written by Dorothy St.Claire
Colin and I followed Rick, Melissa, Kristin, and Eric from Urbana to St. Louis, and we stopped at this great roadside restaurant with foot high pie - the Blue Springs Cafe. The food was so good. I hope we go from Urbana to St. Louis again next year so we can stop there again. The rest of the drive was short, and before we knew it Colin and I were getting settled in at the wonderful Moonrise Hotel. This is my absolute favorite hotel. The ambiance is way cool, the beds are a dream, and you're right next door to The Pageant. It really doesn't get any better. Colin and I got to the Halo Bar kind of late and met up with our friends waiting in line to enter the Pageant. I snuck in a little early to snap some shots of the venue and to stoke my excitement in the big empty room that would soon be filled with happy dancing Kinfolk. I was so ready for this.
The Deadly Gentlemen opened this show, and it was my first time seeing them play. I had seen Dominick Leslie, Greg Liszt, and Samson Grisman play in different bands, but it was finally time for me to get some Deadly Gentlemen. Their set was energetic and unlike anything I had heard before. I had a great time, and they really warmed everyone up for Yonder.
The anticipation for Yonder buzzed through the air. It felt as if everyone was somehow more excited than usual for tonight's show. As I ran around the venue, chatting people up and getting ready to rock, I saw so many folks sporting their Atwell Lights t-shirts, courtesy of Nicole and Chad. It was a pretty awesome thing.
Finally, the house lights came down, the stage lights came up, and Dave, Ben, Jeff, and Adam walked onto the stage. "Well hi." Jeff said. "Are you folks ready for us to get after it here? I know we are." And then it started. Another epic 2-night run in St. Louis began with "Cuckoo's Nest". And I was ready for it... having cheated and taken a look at the setlist already. Now, before you get upset, just know that I don't do this at every show. But The Pageant has so many great spots to shoot from, and I had so many great friends at this show, that it really makes sense to be able to plan my night. That way I get the photos I want, and I get to dance with my friends at all the perfect times. In this case, I grabbed an Adam-side rail spot with my girls to get down to the first three songs.
Amanda had said that her and Jason were only doing Urbana, but here they were. Kelli and Jamie made the last-minute drive all the way from Virginia, and Anitra had come all the way from Texas. I had not seen Anitra since Harvest Fest 2011, so to say I was ecstatic to see her would still be an understatement. I couldn't think of anywhere else I would rather spend the beginning of my show, but right up front, dancing with these lovely ladies!
After "Cuckoo's" came a beautiful "Dawn's Early Light", and I couldn't hide the giant grin that spread across my face. It really doesn't matter if I know what they're going to play, the excitement is just the same. "Dawn's" always hits me deep down in my bones, and as this one progressed, it just got better and better. Our guys were in top form tonight, that's for sure. And then Jeff strummed and picked faster and faster until we were thrown "Over the Waterfall". Yes yes yes! It was bliss. That's the only way I can describe it. Bliss.
"So I've been realizing and just sort of allowing myself to remember all the different times throughout the course of my life when a bluegrass song saved my life." Ben said as he looked around at his fellow bandmates, "Until this moment when I realized, 'yeah that may be true, but there's also been several times when my life has been threatened by a polka song'. I suppose that's an interesting setup... over to you, Dave!" Dave was grinning from ear to ear as he said, "Let me drip a little honey all over ya! Let me get a little bit of sugar candy." "Polka on the Banjo" started, and right away, Dave started changing the words in honor of Ted's birthday. It was hilarious... and sweet.
Ben talked about baseball, his one year old son, and the tough decisions about talking to his son about being a Red Sox fan. The crowd came together in one giant "Booooo!!!" at the mere mention of the Red Sox, and when Ben asked Adam's opinion, Adam replied, "Well, I bought him a Red Sox jersey already, so..." So, it was time to play "Damned if the Right One Didn't Go Wrong". The best guitar lick ever seemed to make the crowd forget their sports aggression, and everyone mellowed out as Adam sang his newest song, "Lonesome Letter" next.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Jeff Austin here on the mandolin is gonna sing you one of the songs that I think has got to be in the running for the most classic chestnut of Yonder Mountain music ever... of all time. Ever." Jeff counted off and we were soon swaying to "Half Moon Rising". Yes, this song is absolutely a classic, and I know I wasn't the only one who was elated to hear it. After a brief pause to tune up, we were hit with Ben's "Boots" and then dropped into "Dreams".
