Yonder Mountain String Band Gets The Crystal Ballroom Bouncing (SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS)

Yonder Mountain String Band made a stop at Portland, Oregon’s Crystal Ballroom on Friday, March 18th to give their faithful fans a chance to bounce on the venue’s “floating” dance floor. And happy bouncing there was, due to the musical chops of this five-piece string band. They kept things interesting by mixing up the set-list with original songs spanning the band’s history and a variety of covers that had the audience matching the wide smiles of the musicians.

Bellingham, Washington’s Polecat opened the show, getting early arrivals warmed up. They take American roots music and bend it with tinges of gypsy, world music and zydeco to create the Polecat sound. They had some guests join them (a trumpet player from Portland’s MarchFourth!, and harmonica player Kat Fountain) that led to a harmonica/trumpet duel that may sound unusual on paper, but worked nonetheless.

Yonder Mountain String Band has honed its brand of progressive bluegrass through a relentless tour schedule. Adam Aijala (guitar, vocals), Dave Johnston (banjo, vocals), Ben Kaufmann (bass, vocals), Allie Kral (violin, vocals), and Jacob Jolliff (mandolin, vocals) are serious musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously. They keep it fresh with the help of a vast and wide-ranging song catalog and pure improvisational talent.

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Of Friday, their disarming, laidback demeanor made for a feel-good vibe as they worked through two sets of music. A strong second set opener started with long-time fan favorite “Traffic Jam,” then transitioned into Smokey Robinson’s “I Second That Emotion” and back. Some other notable covers included The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer In The City,” The Beatles’ “Only a Northern Song,” and Phish’s “Scent Of A Mule.” Kral handled vocals on a smoldering “White Freightliner” to end the show.

When mandolin player and big personality Jeff Austin left the band a couple of years ago, Aijala, Johnston and Kaufmann forged ahead and barely missed a beat, taking what at first seemed like a lemon and turning it into lemonade with the help of Kral and Jolliff. Yonder Mountain String Band is a cast of likeable characters that let their joyous spirits and ace instrumental capabilities do the talking.

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Friday’s performance was a teaser of things to come for Oregon Yonder Mountain fans. The band will host the 15th annual Northwest String Summit at Horning’s Hideout in North Plains, Oregon on July 14-17, 2016. In addition to Yonder Mountain String Band, the festival will feature Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Fruition and many more.

Setlist- Yonder Mountain String Band, Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR, 03/18/16

Set 1: Mental Breakdown> Sometimes I’ve Won, Nothin’ But A Breeze, Near Me, Blue Collar Blues> Wheel Hoss> Blue Collar Blues, If It Hadn’t Been For Love, Around You> Robots> Around You

Set 2: Traffic Jam> I Second That Emotion> Traffic Jam, Love Before You Can’t, Sister Golden Hair, This Lonesome Heart, Years With Rose> Finally Saw The Light, Fingerprint, Summer In The City, Scent Of A Mule> Only A Northern Song Encore: White Freightliner

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