After passing the last three weeks playing in the south, Yonder Mountain String Band set their sights on returning to their comfort zone: the western mountain towns. In Flagstaff, Yonder holds a history of playing their brand of high-energy bluegrass to electrified crowds and this Orpheum show was no different. Yonder arrived on stage around 8:30 pm as Jeff Austin greeted the crowd enthusiastically. “Nice showing Flagstaff, and it's a Tuesday!”
After tuning up, Yonder welcomed their fans with the popular, traditional opening trio of “Jesus on the mainline” > “June Apple” > “Jesus on the mainline”, which always gets the crowd moving while satisfying the lovers of traditional bluegrass. Following the opening run, Yonder settled-in with a few newer songs that had Dave Johnston and Ben Kaufmann trading licks on the banjo and bass with “Leave my Boots Behind” and “Little Lover”. Then Yonder amped up the energy by dedicating the next song by Jimmy Cliff, “The Harder They Come,” to a fallen friend and musician, Martin Fierro. As Jeff Austin stated, “Martin is one of the great musicians, played with Garcia in the 1970's, and had a huge influence on us as a band”.
As acoustic reggae filled the Orpheum, the stage was set for a moment favorite to most fans: the first set's closing songs. These moments usually offer some nice improvisational gems. Yonder didn't disappoint, giving the Flagstaff faithful an exciting three song closure to the first set with a fast paced Dylan cover of “Spanish Harlem Incident” and then a long jammed out version of “Dawn's Early Light” in which Jeff Austin told an old family tale. With a few improvisational bars and Yonder jamming away, they segued into the Waylon Jennings classic “Good Hearted Women” which put a solid stamp on set one.
After a nice long break, Yonder laid into a sandwich of songs that offered some favorites and a rare treat. The band opened with the ever popular “Keep On Going”, which is one of their upbeat reggae-style compositions which transitioned smoothly into the rarely played instrumental “High Cross Junction”. This was followed by one from Ben Kaufmann's sheriff saga called “Sometimes I've Won” and then Yonder jammed right back into the reprise of “Keep on Going” to close the sandwich.
The band then took a breather and offered up three classic originals: “Ramblers Anthem,” “Red Tail Lights” and then the tricky Benny Galloway cover of “Not Far Away” which Kaufmann explained has a difficult whiplash-effect musically. Following those short bluegrass favorites, they changed to the funky upbeat “Damned If the Right One Didn't Go Wrong” in which Adam Aijala, took the lead and demonstrated his improvisational talents.
As the crowd anticipated the huge finale, Austin had a few other ideas and sang a newer Yonder tune to the faithful called, “What the Night Brings” and dedicated it to his friend and lead guitarist of the band Umphrey's McGee, Brendan Bayliss. (Jeff announced Brendan and his wife just had a baby) This seemed to be the only low moment, as it didn't gel with the direction their second set was headed.
A few short ditties followed the dedication and then Austin got things back on track as he jams into The Talking Heads' cover “Girlfriend is Better” which was a welcome addition to the set, which soon flowed into the spacey “Robots Jam”. As the jam seemed to be fading out, Johnston and Kaufmann steered Yonder into the fast, upbeat“Boatman” which closed the second set. Jeff Austin once again took the time to thank the Flagstaff crowd for an impressive Tuesday night showing and then headed out as the rest of the band exited stage right.
Photos by Joanna Henderson