Yonder Mountain String Band January 2007

Last Tuesday night Brian and I headed down to the Soul Kitchen to check out the Yonder Mountain String Band. Though I despise country music in almost all manifestations, I do have a strange fascination with bluegrass.

I had never heard of YMSB but a friend mentioned that they were coming down and I decided to check it out. Being a bootleg friendly band, I was able to pull down some of their live performances to check out their sound. Here is a link to their page at the free music archive: http://www.archive.org/details/YonderMountainStringBand and here is a link to a zip file of mp3’s of their New Year’s Eve performance at the House of Blues

Now never having been to a bluegrass show I had a certain expectation about the kind of crowd that would be there. Mostly I was expecting guys that look like my dad and a fair amount of overalls and cowboy hats. Much to my amazement as we walked up to buy tickets we had to wade through a sea of tie-dye and dreadlocks. I’ll repeat, tie-dye and dreadlocks!! Apparently unbeknownst to me, Bluegrass = Stoners. Who Knew?

So as we waited for the band to begin, I noticed a sign that made me think I actually might get to go home without reeking of smoke (and already made me like the band).

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I had very high hopes that the staff would enforce this rule, but unfortunately the crowd only followed the rules for the band’s first set and the facility staff didn’t really seem to care.

The band came on and from the beginning they were amazing. Their sound was incredible. Their stage presence and crowd interaction really got the audience riled up and into the show. The reaction the band was getting actually caught them off guard. There were probably somewhere between 300-500 people attending the show. Here’s a peek at part of the crowd.

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This was the band’s first trip to Mobile and they were worried that a Tuesday night show would have them playing to only the bartenders and doormen. They spent the entire night thanking everyone for coming out. I think we will see them coming through again real soon after the reception they received.

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The band’s lineup is Jeff Austin on Mandolin and primary vocals, Ben Kaufmann on upright bass, Dave Johnston on banjo, and Adam Aijala on guitar. I can’t say enough about the talent and musicianship of these guys. Their mastery of their instruments is incredible. Jeff plays amazingly fast runs on his mandolin while also using it as a means to add a percussive effect to their sound.

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Ben really rocks his upright bass.

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He spent much of the show laying low providing support to the rest of the band, but towards the end he really let go with some amazing solo work. He even broke out the bow at one point and played one of the first songs he ever wrote. Dave on the banjo blew me away. I’m pretty much always in amazement with banjo players. Their ability to pluck the strings so precisely and rapidly always has my jaw hitting the floor (considering I’m a picker on my guitar, no fingerstyle for me). And last but not least Adam on the guitar. All I can say is WOW. He played the acoustic like it was an electric. The incredibly fast solo lead style riffs he pulled off on the acoustic had me scratching my head in amazement. I can’t believe he is able to play that fast. I’ve really got some practicing to do to get to that level.

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Now while the band was awesome, the crowd at times left something to be desired. Like I said earlier, the crowd was mostly stoners (and me and Brian looking a wee bit out of place). So for much of the night my view of the person in front of me looked like this:

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Nasty, nasty dreadlocks (oh and some tie-dye too, imagine that). Must really cut the time it takes her to get ready in the mornings but definitely not for me. Here’s another shot where you can see another set of nasty dreads in the lower left of the shot.

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What is wild is that many of the attendees with their nappy hair and full beards bore a striking resemblance to the GEICO caveman in their latest round of commercials. GEICO should hire these guys. They would save a fortune in make-up since these guys wouldn’t need any. Another thing Brian and I noticed about our nappy-headed friends is that Bluegrass + Stoners = Guys Being Really, Really Affectionate To Each Other. Something about the music (and probably lots of illegal substances) moved these guys to spend a lot of time in tender embraces with their comrades.

This leads to two gripes about the facility and their security. Their appeared to be alot of individuals in the crowd smoking pot in plain sight. So while the smell of cigarette smoke was not there, the horrible smell of marijuana was. Not a pleasant smell for us non-stoners. The security really should have done a better (or any) job of taking care of this. The other gripe was that of the many shows I have been to at the Soul Kitchen, this was the first one in which a fight broke out. But this fight was different. It was between a bartender and a customer. Not sure what he did, but the bartender was not pleased, nor was security when they came over. So metal band GWAR doesn’t incite violence in the crowd, but the happy bluegrass music mixed with mellow, peace-loving stoners equals violence. Again, who knew?

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The band peformed a first set for 1 hour and then took a 30 minute break. After they came back they played for another hour and a half giving us a total of 2 1/2 hours of music for the bargain price of $18. I highly recommend checking them out if you get the chance. And notice my pictures turned out much better this time. I was closer and changed some of the settings on the cam and the results came out much better. Of course the band also had a better light show than most of the bands I’ve seen there which probably didn’t hurt.

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I also got some videos of their performance for your listening enjoyment, but first a video of my favorite stoner. This guy danced the entire show. That is 2 1/2 hours of non-stop dancing. Lots of calories burned I imagine.

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And here are the clips of the band rocking out. No bass drum so the sound came out much better.

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