written by Dorothy St.Claire
I didn't quite know what to expect when Michael and I got to Buster's for the beginning of Winter Tour, but I did expect The Travelin' McCourys to already be there. Apparently they had had a brutal day of travel and were still on the road from Nashville when Michael and I got to the venue. We watched Ben, Dave, and Adam sound check on their own, and frequent updates from the road led to Mark and the Buster's crew to push everything back an hour, with the hopes that the McCourys would get there in time for some kind of sound check of their own.
This tour was going to be... different. Jeff took the whole tour off for the birth of his daughter, and Yonder brought in Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter from The Travelin' McCourys to fill in for most of the tour. If Jeff had to be gone, then this lineup was a dream come true. The Travelin' McCourys would open each night and then Ronnie and Jason would stick around to play Yonder's entire show. PERFECT! I was honestly looking forward to this tour more than any other tour in a long time, and I could feel the adrenaline buzzing through my body as I walked into the venue to greet Ben, Dave, Adam, Mark, Hines, Ted, Chris, and Brian.
Michael and I went and had some Mellow Mushroom pizza, went back to the venue, and FINALLY, The Travelin' McCourys showed up. I was so excited as I bashfully greeted Jason, Ronnie, Alan, Rob, and Andy, and then time just flew as they did a quick soundcheck before the doors opened to the impatient crowd. It was a pretty good turnout for a snowy Wednesday night.
The music finally started an hour later when The Travelin' McCourys hit the stage. They showed no signs of the rough day they'd had, but instead stepped right up and let their instruments do the talking, with "Quicksburg Rendezvous", followed immediately by "Deeper Shade of Blue". I was overjoyed as the air filled with perfect bluegrass music and Ronnie gave us that wonderful smile, "Good evening Lexington, Kentucky!" Jason sang "Devil in Disguise" next, then played a little "Sally Goodin" with Rob while Alan got his bass in order.
Alan sang "It's a Lonesome Feeling" before directing everyone's attention to their guitar player for the next couple weeks, The Infamous Stringdusters' Andy Falco. Andy sang "Rosa Lee McFall", to the joy of the crowd, and Rob soon took over with a little banjo number, "Limehouse Blues". Ronnie talked about the cold weather and asked the crowd if anyone was at Strings & Sol. You guessed it. NO ONE from Lexington went to Strings & Sol. Ha! "Evangelina" was next, and I could only imagine how great it would have been to hear Ronnie sing this in Mexico with my toes in the sand. The next song was an obvious choice for Lexington, "The Kentucky Waltz". And boy oh boy, can Alan sing. The crowd cheered as loud as they could, and Alan laughed, "Man, you all really, really like that song!" As he introduced Jason again, the crowd started yelling some Kentucky sports chant (yay, sports!). Jason replied, "Go big blue!", and then set off on "Lonesome On'ry and Mean". I really hoped to hear this one, so I let myself stand back and enjoy it. And then, wouldn't you know it, they busted out "Going Back to Old Kentucky" for their last song. Since we were starting out in Kentucky, I had this one in my head for weeks before this tour, and I had even thought about shooting Adam an email to see if they'd cover it with The McCourys. But then I decided to just let things happen as they will, and I couldn't have been happier. This was a wonderful set, and a sign of just how great the whole tour would be.
And then it was time. Yonder McCoury String Band. Bobby Ray (I finally met Bobby Ray!) came up and introduced the band, and they entered the stage, full of smiles. Ben greeted the crowd and gathered us all to send our energy out to Jeff and his family, "And now let's rock, what do ya say?" That bass distortion came on and BAM! "Fastball". Ben sang "Things You're Selling" next, and as the song went on and Ronnie and Jason took their solos, I knew things were going to be just fine on this tour.
"You know this handsome son of a gun, David Johnston on the banjo, folks!" "And now a song about hills." Ben introduced Dave and then the two of them sang "High on a Hilltop". "Hey Bulldog" came next, with only a few minor slip-ups. After all, Ronnie and Jason had just about a half hour to practice these songs before the show.
Looking at the setlist, I saw a few songs that Jeff usually sings. Some of them had me scratching my head, wondering who would sing them, but others I knew right away who would be taking over the lead vocals. "Freeborn Man" was up next and good ol' Ronnie McCoury stepped up and sang, "Well you know I was born in the southland..." Oh lordy, we were in for some good stuff here. The crowd was jumping and thrashing wildly about, increasing their rambunctiousness 10-fold as "Wheel Hoss" turned "Freeborn Man" into a killer bluegrass sandwich. And then when Dave and Jason came together at the end? So good.
