Written by Bill Whiting
Photos by Scott Preston
Yonder Mountain String Band’s concert at the Madison Theater in Covington, Kentucky on January 31 was a brilliantly paced marathon of seasoned songcraft performed by masterful musicians with a nod and a wink to Jerry Garcia, Frank Zappa and many others. As the temperature hovered near zero outside, it was packed tight inside the sold out venue, and cozy warm when YMSB took to the stage with the smoking instrumental, “EasyAs Pie.” Jeff Austin on mandolin, Ben Kaufmann on bass, Adam Aijala on acoustic guitar and Dave Johnston on banjo flowed effortlessly through the lightly gliding rhythms of the Jerry Garcia Band classic, “Rueben and Cherise.” “Pride of Alabama” followed with it’s dixie laced references, and YMSB picked up the tempo on the loose and swinging marvel, “Hit Parade of Love.” They were on a roll, and the floor was a mass of dancing, singing bodies that enjoyed every string bending note. Every tune seemed perfectly placed, and “Red Tail Lights” featured outstanding vocal melodies, while “Funtime” had a rollicking, front porch party phrasing that had everyone’s toes tapping. The end of the first set saw Austin leading the pack with a rousing jam on the power chorded sandwich “Ruby-Shake Me Up-Ruby.” The second set resumed with YMSB improvising eloquently on the hoe down heavy, “Bolton Stretch.” As the audience was finding their way back to the seats and floor, the ensemble pulled out an ingenious cover of Frank Zappa’s “I’m The Slime.” Kaufmann’s bottom end on bass collided with Aijala’s roving guitar lines and Johnston’s fleet fingered soloing on “A Father’s Arms.” It was a defining moment in a second set filled with fan favorites and burning bluegrass meltdowns. Kaufmann’s vocals colored the endearing YMSB charmer, “To See You Coming Round the Bend.” A “Shady Grove-Wheel Hoss-Shady Grove” coupling illustrated the sharp and refined instincts of Jeff Austin’s mandolin playing skills. “Hill Country Girl” found the YMSB coalescing around Aijala’s and Austin’s feverish blowouts with an Appalachian twist on the lyrical content of the composition. The set ending masterpiece of “New Horizons-King Ebeneezer-New Horizons” had the denizens on the floor writhing in ecstasy. After an enthusiastic ovation, Yonder Mountain String Band returned to light up the Madison Theater with a three song encore that included the folksy swing of “Naughty Sweetie,” the smooth grooving “At the End of the Day,” and the smoldering rave up, “Idaho.” No doubt about it, Yonder Mountain String Band at the Madison Theater in Covington, Kentucky on January 31 was a concert for the ages.
Set 1: Part 1>Easy As Pie, Rueben and Cherise, Pride of Alabama, Hit Parade of Love, Finally Saw the Light, Red Tail Lights, 1/2 Moon Rising, Funtime, In the Seam> Ruby> Shake Me Up> Ruby
Set 2: Bolton Stretch, I Am The Slime, A Father’s Arms, To See You Coming Round the Bend, Shady Grove> Wheel Hoss> Shady Grove, Dreams, Ripcord Blues, If Loving You is Killing Me, Hill Country Girl, Isolate> New Horizons> King Ebeneezer> New Horizons
Encore: Naughty Sweetie, At the End of the Day, Idaho