Rex-A-Vision: Yonder Mountain String Band in Nashville

Welcome back Rex Thomson, aka Rex-A-Vision, a senior contributing writer for our friends at Honest Tune, to review a recent Yonder Mountain String Band and Infamous Stringdusters performance.

Words & PhotosRex Thomson

Yonder Mountain String Band brought 3/4ths of their lineup, and all of their bluegrass passion, to the Marathon Music Works in Nashville for a night of guest stars and pure intensity. With bassist Ben Kaufmann taking a few nights off to spend time with his wife and their newborn, the guys from Yonder reached out to their opening act for the first leg of their Cabin Fever tour and borrowed The Infamous Stringdusters’ Travis Book to cover the deep end and even croon a few numbers.

Yonder wasn’t content to stop at one guest bassist however, especially with their show taking place in Music City itself. Famed session and touring bassist Bryn Davies sat in for a couple of tunes, as did Alan Bartram of the Travelin’ McCourys and Del McCoury’s Family Band making the night a cavalcade of stars and high energy music that had the entire sweltering crowd dancing to the point of exhaustion.

In a city with more performance venues per square mile than most any other in America, opening a new hall is a daring proposition, but the less than year-old Marathon Music Works seems to have a long future ahead of itself. A high exposed ceiling and unobstructed sight lines made watching the music enjoyable, and the sound was crisp and focused, unlike many other converted spaces which can sound boomy and indistinct. The Infamous Stringdusters took the spacious stage and wasted no time winning the crowd over with their opener, Metal.

Over the last few years the ‘Dusters have built a rabid following as they relentlessly tour the country even hosting their own festival, simply known as “The Festy” in Virginia. Dobroist Andy Hall stretched every note to its breaking point, while banjo player Chris Pandolfi played with a razor’s edge style that cut through the mix. Guitarist Andy Falco alternated between manic leads and lush fills, while fiddler Jeremy Garrett sang and bowed with an ease and a smile that tied it all together. Taking the lion’s share of the work for the evening was the aforementioned Travis Book, who not only played bass for the Stringdusters’s set, but a majority of the Yonder show as well. Book’s smiling prescence, deep musical chops and sweet singing voice served him and the night’s music in good stead, and made him the MVP of the evening.

The Yonder Mountain String Band’s fanatical followers, known as the “Kinfolk,” fill every show with crazed dancing energy, joyous expressions and a sense of revelry that is hard for any band to match. The near electric connection with the band starts with frontman and mandolinist Jeff Austin. Austin’s playful approach to performing, with twisted facial expressions, gangly dance moves and on mic silliness belie his deadly earnestness when picking on his instrument. His focus is locked in, and what his body does while his mind is locked on making his fingers fly is beyond his control.

In contrast, the serene Adam Aijala seems to be transported to a different plane of existence while he strums and leads the band with a soulful style that infuses Yonder shows with a depth that makes each performance unique. Banjo player Dave Johnston displays a distinct control over his instrument, shying away from the harsh, cutting nature of the instrument and blending it in smoothly to the mix, covering percussive needs as well as taking the lead duties when desired. Together with Book on bass, all four players covered the vocal duties, mixing a setlist of Yonder classics, old time standards and even a smoking hot cover of the Allman Brothers Band’s Whipping Post thrown in for good measure.

With Kaufmann out of action for a few shows, the aforementioned Bryn Davies, friend of the band, and touring bassist for a number of country and Americana acts popped in to take up the vacated bass chair for a pair of songs. As noted by Austin, the visibly pregnat Davies was actually performing as a duo. Alan Bartram, botanist turned bassist, sat in for a pair of tunes as well, even lending his voice to a number. Andy Hall sat in the entire first set, filling out Yonder’s already thick sound with bent notes and earnest fills that seemed as if they had always belonged.

The second set saw Jeremy Garrett lend his fiddle to Yonder, sawing away and playing alternately playful and sorrowful notes to accent each tune. From Yonder’s opening salvo, Dawn’s Early Light, to their last gasp – a two song encore of Death Trip into Freeborn Man that featured an entire band sit-in from The Infamous Stringdusters, the crowd and the band rose and fell as one, with the music taking the listeners on an inner and outer journey that left all in attendance smiling, tired and ready for more.

Yonder Mountain String Band 2/10/2012 Setlist

Set One: Greeting, Dawn’s Early Light > Cuckoo’s Nest, Spanish Harlem Incident, I’ll Stay Around, Deep Pockets, Going To The Races, You Win Again, One More, Steep Grade Sharpe Curves

Set Two: Ripcord Blues, Another Day, No Expectations, Don’t You Lean On Me, Blue Night, Corona, Winds Of Wyoming, If You’re Ever In Oklahoma > Whipping Post > If You’re Ever In Oklahoma

Encore: Death Trip, Freeborn Man > Wheelhoss > Freeborn Man

The Infamous Stringdusters 2/10/2012 Setlist

Set: Metal, Far I fall, Hitch, Home, Get It, Black Rock, 3 X 5, Fire, No Time

Here’s a full gallery of Rex’s photos from YMSB/Infamous Stringdusters in Nashville…

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