Bluegrass UNLEASHED: Yonder Mountain String Band @ Revolution Live

2-4-11

The smallest trickle of rain fell on the streets by Las Olas Riverfront. It was 8:30 at night, but looking up you could still see the dreary mess of clouds hanging over downtown Ft. Lauderdale. But a little sprinkle of rain won’t stop the college kids and party types from tossing a few back at the row of bars on Himmarshee Street.

It also couldn’t keep the hippies from seeing Colorado “new-grass” sensation, Yonder Mountain String Band.

Their massive tour bus sat out front of Revolution LIVE, hitched to big, black trailer. Next to it, folks lined up to pick up their tickets to the show. That was where I ran into Will Hurwitz, host of the WVUM Radio show, The Jamtastic Voyage and his crew.

People came from all over the place to catch this show. Sara Lengel came down from Jacksonville, where the band played the night before, following the tour. David (last name withheld) from, New Jersey, was in town visiting his elderly grandmother when he found out about the show. Cornerstoners drummer, Alana Dym, rode solo from Miami for the concert.

Outside the venue, some thirty-something year old and his deadhead friends were hitting up tie-dyes and longhairs, peddling their mushroom chocolates for $15 to $20 a piece. By the vacantly excited look in his eyes I’d say he might have eaten one of his psychedelic snacks a short while ago.

By 9:30, the inside was packed—up on the catwalks and down in the pit. The band hadn’t started yet, but the anticipation was high. It felt like a huge static charge just waiting to SNAP. The smell of dank burning buds lazily wafted around on thick plumes of smoke illuminated by colored spotlights.

Then in a blink, the lights went out, the crowd went NUTS and the show got rolling.

The quartet got folks moving with an energetic “Bloody Mary Morning.” Then a bouncy “I’m Satisfied With My Gal,” featured a scat solo by mandolinist, Jeff Austin, followed by a bass solo by Ben Kaufmann and a banjo solo by Dave Johnston.

Johnston was especially impressive this night because he played with a broken hand! His right forearm was casted to just below his elbow. His three picking fingers were all that protruded from the plaster bracing.

“Personal well-being be damned! I’m here to jam!” said Johnston to a thunderous round of applause.

The band also played a terrific cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Reuben and Cherise.” (listen here) There’s something close to magic when bands like Yonder Mountain or Railroad Earth play Dead tunes. You can tell the music feels at home with the instrumentations. It’s like they were intended to be played that way.

Yonder Mountain’s “Dreams,” (listen here) featured a beautiful four-part harmony and some folkie harmonica work by guitarist Adam Aijala. The result was fantastic—it brought us to a quiet spot out by a river, wistfully daydreaming the afternoon away.

The band kicked it up again with an upbeat bluegrass tune that got people hopping around like they were mad. They followed that up with an extended tune that must have been a song sandwich. According to one show-goer, it was “Snow on the Pines > King Ebeneezer >Snow on the Pines,” but there was so much free jamming and improvisation going on it was hard to tell when anything ended or began. I could have sworn I heard an instrumental of Supertramp’s “Give a Little Bit,” as well, with Austin tastefully embellishing the melody.

Austin’s mandolin playing was phenomenal all night. His prowess on the instrument is that of which I had never seen before in a live setting. While the rest of the band surely shone, especially Aijara with his technically impressive runs and Johnston with his broken hand, Austin really lit up the sound with his range of capabilities on his instrument- from melodic tinkling to feverish shredding.

The band took a half hour break at around 11. The smell in the venue was some acrid mix of sweat, beer, reefer and cigarettes. People were drenched in sweat.

Most went outside to catch a breath of fresh air. Some stayed inside, smoking ironically next to a sign that read, “This is a no smoking show.” The concert was a welcomed release for everyone, some folks waiting the better part of a year or more, to see the band again.

“I was 18 when I first saw them and I fell in love,” said Amy Heider of St. Augustine. She brought her mother along, too.

“It’s my first time seeing them,” said Heider’s mother, Carla Gomez. “They’re incredible.”

The second set kicked off with ripping rendition of “I Love My Job.” It was followed by a string of high-energy tunes rife with instrumental solos and extended jams. There was some nasty bass work by Kaufmann sprinkled throughout the set.

Towards the end of the show, the band brought out a crazy version of party standard “After Midnight,” that drove folks into a frenzy.

A couple tunes following “After Midnight,” closed the second set, and the band walked offstage to the roaring adulations of the masses. It wasn’t long before the band was back onstage playing their encore of about three songs, the highlight of which was a surprise cover of Pink Floyd’s “Goodbye, Blue Sky.”

That caught EVERYONE by surprise. You could tell by the screaming applause that accompanied that distinctive opening riff. Kaufmann brought out a bow for this one, that added to the eerie character of the song. It was performed beautifully. And on that note, the band bade the audience goodbye.

The mass exodus that ensued dropped all the hippies and jam-heads onto the streets of downtown Ft. Lauderdale, which were now packed with clubbers and bar-hoppers. Some folks went for an after-show beer at America’s Backyard, where patrons could get in for free if they had a wristband from the concert. The obnoxious club music inside deterred me from going in. It was nearly 1:30 in the morning, and my feet were aching. It was time to go home.

On the walk back to my car, I was treated to the funky sound of Sonic Remedy performing a medley of “We Got the Funk,” into “Best of My Love.” I danced all the way past Bourbon on 2nd, where they were playing.

Once in my car— sweaty, exhausted and in need of a little water—I prepared myself for the forty-minute drive back south. Lucky for me, I had the rhythms of NPR’s late night reggae set to keep me company.

The music never stops. That’s one of the reasons I love it so much.

Great music never stops.

-Chris Lazaga

Listen to recordings from this show in the “Audio” section!

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About clazaga5

I am a music writer. I graduated from FIU's School of Journalism and Mass Communications in April, 2011. I've always had a passion for music. Since high school, I've been involved in a few bands and written a good number of original songs. I loved going to shows and seeing live music. So when the notion struck me to combine the two, it seemed only logical that I write about live music when and wherever I find it. This blog is what came of that notion.
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4 Responses to Bluegrass UNLEASHED: Yonder Mountain String Band @ Revolution Live

  1. David Karpman says:

    Hey Chris –

    This is David (Karpman) from NJ. Nice review. It was great to meet you. Was a real treat to see and hang with so many heads at the show.

    Take it easy!

    – David

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