Music Farm - Charleston, SC (February 5, 2014)

written by Eric Martin

After leaving the warm, sticky air surrounding Florida I retreated to the slightly less warm, slightly less sticky surroundings of Georgia for a few days with family. Before long it was time to pack up the car again and hit the road, this time headed for the stickiness that is Charleston, South Carolina. With my Yonder Partner in Crime, Dorothy in the car, we loaded up on Coca-Cola and junk food and headed towards the coast, ready for what would be my 100th Yonder show. Yay even numbers!!

The night began with yet another rocking opening set by The Travelin McCourys. Tonight they were joined on stage by Jeff Autry, of the John Cowan Band as well as several “Pickin’ On” recordings. I was sad to see Falco go, but Jeff Autry fit right in. Not to mention it was lots of fun to see people’s reactions every time they heard that “Jeff AUTRY” was here tonight.
“Jeff who?!?!?”
“But I thought….”

Yonder came out to a once again highly rowdy Charleston crowd, ready to party on another Wednesday night at The Music Farm. The show began with Ben’s usual mention of Jeff’s absence, as well as his well wishes for the newborn. After that they wasted no time, passing the mic to Dave who jumped right in to “Dominated Love Slave” to kick things off. A little stage banter about whips and chains and staples, the Staples website, that is, would give Adam time to bust out the harmonica for the next number, “Just Like Old Times”. Jeff usually sings this Todd Snider tune, and I grew tired of it a long time ago, but this time it was Ben singing, and Jason Carter on fiddle always adds an extra something to a song. That being said, I still wouldn’t mind if they put this one on the shelf for a while. As for the next number, “Girlfriend is Better”, they can keep this one around. This is another one usually sung mostly by Jeff. Ben took the reigns on this one again, and with Jason Carter's fiddle wailing and echoing in the seemingly far off distance, the song breathed new life and got the Charleston crowd going. Ronnie’s style is different from Jeff’s for sure, but this song provided some of the best mandolin of the night, in my opinion, and I was happy to embrace the change, and the crowd definitely didn’t seem to mind either. "Girlfriend" slowed to a halt and was quickly replaced by the foot-stomping, fiddle-sawing tune “Lee Highway Blues”. This is the bluegrass music I was hoping for when I heard the tour would include the McCourys. 

Adam’s “brand new” tune “Lonesome Letter” was up next. I’m waiting for these guys to write a song I don’t like, but that just doesn’t ever seem to happen. This one is just as good as all your other favorite Yonder tunes.

They invited Bartram out (he’ll cut ya!) for the next number, and he and Dave traded verses on “Going to the Races”. This was another tune they did differently than usual, and again they did it perfect. Jason’s fiddle and Bartram and Dave’s back and forth and harmonizing made this one shine. Then it was Jeff Austi…. I mean Jeff Autry and Robbie McCoury’s turn to come out. The boys tuned and strummed a little, slowly picking up and diving into “Midwest Gospel Radio”. And boy was I excited to hear this one. This number has always been one of those that moves me the most at a Yonder show. I have my own personal reasons, and I will admit, a good heart-felt Jeff banter in the middle of it is kinda what makes it for me. So it was a little bittersweet to hear this one. This was probably when it hit me hardest what was going on and what the future could possibly hold for this “thing” that has become such a huge part of my life. But not long did I fret, for I was soon pulled in to the back and forth of two banjos, two guitars, the sweet melodic cries of Jason’s fiddle, and the beautiful chops and sweeps of the world’s best mandolin player. Not a problem in the world for me.

Not too much time to get all sentimental now, though, as the shit promptly hit the fan the second Ronnie belted out that first, “Ruuuuuuuby”! There are a few traditional bluegrass songs that are just made for a traditional bluegrass voice. This is one of those songs. If it wasn’t so old, I would swear it was written specifically for Ronnie McCoury. This was by far the highlight of my night, and definitely one of the top highlights of the entire Winter Tour. Make it a “Ruby>Funtime>Ruby” sandwich, and you’ve got one hell of a set closer. Good enough for a Wednesday night, good enough for a 100th show!

