McDowell Mountain Music Festival - Phoenix, AZ (March 24, 2013)

written by Pete Mecozzi

“It’s nice to be here in the warmth. We were in Montana, seems like a couple of hours ago!” ~ Adam Aijala 

While most folks were still digging out from all of the late March snow and dealing with a little “Cabin Fever”, The 10th Annual McDowell Mountain Music Festival in Phoenix, AZ brought the heat in more ways than one! With a Sunday line-up that included the Jerry Garcia Band with Melvin Seals (and home town hero Dave Herbert on guitar), Dr. Dog, Les Claypool’s Duo de Twang, Umphrey’s McGee, and of course, Yonder Mountain String Band, there wasn’t one person without a smile on their face, a groove in their step, or at the very least, a tap in the toes!

“I’m in the unenviable position of being the bass the player that plays after Les Claypool… awesome!” ~ Ben Kaufmann

With Yonder taking the stage at 6 PM sharp, it was the perfect time of day for everyone to get up and really shake their tail-feathers! The desert sun was going down in the west, as well as the heat from this surprisingly warm day in the Valley. The crowd was primed and ready to get their Bluegrass on, and it showed as soon as Yonder hit the first notes of "Out Of The Blue"! As I looked out over the stage and the crowd from the VIP perch, I quickly noticed how alive everyone had instantly become. I saw a couple of green and white Kinfolk Flags waving, as well as the obvious Colorado State Flag seemingly smack dab in the middle of the crowd! Add to that a small parade of flag-bearers and over-sized “festival bluegrass characters” slowly making their way through the sea of Kinfolk… and you definitely had a party on your hands! It was as if this festival and all of the music lovers therein, were waiting for this moment to arrive! A literal jubilee ensued!

“Pretty sure this is our first festival of the year… that feels good, feels good in the body!” ~ Ben Kaufmann

Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like the band was relaxed and really enjoying themselves with this short but sweet festival set. Maybe it was because they didn’t have to wear ski boots and jackets to get here. Maybe it was because this was the tour closer… I don’t know, but the energy was definitely palpable and the crowd, once again, responded in kind! It’s like that last thirty minutes at work right before the weekend… and that smile slowly starts to beam on your face as you realize your weekend of fun is about to begin! Whatever the case, as the band made their way through each song, the dancing became more intense, the energy climbed higher… and even Ben Kaufmann got into the fun just a little more when he joked that the blimp that was flying overhead just may have been the band’s first ever! 

“Never had a blimp at a show before, that’s kinda cool!” ~ Ben Kaufmann

"Pockets", "New Deal Train", "All The Time" and "Another Day" were personal favorites of mine, but as always, Yonder could play just about anything and I think myself, and everyone else included, would be more than happy with whatever the boys had in store! The Hee Haw Factor was definitely taking place, with everyone from little kids to old hippies dancing around and kicking up a little dust in the process! And speaking of songs, don’t let the short setlist fool you! Each song took on a life of its own, with an almost seemingly limitless supply of energy from the band to boot! As I stated earlier, the band seemed very relaxed and this definitely carried over into their performance. All of that being said, I admit, between clicking my shutter to get some photos, dancing, smiling and singing along with every song… the set almost seemed to end just as quickly as it began! That’s all right though, if you ask me. The McDowell Mountain Music Festival, and the fans in attendance, have been waiting a very long time for a big act like this to grace the stage in Arizona! It seems like every year the folks who run this festival ask everyone who they’d like to see, and Yonder Mountain String Band is always mentioned on numerous occasions! In my very honest and humble opinion, having Yonder on stage at this festival was a good shot in the arm for this hometown throwdown! While MMMF is a fun and fantastic festival, it’s not Harvest Festival or Red Rocks. Maybe I’m biased, but Arizona truly needs its version of a big time festival, and hopefully the energy that Yonder and every band who performed will carry over to next year when MMMF kicks off its 11th edition of this festival in the Valley of the Sun! 

“Once a day, every day, it is Bluegrass O’clock!” ~ Ben Kaufmann

Lastly, I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t give a few shout outs here at the end of this review. Big thanks to Lara Keithley (by way of Ben Hines) for the VIP Pass. It was truly a gift that I will remember for a long time to come. It also helped me get some photos of the band from a much different perspective than I’m used to… so, again, thank you, Lara and Ben! I’d also like to thank my new friend Shayna Diamond-Atonna for helping me out with a photo of the band’s setlist. It was so much fun shaking and shimmying for a little while up on that VIP Perch with Shayna and her cool hubby, Marc! And finally, big thanks to Dorothy St.Claire for allowing me this wonderful opportunity to share my words, my photos and my Yonder Day with ya’ll! I am honored and touched. From the bottom of my heart… thank you!