"We would like to send this next song out to inflation protected treasuries. That's right, I dropped that on the mic." Yep. That was Dave's introduction to "Deep Pockets". We got a special treat next, a song that I had only heard once before, "Pain in my Heart". It was great to see all of the guys having so much fun playing together, and I got the feeling that they would've had just as much fun playing without all of us there to watch. A smiley Ben took the lead again, singing "Funtime" (which he always sings) and "Boatman" (which Jeff usually sings). The intro to "Boatman" was completely different, obviously. Adam started it off slow, but quickly sped it up to where the crowd started to recognize the song as one of their favorites. This whole thing was so cool for me. I've seen these guys over 200 times, and to hear them mix things up like this was both a breath of fresh air and a swaddle with an old blanky. Does that even make sense? Whatever. It was a great feeling.
The guys took a short set break, and when they stepped back onto the stage, it was on. "It's Wednesday night. We're ready to rock." "You're not the only one, Dave", I thought. The set started with the classic Burle cover, "Blue Collar Blues". I know the song is supposed to be sarcastic when they say "I love my job...", but man, I really freakin' love my job! Ben went on to thank Ronnie and Jason for playing with them for this tour, "... To have two beautiful human beings volunteer to help us out... We don't even have to pay them, we tried, and they were like 'No, no no don't even worry about it'..." But Ronnie and Jason had their backs to Ben, quietly discussing the next song with Adam. "That joke would've gone over better if they heard me." Ha! Good one.
"Don't Worry Happy Birthday" came next, after Adam said to the crowd (who wouldn't stop shouting "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!") "I've heard people shout this song many times this evening, so kudos to you." I love this song. Dave just keeps writing great song after great song. "Thank you, birthday fans." They stomped on the gas next for the always loved "Troubled Mind"> "20 Eyes"> "Troubled Mind" sandwich. "Everybody Knows This is Nowhere" was probably the biggest surprise tune of the night. They hardly ever play this one, and to bust it out on night one of the tour was a real treat.
"I do believe we're gonna ask Jason Carter to sing us a number." Ben turned our attention to the handsome man in the blue sweater, who didn't say a word before diving into "Dark Hollow". Really?! Wow. The intro to the next song would have been a complete mystery if I hadn't heard it during sound check. Without Jeff's mandolin feedback, the intro to "Sidewalk Stars" came in slow and dark, as Dave kept the banjo rolls going and Jason kept us on our toes with each slow stroke of his bow against the strings. The pace quickened before we were dropped right into the song, "You looked at me through old windows...". It was great. "My Gal" was next, with Ronnie, Adam, and even Jason taking intro solos. Then a super fast "You're No Good" was followed by a switch to electric bass for "Goodle Days".
Once Ben switched back to his upright bass the band picked up the pace again with "Stumped". You know what I like to do during this song? Watch Adam's fingers. It's really pretty incredible how fast they move. But then the most incredible thing happened. "Years With Rose". Normally, I like this song. It's not an absolute favorite, but I always love hearing it. But tonight... oh, tonight it was different. Adam sang the lead and took my breath away. I was covered in goosebumps as soon as he sang "That same old Sunday kinda comes and goes..." And then when Hines put an echo on "Strolling with her suitcase up the lane!" Holy hell. They jammed the song out long enough to put the crowd in a trance before sliding right back in, "It's been too many nights in this old house alone..." I was enthralled with what I heard. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest as Adam finished the final verse, "When she whispers in my ear she's gonna stay... whispers in my ear she's gonna STAY!" And then, wouldn't you know it, another switcheroo. The foot stomping began as Ben started singing "Pretty Daughter". It had all the usual bounce, but was missing the usual wrath. That didn't stop anyone from dancing, and the whole floor was a ripple of jumping fans.
The encore started with a thank you from Ben and "Ooh La La". And then, right in the middle of a beautiful mandolin solo, everything went quiet. Ben came to the lip of the stage and the others soon followed as they picked the song back up without any amplification. But you know how crowds can be. The "Shhhh's" were just as loud as the screaming. But then the sound came back on and the band stepped back behind the mics. But then the sound went off again. It was entertaining watching their reactions as the sound kept cutting out. None of them really seemed that upset. It was the end of the show, they'd had a good night, and they were getting a laugh out of it. Finally they decided to stick with it and moved back to the edge of the stage for one final unplugged song, "Dominated Love Slave". It was so stinking great. I had no idea what caused the sound to cut out, but I was thankful it did, because we got this fun encore. Even though it took a really long time for people to shut the f*ck up.
What a fun show. Tonight got me super pumped for the rest of the tour, and super bummed that I couldn't make it to Covington the next night. The one show I'd have to miss on this tour.
I was in the small green room after the show with Dave, Adam, Ben, and Ronnie when Michael walked in with his head hanging and shoulders slumped. "It was me, guys." He said, his voice full of regret and remorse. We all looked at him as he confessed that he was the accidental saboteur, and do you know what the guys did? They laughed. Ben told him that he needed to be done feeling bad, that it was OK, and that they all had a fun night. Dave said it was about time that there was a little mystery (referencing the fact that there would be no soundboard download for this show), and Adam followed by saying that now that there would be no soundboard recording we could tell everyone that it was the best show ever. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was the best show ever, but it was a pretty damn fun show with some incredibly talented guys playing some damn fine music.
Written by Dorothy St.Claire