The guys came out for the second set in great spirits, ready to roll (tide), and an energetic “Rambler’s Anthem” started things off. Bartram came back out again for the next number, this time to do the ol’ bass back and forth with Ben, trading off every now and then during an awesome “Kentucky Mandolin”. They may need to rename this one to Kentucky Fiddle if Jason Carter keeps playing it. Up next was a bluegrass number, “Pain in My Heart”, sung by Adam. I’m not sure if I’ve heard them do this traditional sounding bluegrass number before, but I wouldn’t mind hearing it some more. And I definitely don’t mind hearing the next one, “Don’t Worry, Happy Birthday”. They do play this one a lot, not as often as they were playing it, but either way I love this song and haven’t tired of it. Especially when you add JC’s fiddle to it. I love Dave songs.
Don’t worry. Happy birthday.

After giving it up one more time for the Grammy Award-winning artists on stage (Ronnie and Jason), the boys kicked into “Stumped”, a fast ass bluegrass instrumental, followed by a Grammy Award-worthy performance of bluegrass traditional “Freeborn Man”. This is another song written for a voice like Ronnie’s. The Wednesday night energy coming from the Charleston crowd was growing by the note, and these guys were playing em fast. It’s so cool to see the boys having so much fun on stage, and to watch Adam directing traffic, giving a nod here and there, passing solos around with a big grin on his face. That’s right folks. Smiles from The Iceman. All night long. "Freeborn Man" went along for about 10 minutes. A glorious 10 minutes. Solo after solo, back and forth, these guys were having a blast on stage. This was shaping up to be quite the 100th show. And as if things couldn’t get any better (they always do), they kicked it into a super funky "Robots"-esque jam (“Paddy on the Turnpike” according to the setlist) and right back into “Freeborn Man”. Man they were killin it tonight.

The boys were all smiles this tour, and Ben was predominantly taking over the “frontman” job and keeping the crowd entertained. They invited Robbie McCoury and Jeff Autry out for the next one, and Ben rambled on, providing the crowd with nonsensicalities while the pair set up, eventually ending with, “dig me out of this hole Adam…” It was so, for lack of a better word; neat, to see this change of pace and it was obvious that while yes, things are different, the guys were having a blast doing it.

To the rescue came Adam, jumping into “All the Time”. I feel like a broken record here, but damn JC’s fiddle just adds an extra element to this band. This was another song that was dramatically changed by Jason’s bow, not to mention Robbie McCoury and Jeff Autry, who both killed their solos. And then, well… then there’s Ronnie McCoury. Slayer of all solos. Mandolin Master. Put this one in the books as one of the best "All the Times" ever. It would slow to a steady jam, turning into a pretty recognizable guitar riff, followed by the unmistakable “Boatman” riff coming from JC over on the right. But who would sing this one?? It would be Ben once again, and once again I enjoyed a new spin on an old classic. And what’s even more important, the guys on stage were enjoying themselves too, and the Music Farm was also, very energetically, enjoying themselves.

"Boatman" came to its abrupt halt, and the picking continued, slowly rising and building into a ridiculous Adam solo, with Autry joining in. They passed it over to Dave and Robbie who weighed in and… holy sandwich! They were jamming “All the Time” again! Jason Carter took over and, duh, killed it, and was joined by Ronnie mid-jam and they went back and forth and then passed… I mean, I could go on and on like everyone on stage did, but it was just too much. They all jammed and jammed back and forth, and eventually Adam went back into the last verse and chorus, rounding out what was now officially THE BEST “All the Time” EVER! Ever.

And with that they left us. Another great Wednesday night in Charleston. The Underdog. The Sleeper city. The one that got away. Surprise show of the year. Most underrated. And more stuff like that. I’ve been to the Charleston show the last 5 years, and every year, every Wednesday, this city brings enough energy to this very small, very cramped little room for an arena sized show. And Yonder never fails to reciprocate with a great show, great energy, and a great set list year after year.

The encore featured “Rollin in My Sweet Baby’s Arms” and a rockin Jason Carter solo with electric-fiddle-pedal-fuzz-rock-n-roll goodness. This was, I gotta admit, a pretty sweet 100th show, and what better, more beautiful way to end it than with “Ooh La La”. Did I mention that songs sound really good when Jason Carter plays fiddle on them? This was no exception. 

I don’t really want to do the math, 100 times is a lot of money, blood, sweat, tears, beers, peers, beers, cracker barrels, miles, hotels, beers, burritos, gas, fast food, beers, plane tickets, barbecue, sour gummies, rest stops, and it’s a lot of beer. But I don’t think I would trade it for all the beers in the world. You only YOLO once, like the t-shirts at the beach say. And I think I YOLO’d pretty damn good once. Or something.

Black Sheep!

Written by Eric Martin; Photos by Eric Martin and Dorothy St.Claire

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