Setlist: Intro, Out Of The Blue, Pockets, Little Lover, New Deal Train, One More, Casualty > Rag Doll, All The Time, Don’t Worry Happy Birthday, Another Day, Fingerprint, Troubled Mind, Peace Of Mind

Written by Pete Mecozzi

Download this show from Yondermountainlive!

Wilma Theater - Missoula, MT (March 23, 2013)

written by Garth Wagner

Night two, a bittersweet night for me. I get to see Yonder again, bringing my tally to five shows in just over a week. But, my last show until fall. You all know how addicting it is once you get on the train, you just want more and more right?

Walking back into the Wilma I was really ready to take it all in. Last night’s crowd was awesome. The venue staff was incredible. The head security guy on the rail was a Yonder fan and didn’t take shit from people trying to cram their way in. Pastor Tim was in the house again. A great night lay ahead.

You know you’re in a fun time when they open with a "Ramblin' in the Rambler". And when there is a "Kentucky Mandolin" in the middle you know it might be more than a fun night. I can’t help it, I still like me a "Ramblin'". I know lots of you are over it, but I can’t help it. Hearing it for the first time back in the little bars of Nederland I’m pretty sure it will always bring back great memories. A nice rag-timey "Deep Pockets" followed the opener. A "Rain Still Falls" and a "Down the River Road" fell into place nicely. "Only a Northern Song" and another rag-timey "Rag Mama" kept the beat rocking. Another back in the day tune, "Left Me in a Hole" made the smile on my face continue to shine. The Deadly Gentlemen’s Mike Barnett joined the guys on fiddle for the last three songs of the set. Something else I have said before, I love a fiddle on stage with Yonder! A tasty sandwich of "Little Maggie" with a "Mother’s Only Son" in the middle closed out a great first set.

One set to go. Better focus on taking it all in. Not hard to do.

I’m not sure when this happened so I will mention it now. At some point towards the end of this second set Pastor Tim turned himself into a human disco ball. Maybe the coolest thing I have seen at a Yonder show. It was hilarious and awesome. The band and the crowd loved it. The super cool security guard even got in on it. Here was PT standing in the front photo area, holding a disco ball over his tall self and slowly spinning around. It was a site to see.

OK, back to the set list.

"Train Bound for Gloryland" started things off. Which went very smoothly into an "After Midight". An "After Midnight" for the second song of a set? OK, this was going to be a good set to end my tour on. "June Apple" came out of that and we got a little breather after a three song opener. "Pass This Way", "Sidewalk Stars" and "Lonesome Letter" all kept the boogie going. A super fun "Harder They Come" really got me and the crowd juiced up. "Complicated" gave me a chance to run to the bathroom. There has to be one song one doesn’t like, right? It was good timing because I was back for a favorite Dave tune of mine, "Easy as Pie". "Jack A Roe" has found it’s way into the set list more and more and Adam does a great job with it. I like it. I was thirsty for more. And more I got… I was a little worried when they started playing "Keep on Going". Usually this means the end is near. Not necessarily tonight though. The beginning of the end does not always mean the end is near. Another long time favorite of mine came out of "Keep on Going", "New Horizons" with Dave’s driving banjo licks bringing us to yet another favorite of mine, "Angel". Man this tune always gets me going. I was more then ecstatic at this point. Especially when they went back into "New Horizons" and then back into "Keep on Going". I was sweaty, tired, and happy. And a little hungry for some greasy food. But, the encores still lay ahead. Dave rocked us with more of his awesomeness with a "You’re no Good". A smokin' "Part 1" into a "Southern Flavor" closed out four great nights across Montana. Lucky for me I was in Missoula, and just down the street is a great place for grease 24/7. I went and had cheeseburger and fries and one last beer. The cook was mean and grumpy, the beer was cold, and the burger was perfect. Just like the whole night was.

Can’t wait for next time. Whenever that may be.

Written by Garth Wagner

Download this show from Yondermountainlive!

Wilma Theater - Missoula, MT (March 22, 2013)

written by Garth Wagner

One of my best friends from back in the day is a truck driver. I always call him when I am on the road to see if he is close by. After over 10 years of trying, he told me he was going to be in Missoula Friday night. Seeing as he and I love the same kind of music and he had yet to see Yonder I was happy to offer him my extra ticket. I was pretty stoked. I was getting to see Yonder for the fourth time in a week, and one of my best friends was finally going to catch a show with me.