It was time again for a Dave tune, and as Adam started it off with a bluesy bounce, "Ripcord Blues" was off and running. This song sounds nothing like any other Yonder song, and it's just. so. good. Dave tore it up, too, and we all couldn't help but dance. And then there's that terrific bass ending. I love it. And then, wouldn't you know it, Jeff started singing: "You gotta tell me, little love! You gotta tell me, little one!" and we all knew just what was coming. "Ruby" hit us hard and fast, and I freaked as Jeff rolled right through the first verse without his usual pauses. Oh baby, it was great. And it was a full-on, straight-up, stand-alone "Ruby", which was exactly what I hoped for. It was a perfect end to the first set.
Setbreak was awesome. I spent most of it by the merch table with Scotty and a whole bunch of Kinfolk. And before I knew it, it was time to get back to it.
"Well welcome back... to all of you." Jeff said, and they started the second set with "Too Late Now". It was like I had been holding my breath, and I didn't realize it until this song began. It rooted me where I was and made me feel like I was home. Before the next song, Jeff gave a big Happy Birthday shout-out to Ted, of course telling us all that Ted was 50 years old (not true). We all turned toward the light booth and gave our loudest cheers to our dear friend. As the cheers died down and we all looked back toward the stage, Ben stepped up to the mic. "We'll play this bluegrass number - I wanna send it out to two people, this is interesting to me. There's two people seeing us tonight and it is their 171st show. Each one of them has seen us 171 times. They're not married or nothin'." At this point, I looked down at Michael Walker and we both just laughed. "These are totally independent, separate 171 shows, but meeting tonight to share that special number. I think that's cool." Michael and I had hoped to somehow sync up and have our 200th show together, but at the rate I've been going, it happened sooner than that - with these two nights being 171 and 172 for both of us. "Pan American" was a real treat after a fun shout-out, and as always, it was fun to watch Ben, Jeff, and Adam watch each other for cues. Adam was laughing as they finished, "Flawless, yet again. Every time."
After all that fun, I had to "put down" my camera for a little while and just boogie (I almost never actually put down my camera anymore, choosing to tuck it safely under my arm instead). "Jack A Roe" started as I found a spot amongst my friends, closed my eyes, and let the groove take hold. Jeff sang "At the End of the Day" next, and Ben followed with "Head of That Woman". Then as "Northern Song" progressed, and Dave's solo came up, I watched for the band to gather together... but it didn't happen, so I continued groovin' with my friends. I think Dave was just rocking so hard that they were all glued to their spots. "Give it up for David Johnston on the banjo, friends!" Yes. Give it up, indeed. Jeff started that jarring, angry strum, and soon we were all stomping to "One More". Then we needed some more Dave, so "Pass This Way" came next. I just couldn't believe how great this show was turning out to be. I wandered for the next couple songs, finding places to maybe take some photos or maybe just dance. I was elated to hear "If I Lose" - one of my very favorite songs; and then "Whitehouse Blues" was just a treat. A really fast treat.
It was getting to be about that time. "High Cross Junction"> "On the Run" started the last chunk of music, and I took that opportunity to hang with Kevin and watch the crowd as they went nuts to this Sheriff Saga chunk. "On the Run" became "Death Trip" and the crowd danced even harder. It was quite a rush as they finally pulled it all back together with the end of "On the Run". I love seeing the crowd as the band sees us. The energy you all send up to the stage is so intense, I can see how this band has kicked so much ass for so long. They finished "On the Run" with a bang and left the stage full of smiles. The setlist only had ?? listed for the encore, and I just waited, wondering what the guys would decide to play.
Holy cow. They did it right. "Tear Down the Grand Old Opry" started the encore, and got everyone singing along. You know you're at a special show when you get this tune. And then they did the unthinkable, unimaginable, unbelievable... they played "Going to the Races". Oh thank you thank you. This is my go-to request song. And it's the PERFECT way to end an encore. Especially when Dave and Jeff sing, "I'm going honky-tonkin', everything's turned upside down..." oh, yes. There's nothing sweeter. I don't think this show could have gotten any better. They chose a wide range of songs and played at their very best. I could only imagine what they had in store for us for night two.
Of course, since this was Crew Years Eve at The Pageant and Ted's birthday, this show was only the beginning of the night. I'll just say that it was an amazing birthday celebration with dear friends, and that we stayed up far too late.
Written by Dorothy St.Claire; photos by Dorothy St.Claire and Rex Thomson
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