brylee, age 5 — who sat center-rail all night with her folks (Hardcore!) —  met Jeff before the show and requested 3 songs. "Ripcord Blues" was one of them.

I'm always happy when folks get a song they're dying to hear, even happier to watch the smiles spread across their faces when they realize their song is happening. This song was so fun! I think DJ thought so too. "Ladies and gentleman, how about a hand for Jason Carter? Whipping me all into a froth. I'm like a cappuccino top over here!" Hysterical.

Talk of favorite Yonder songs came next on the rail as Peggy was telling Michael and I how badly she wanted to get a "Dawn's Early Light" that night. While she was talking she got a message from Tom that he and his dad were only an hour away! If set break was on the longer side, they just might make all of set II. Peggy and Tom are such good friends that I wanted him to get there so badly so she could really relax and so he could get a Yonder fix in before heading off to school. We were too engrossed in our chat between songs to notice that Jeff was about to take us on a ride... into "Dawn's Early Light"!  The three of us all stopped talking at the same time, looked at Yonder, looked back at each other and exploded in cheers. Yay for Peggy getting a song she literally talked about a few minutes prior. It was awesome!

We ended set 1 with a crowd favorite that I outgrew long ago and always think I'm sick of, but no matter what I end up loving live, "Boatman." People go completely crazy for this song. Stop and watch the next time you hear it. I mean batshit crazy! It makes me laugh and dance harder. This time Brylee requested it, and that makes me love good ole "Boatman" a little more.

During set break I met up with everyone in the lobby to shoot some Kinfolk photos, talk with Wood & Wire — such great guys, and have another birthday drink or two. My hubby not only brought me drinks but he told me he found two ticket stubs to replace the one I lost at the beginning of the night. Score! I went off shooting and later ran into Peggy who was happy that Tom was 5 minutes away but really worried that we didn't have a ticket for his dad. Wait, what? Of course we do because my husband just found some — one for my collection and one for Tom's dad, making it his first Yonder show. Yay!!!!!! I love when things come together like that. This entire night was one good moment after another.

“We have a lot of music to play so we figured we should come right out and play it!” — Jeff. How about a raging sandwich to start set 2 with — "Oklahoma" > "Rag Doll" > "Oklahoma?" Hell to the yes!! It was a scorcher from start to finish that I was happy to catch with my man up in the balcony. I wanted a different location to shoot from but once I realized we were getting an Oklahoma set opener, I quickly decided I'd rather dance my ass off! It was my birthday after all. Yonder gave us a break for a bit by cooling things down with an Adam classic that was easily one of my very first favorites years ago, "Near Me."

“We’ve got our dear friend Jason Carter here so we should play a fiddle song." Amen, Jeff!!! Here's the moment I was eagerly waiting for all night. I had a feeling that whatever followed "Near Me" would blow my mind and I couldn't contain my joy when Jason absolutely shredded through Bill Monroe's instrumental, "Old Dangerfield!" I should have known Yonder had something rare in the bag after they opened Set II with a sandwich. What could top "Oklahoma" plus fiddle? This one right here! It would mark the 8th time Yonder has ever played this number and it left us all reeling. “It really is a treat to get to play with Jason. He is a treasure. What a sound!” – BK. So true, Ben!

Leave it to Ben to keep the energy really fast and flowing with one of my favorite songs, "Casualty." I love looking around during this number and seeing nothing but fist pumping and singing in unison: "The. Only. Thing. You'll. Get. From. Me. Is. Time." The alternating solos in the middle of this song are insane!

After getting us all worked up, Ben ends the song by requesting Jason sing us a number. He happily agreed and told us he thought Hartford's, "Vamp in the Middle" would be a good song for a fiddle player to sing. Yes, please! "Play, fiddle, play. All day long, I hear you screamin' at me." Play fiddle play, play Jason play! He's such a seamless fit when he plays with Yonder. It blows me away that every song I heard him play ended with me thinking that it was the best version of that song, all thanks to the additional layer of his fiddle.