We used to see Jerry together so it was pretty cool that they opened up with "Dear Prudence". The crowd in the Wilma was looking like a good one. As they should be, Missoula and the venue are great places with great people. "Dear Prudence" found it's way into "Boatman". An old classic get the crowd going Yonder standby. And get the crowd going it did. Ben stepped up with a real nice "Things You're Selling", followed by a "Maid of the Canyon" and "A Father’s Arms". A groovin' "Fingerprint" came next, with a "Crying Holy" for Pastor Tim, which ripped into a great "Straight Line". A rockin' "Spanish Harlem Incident"  paved the way for a killer "Dawn’s Early Light" into a smokin' "Raleigh and Spencer". I was impressed. The crowd was impressed. And best of all my buddy was, too. The "Dawn’s" and "Raleigh" had Greg Liszt from the Deadly Gentlemen on banjo. Like I have said before, you can never have too many banjos! An average first set that left everyone wanting more average Yonder. If you have read my posts before you will know what I mean by average: Kick Ass! 

My Buddy is more into being back a bit so we gave up our rail spot and headed for the balcony at set break. We found the most comfortable seats I have ever sat in at a venue. The Wilma is a really cool venue with great sound. I was pretty sure this would be a nice place to enjoy the second set. And, it was. Ben got things going with an energetic "On the Run" into "High Cross Junction" and back into "On the Run". Nothing wrong with a little saga to get things going. The great tune "Pockets" and an "I’ll Never Love Anybody But You" arrived at a super funky Danny Barnes tune, "Crow Black Chicken". I know I like a little chicken pie. A special kick ass treat was givin to us during that "Crow Black Chicken", too. Sam Grisman from the Deadly Gentlemen came out and he and Ben passed the bass back and forth without missing a beat. The band and the crowd were loving it. An upbeat "Boots" and "Hey Bulldog" kept the smile on my face. Such fun tunes! "This Lonesome Heart"  into a "Good Hearted Woman" was a great duo of heart songs. Danny Barnes got represented again with a tune he and Jeff wrote together, "Rag Doll", with another mandolin played by Dominick Leslie. For some reason I really like that tune. Having two mandolins for it made it even better. Coming out of "Rag Doll" I heard the familiar strumming of another get the crowd going tune. The ever popular "If You’re ever In Oklahoma"  brought us to our knees. But they weren’t done yet, "Oklahoma" drifted into a beautiful "Elzic’s Farewell". And then they killed us some more, going back into "Oklahoma". An above average set, which translates to super kick ass!! 

And after all that they still did a three song encore. An always welcome "Sharecropper’s Son" kept my sweat flowing. A super nice "Katie Daily" let me catch my breath a bit, but then they ramped back up for a hot "East Nashville Easter". I love how the boys always seem to give me as much as I can take. My shirt was soaked and it was cold out but I was warm all the way back to my hotel... which the band was also staying at; always nice to get to ride the elevator with David Johnston!! Once again I was looking forward to the next night of Yonder.

Written by Garth Wagner, with photos also by Garth

Download this show from Yondermountainlive!

Emerson Cultural Center - Bozeman, MT (March 21, 2013)

Written by Garth Wagner

OK, I was pumped and ready for this night. Bozeman has a reputation for being a great, fun town. So far it seemed to be. Met a friend for dinner and beers at an awesome place called Ale Works. Great menu and crowd.

Headed to the Emerson Cutural Center for will call and doors. I was really looking forward to seeing this place. I have the show from the last time they played here and the banter throughout was classic. Ben talked lots about how on this night it was the Emerson Sub-Cultural Center. Someone threw a giant bra on stage that Jeff referred to as a 20 degree bra.

Nice looking venue. Same scene, me and one other guy standing in the front row for an hour. So I headed into the next room where the bar was. Bought two drinks to save me a trip. As I was walking out I was informed that drinks are not allowed in the theater. And, they were not kidding. So, I slammed my two drinks and went back to claim my spot. The Deadly Gentlmen played another good set to a much more mellow crowd than the night before. Seems like the Bozeman crowd likes to be fashionably late.

They did show up in time for the boys, though. And it seemed to be a super fun and ready crowd. Yonder got the night started with one of my favorites, "Cuckoo's Nest", right into a super favorite of mine, "Up on the Hill Where They do the Boogie". Allright, this is going to be a sick show with a start like that. A killer "Sometimes I've Won" kept things going great. "Troubled Mind" started up and I prayed to myself that we would get a "20 Eyes" in the middle, and, we do! "One More" and "Honestly" follow. The girl next to me was celebrating her first Yonder show and her 21st birthday. So it seemed fitting that Dave played the classic, "Don't Worry, Happy Birthday". "Night Out" came next, and prepared us for the set closer. Mike Barnett from the Deadly Gentlmen joined the band with his fiddle. Always great to have a fiddle with the boys. And they took advantage of it. Closing the first set with a "Traffic Jam"> "No Expectations"> "Traffic Jam" sandwhich. I couldn't think of a better way to end a set. Myself and the people of Bozeman were hot and happy. A first set "Traffic Jam" is always a treat. And what a first set it was, look at that set list!

