Mountain of Strings - Olympic Valley, CA (April 28, 2013)

written by Dorothy St.Claire

The end of Spring Tour brought us to Squaw Valley and the Mountain of Strings Festival. We didn't know what to expect from this new single-day event, but with Tony Furtado and the Del McCoury Band playing before Yonder, we knew it would be pretty great. Little did I know how wonderful of a day it really would be.

Gregg, Nilima, Alison, Lori, Jen, Colin, and I got there pretty early. We followed the signs to park our cars, followed the signs into the venue area, and found ourselves looking at a stage set up right at the foot of a mountain. 

The crowd grew as Tony Furtado played his opening set. Unlike the past two nights in San Francisco, he played this show solo. It was fun watching him switch back and forth between banjo and guitar, and his set spread a nice calming feeling over all of us in the crowd as we took in the beautiful day.

As the Del McCoury Band arrived, they quickly got tuned up and warmed up at the side of the stage. I always love seeing these guys, and seeing Del standing just a few yards away gave me some big butterflies in my stomach. Soon they were stepping onto the stage to thunderous applause, and as Del greeted us all and the music started, my smile grew so big it hurt. Like always, Del took requests from the audience and forgot most of them as soon as the titles were hollered. But no matter. They played my number one (silent) request, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot". I could have died happy.

As Del's set ended, I found myself wandering the "backstage" area. And then I found myself standing next to Del. My hands started sweating and my heart started racing, but I found some courage and introduced myself. It was a surreal moment, squeezing Del's hand and looking up to find him looking me right in the eyes and giving me that classic Del smile. As I wandered off, probably with a dopey grin on my face, Jeff came up to me and asked, "Was that your first time meeting Del?" We talked for a few minutes until Ronnie and Rob came by and I offered to take a photo of the three of them. They acted a little flustered for a moment, spinning around and switching places a few times, before Del walked by and they pulled him into the photo. "Del, you've met Dorothy?" Jeff asked. "I sure did, she's alright!" I was practically giddy as I pressed my finger on the shutter and snapped a photo that totally captured the happiness of that moment and of that day.

The time flew by after that, and soon the Yonder guys were stepping off the bus, instruments in hand. I watched as they strode towards the stage, Jeff and Jason playing to each other. They huddled, pounded fists, slapped each other on the backs, and headed up the stairs and onto the stage.

"This is the last day of our tour, we're so glad to spend it with you people on this beautiful day, this beautiful place… speaking of beautiful, look at this beautiful man, Jason Carter on the fiddle joining us!" At that, Jeff started strumming his mandolin, with Ben, Jason, Adam, and Dave slowly joining in until it all came together to create "No Expectations". The sound of Ben and Jason slowly scraping their bows across their strings was one that would not soon be forgotten, and when Ben put down his bow and sped up the song, the smiles spread across the crowd. It was immediately evident that these guys were having a really great time, and they were all playing at their best. 

"Well I'm here to tell ya any day you get to step on stage after Del McCoury is a good day." Jeff pointed to where Del had stood just a half hour earlier, and the smile never left his face as he introduced Dave to sing us a bluegrass song. "Loved You Enough" came fast and before I knew it, it was over and Jeff was introducing Adam.

"On the guitar, Adam Aijala."  "Thank you. This is what we call day last. This is our last show of the run, and we'll be in our own beds tomorrow night." Adam looked over at Ben before finishing his thought, "Actually, Ben will be in his tonight. So, eff him. F*ck him." Everyone laughed as Adam fell into the very not funny "A Father's Arms".

The guys couldn't hide their joy as they tuned up for the next song. "Wow, this is really perfectly distracting scenery." Jeff said as he looked out over the crowd. "Can you believe we're outside right now?" Ben asked before jumping into "Walking Shoes". I took this time to start wandering around, and I was just as amazed and happy as the band as I absorbed the wonderful feeling of this day last show. They dove into the Grateful Dead's "They Love Each Other" next, bringing couples together and creating a slow sway in the crowd. A knee-bouncing "Corona" followed.

After the bouncy "Corona", Jeff called Rob and Ronnie McCoury to the stage. "Enough of this kids play, let's pick!" They picked a full and robust "Kentucky Mandolin", giving each musician a chance to spread their wings. Rob's picking was such a contrast and compliment to Dave's, Jason's fiddle wove through the air and added that high and lonesome sound, but the highlight was the back and forth between Ronnie and Jeff. They came together around Jeff's microphone, and for a few minutes it felt as if they were the only ones on stage. Back and forth and back and forth they went as they each watched the other's finger fly.  

Jeff gave a shout-out to DelFest before they all broke into "Oklahoma". I could feel the excitement and the energy that came from playing music with old friends as it left the stage and touched everyone in the crowd. It was such a good version of this song. I couldn't help but just hang back and take it all in. Jason played over Jeff's verses, creating a new richness to the song. I was mesmerized as I listened to Ronnie and Adam play back and forth and then to Jason and Jeff take their turn. It was almost explosive as it all came together and brought us back around to the final verse. 

It was at this point that we had to say goodbye to Jason, Rob, and Ronnie. No one wanted to see them go, but the show went on as Ben sang "Someday's Reunion". It was just what we needed in order to come out of that huge "Oklahoma" and catch our breath. 

"Kind of a nice little rager up here!" Dave exclaimed before the heavy introduction to "Angel" stomped in. It was great... until Dave's banjo went out of tune. Then not so great. Maybe he couldn't hear himself very well, but he played the song to its end, and then, fortunately for all of us, he got back in tune before they started "Elzic's Farewell". "Casualty" blasted in next, and the fast pace ensured that every body was moving.

"I just heard this divine voice in my head and I feel like singing now." Dave smiled as they started "It Takes A Lot To Laugh It Takes A Train To Cry". The smile jumped over to Jeff as he sang "Half Moon Rising", no doubt thinking about his family waiting for him at home. As they prepared for the next song, Ben switched to the electric bass, which would give us only a few options for the next song. I was pretty happy when it turned out to be "Hey Bulldog". That one's always nice. 

Jeff thanked us all for coming, so it had to be time for that last sandwich of the night. "Peace of Mind" kicked off that last jam, but soon enough, Jeff stopped singing and started speaking into the microphone. "You don't believe me do you, when I say I'm gonna leave. You don't believe me do you, when I say it's for the better, for the good that I'm gonna turn my back and go rather than stay one more little second with you, my little girl. You say no, there's no way you will leave. You say everything will be just and everything will be just OK. But if I stay, everything will not be fine. Everything will not be alright." Jeff got louder and angrier, until he was finally screaming, "And if I stay, little girl, everything, everything will fall!" A vengeful Jeff took over the jam, giving us all what we really needed on this beautiful day - a dirty and scary "Riverside".  

Eventually they transitioned seamlessly back into "Peace of Mind", and I could feel the calm that penetrated the crowd as we all sang "Late in the afternoon, and the sun is setting low...". It was a great feeling. 

As they came back out for their encore, Dave stepped right up to the mic, "I tell you what, you guys win the prize for the most pleasant surprise of the whole trip! Yeah! Squawk!!!" The encore started mellow with "Crazy", but the boys ramped it up and finished with a fun "My Gal". 

This was a really fun show, but it was also a little sad. The tour was over. We had to say goodbye to our friends, and this was Kevin's last show with Yonder. Sure, I was tired. Sure, I missed my cats. But I didn't want it to end. I managed to say my goodbyes to pretty much everyone before we shuffled off and back to Truckee for the night. It was another great tour, and deep down I knew it wouldn't be long until we were all together again.

Written by Dorothy St.Claire

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