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Once again, Pisgah Brewery excited us with the musical prowess of some serious musical talent. This Sunday I went a mere mile down the road to get in line for a nearly sold out show to see Yonder Mountain String Band.
Pisgah invited an opener of whose name has been thrown around town a lot lately. The Devil Makes Three took stage to the line of folks waiting to get into the venue. It was apparent some knew these songs well and some were taken back by the trio who were hearing them for the first time. Man, these are some rankled citizens. And I mean that in the most complimentary way. There’s darkness in the lyrics and it draws you in. The songs sound like what might happen if Ricky Skaggs and Trent Reznor were to co-write songs, ala Elton and Bernie. Or maybe like a Bill Monroe album produced by Edgar Allan Poe. It sometimes sounds like folk, sometimes bluegrass. There’s a resignation in the lyrics that doesn’t quite sound resolved. Like a wound spring. The trio, consisting of guitarist Pete Bernhard, stand-up bassist Lucia Turino and multi-instrumentalist Cooper McBean, who may have the coolest name ever — are all three are from the Yankee end of the Appalachians, two from Vermont and one from New Hampshire.
Yonder Mountain String Band has always played music by its own set of rules. Bending bluegrass, rock and countless other influences that the band cites, Yonder has pioneered a sound of their own. With their traditional lineup of instruments, the band may look like a traditional bluegrass band at first glance but they’ve created their own music that transcends any genre. Dave Johnston points out “What could be more pure than making your own music.” Yonder’s sound cannot be classified purely as “bluegrass” or “string music” but rather it’s an original sound created from looking at music from their own experiences and doing the best job possible. The band has long cited such varied influences as the bluegrass of Del McCoury, Johnson Mountain Boys, Jimmy Martin, Bill Monroe, Osborne Brothers as well as the punk rock of Bad Religion, Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys. Somewhere in between these two tent poles are early 20th Century composers and alternative rock bands like Grandaddy and Postal Service. It’s all funneled through the band’s unique chemistry, honed since they first met at an informal club performance in 1998. With band members writing individually, in different pairings and as a collective, they prove that this group is a collection of creative peers and you can hear it in the rich tapestry of music.
The humid night gave way to one solid set and somehow seemed to satisfy my taste for bluegrass. They completely took things out there, with “Idaho”, exploring harmonic and melodic territory away from the song’s structure, weaving together songs with insane bursts of jamming. Working through a completely solid setlist, Yonder’s performance ranged from foot-stomping hoedowns to progressive experimentations, the precise reason the band has appealed to both the jam and bluegrass scenes. Though Austin’s animated mandolin playing draws the most attention, it is Adam Aijala’s incredible, stone-faced acoustic guitar picking that holds the band together. Ben Kaufmann’s ability to write songs has formed a solid foundation on which the band’s repertoire has grown steadily since 1998 and without it, I’m sure the band wouldn’t hold so strong as they did that night. The low tone of Dave Johnston’s voice intertwine with the melodies that come out of his rapid-fire style banjo picking and create magic within the band. All together, the band is unlike any other bluegrass/ jamband (if one ever existed) in this sense.
Early in the evening a diverse crowd, spanning multiple generations and genres of music enthusiasts, covered in a soft sweat with eager ears, they knew they were going to get what they paid for. Tie-dyed hippies, horned rimmed hipsters, and dated geriatrics roamed around after the show came to an end with “Bloody Mary Morning.” A rather concise “Asheville” breeze passed by with collective spirit. Closing the set, Angel with its cathartic vocals, led the crowd into an emotional liquidation resulting in a boisterous and sustained round of applause broken only by a mad dash to beer lines and bathrooms.
Nevertheless, the band has pioneered a bluegrass revival within the jamband context.
No band has reached the band’s heights or appreciation amongst many fans. What the band lacks in sheer talent usually becomes made up for in vocal acumen and sonic adventurousness; thus making YMSB simply untouchable.
01. Pretty Daughter >
02. Kentucky Mandolin
03. Sometimes I’ve Won
05. Polka on the Banjo
06. The Romance BLues
07. Little Lover
08. My Gal
09. Years With Rose >
10. Raleigh and Spencer
01. Illinois Rain
02. Strophe for an Unsung Albatross
03. My Walking Shoes
04. Deep Pockets
05. Pass This Way
06. No Expectations
08. Lonesome Letter
10. Going Where They Do Not Know My Name
11. Keep On Going
12. Traffic Jam
13. -encore break-
14. E: Out of the Blue
15. E: Bloody Mary Morning