Up next was the upbeat and funky, "Shake Me Up." This song isn't on my list of favorites but it's definitely grown on me over time and I surely like dancing to it. Next came DJ's huge crowd favorite, "Pass This Way." It was followed up by an essential Yonder classic and what better one for my monumental show than the song that hooked me on Yonder 10 years ago? I'm talkin' a 10 minute long "Keep On Goin’!" Hearing this song always takes me back to road tripping with my friends and not having one care in the world. If I had to pick a song that captures everything I love about Yonder, this comes pretty close. It lifts my heart up, makes me smile and that long mando solo in the middle somehow always leaves me twirling up and down any aisle. Set II came to a close with what appeared to be an entire room beaming full of smiles. I love that energy. It stays with me for days after a show.

Is it really encore time already? Ben without a bass up at the mic meant we were about to get treated to a classic "Holdin'" encore. I love how much the crowd gets into this bouncy, happy tune. Can you listen to this one without smiling? I can't! The vocal exchange between Ben and Jeff layered over Jason's fiddle made this version so much fun.

"Time for one more!" are the 4 words I love to hear Jeff say at the end of any show. "Hill Country Girl" came out fast and hard and before we knew it, the house lights were up and I was twirling around in my hubby's arms to a Hines jam until security said, "Folks, that's enough!" Haha! I'm in no hurry to go anywhere after such an epic night.

We slowly made our way back to the rail — saying hellos to Tom and Kevin, and general goodbyes to our Kinfolk family. As soon as we got there Michael Walker handed me his copy of the setlists and wished me another happy birthday. He's the best!! We got outside and in typical fashion, talked and lingered some more, not wanting the night to end.

The very last thing said to me as I danced my way back to the hotel outside was, "Hey, do you guys need somewhere to stay? You're more than welcome in my junior suite. I've got plenty of space" We were so tipsy and silly that I'm pretty sure Peggy thought we either didn't know where we were going or had no place to stay. Only Kinfolk you've known in person for a day would offer up their floor space. Peggy, you warm my heart every time I think about Knoxville.

My beloved Yonder Days always end with me high on life, smiling hard, and inevitably looking up at my husband while holding his hand and saying what I say after every single show, "Dude, I have an idea! Let's quit our jobs and go on Yonder tour FOREVER!!!" Thank you, Ben, Adam, Jeff and Davey, and to all my Kinfolk friends, new and old, that truly made this birthday epic.

Can you hear me singing "You Make My Dreams (Come True)" by Hall and Oats right now? I totally am!

Oh, yeah
Well, well you
(Ooh-ho, hoo-ooh, ooh-oo)
You make my dreams come true
(You-hoo, you, you-hoo, hoo, you, hoo)

Written by Betty Vandenberg 

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  1. This is a classic Betty! Showing it to my Dad!

  2. Betty... wow, what a fantastic article and such beautiful photos as well! I love how you can literally feel the excitement in your words! Excellent job, my friend... cheers!

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  4. Betty, Thank you for writing this amazing article and for the shout out for Tom and me. That got me all choked up. I really enjoyed my first Yonder show and hope to be in the audience for more to come. Hopefully I'll get a chance to see everyone I had the pleasure to meet in Knoxville and to meet more "Kinfolk" along the way. Thanks again and great job. My best to you and your family!

  5. Thanks for all the kind words, everyone!! It's easy to write about an experience when it's filled with really good people that genuinely care for each other. Kinfolk is just that. I love this community and all the joy it brings to my life.

    Pete, again and again, thank you for the kind words, the encouragement and the inspiration today. You're the best!

    Kevin, my entire world is now about being a parent, wondering what my babies will grow up to be, how I'll manage teenage years, etc. That said, I was completely touched and blown away by the fact that you came to Tom's rescue and drove him all the way to Knoxville. That's beyond what a good parent would do. 9+ hours, your own day shot. You could have told Tom to get his car towed, forget Yonder and take the bus back to school. You didn't. You did what a Super Dad would do, because that's what you are. You even made sure Tom got to see his favorite band. That is awesome! And because of that, you got to experience your first Yonder show. I'm sure you guys were really tired, but you came out and had a great time anyway. I hope to see you guys at more shows. They do hit up Chicago quite a bit. Don't be shy, be Kinfolk. :)

  6. Thanks a bunch


    Dr. Suess


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