The lights went back down and I was super ready. A great "Casualty" got things started off right. An awesome Dead cover, "Althea", fit my groove just fine. "Jail Song" and "40 Miles From Denver" kept the mood flowing perfectly. Jeff told us he has been sober for 6 months today, and the next tune is his inspiration. The meaning behind "What the Night Brings" is more clear now, and he sang it with a more than usual amount of passion. Nice work Jeff!!! "Looking Back Over my Shoulder" ripped us into a rippin' "Bolton Stretch", always a favorite in my book. "Just Like Old Times" led us to "Polka on a Banjo", which I have always enjoyed; how could you not? My favorite Adam tune, "Pride of Alabama" brought us to the set ender. Which, turned out to be another great way to end a set. "Ten" with a "2 Hits and the Joint Turned Brown" about did me in. I was now hot, tired, and sore.

The encores of "At the End of the Day" and "My Gal" finished us off nicely. Man, what a show. Looking at the set list and listening to this show makes me realize that this was, in my opinion a top 10% Yonder show. And once again I am looking forward to the next night in Missoula.

Written by Garth Wagner

Download this show from Yondermountainlive!

Babcock Theater - Billings, MT (March 20, 2013)

written by Garth Wagner

If you are from Billings or just like Billings, I will apologize now.  I have only had a few experiences with Billings prior to this show.  None of them were all that positive.  This night would prove to follow that course.  I was trying to keep an open mind.  I got into town mid afternoon, the weather was perfect.  After driving through a snow storm for five hours I was happy to have sunshine and 60 degrees.  Walked over to the venue to check it out, looked pretty good.  Went and found a watering hole.  Ended up at a nice looking bar and restaurant close to The Babcock.  Bartenders were nice and friendly, a couple from North Dakota couldn't believe I would drive around following a band.
Headed over to the venue to get my will call, good group of fans anxiously awaiting doors.  Always a good sign when people are excited.  Got inside and claimed my normal spot, right in front of Dave.  This is when I got a little suspicious.  Me personally, I don't like venues with seats in it.  I mean like movie theater seating.  The floor gets packed with people all trying to cram in the space between the seating and the stage.  Being the only one in that space I started chatting with the security guard.  Nice guy, didn't know much about the theater but nice.  He got in a conversation with his coworker about people being allowed to stand in the space between the seating and stage.  They were not sure if this was allowed and if people would be able to dance or not.  Whoa, red flag...  Someone made the decision that it would be ok if people danced.  I would hope so.
The Deadly Gentlmen came out and finally I was not alone in "the space".  The band was into it and so was the crowd.  By the end of their opening set they had the crowd in a frenzy and things were looking good.  I had a positive outlook for the rest of the night.  

Yonder came on and the crowd was ready.  A great choice of an opener, which was "Bloody Mary Morning" got this going.  But suddenly there was a lot of pushing going on.  It was coming from a young woman three people down from me.  She got rid of the two ladies on my right and then started in on me.  Slamming into me and screaming for me to move.  I screamed back.  Seeing that I wasn't going to budge anymore she threw my beer on the floor.  She threw my beer on the floor.  It was a lot like Woo peeing on The Dude's rug.  I looked up and saw Dave laughing at the situation.   At the end of the first song I was able to explain to her that I had a photo pass and I would not being moving from my spot.  All of a sudden she was very apologitic and nice.  This kind of set the mood for my evening.  The Billings crowd continued to be pushy, trying to cram their way in.  The first set was kind of average with the highlight coming at the end with a tasty sandwhich made up of "Snow on the Pines" with a "Girlfriend" in the middle.  Stash Wyslouch from The Deadly Gentlmen joined the boys to help out with the making of said sandwhich.

Not wanting to deal with the crowd, I headed for the balcony for the second set.  Found a nice spot up front and took a seat.  A pretty fun second set followed.  "Pretty Daughter" and "How Bout You" opened things up.  A nice "Little Lover" and "Mossy Cow" brought us to a "Bird Can Sing" into a Jeff favorite of mine, "Ain't Been Myself in Years".  Another Jeff goodie of "Too Late Now" followed that.  "Naughty Sweetie" got the crowd ramped up.  A fast and upbeat "Loved You Enough" paved the way for a sweet "Belle Parker".  An always welcome "Criminal" and "Little Rabbit" led things to an always smokin' "Whipping Post".  "All The Time" closed out the set.  "Not Far Away" was the first encore, and another favorite I had not heard in a while, and "Crazy Train" finished out the night.  

Between the crowd and the cramped venue I would not be bummed if Yonder skipped Billings in the future.  Although the Billings folks sure seemed to enjoy the boys.  Like all of us always do.  I was looking forward to the next night in Bozeman.

Written by Garth Wagner, with photos also by Garth

Download this show from Yondermountainlive!