I always try my hardest to be objective about Yonder Mountain String Band shows, but the music they make never fails to make my heart flutter and in that way, it becomes difficult. And as long as that disclosure is out of the way, I hope that you can trust me when I say this was a great show. Set at the quaint and beautiful Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, CT, the band hardly filled the theater and walked out to polite clapping and seated rows.
They started with “Blue Collar Blues,” “At the End of the Day,” and “This Lonesome Heart,” a calm trio of songs that complimented their instrumental skill and voices, and introduced the idea of getting up and dancing a bit. By “If Loving You is Killing Me,” there were finally more people standing than sitting, and it seemed that YMSB was settled enough to make this a comfortable and intimate show. The set stayed fairly mellow, with the guys walking all over the stage to play with one another and coming right up to the front to interact with the mass gathering in the isles. “Natchez Whistles” into “What the Night Brings” brought the it to a close, echoing the roller coster of style from the whole set. Jeff Austin seemed to truly be feeling the “Natchez Whistles” and the band follow suit with beautiful harmonies and decadent chords. The set closer amped the crowd up for what was to come, as the name might imply, topping the first half of the evening with a perfectly bluegrass, energetic tune.
Yonder Mountain really got worked up for second set, opening with a banjo-driven, dirt-kickin’ “Jesus on the Mainline > Shenandoah Breakdown > Jesus on the Mainline” sandwich. They kept the energy high and were flowing seamlessly from super fast jaunts to slower melodies, like “Mother’s Only Son.” They took the opportunity here to get into a few nice jams and interplay back and forth between exciting solos, but it was “Bloody Mary Morning” that seemed to decide the remainer of the set. Loud cheers and hoe-down clapping could be heard in the usually tame theater, and the crowd seemed to call for more dance tunes. They boys sure delivered, starting the beginning of the end with a strong “Whipping Post” that the audience loved. Almost unrecognizable first, when the tempo picked up, people started wailing and jumping about, and YMSB were all smiles and laughs. Austin’s passion just seeps through his vocal chords and when they cover songs he loves, you can all but tell. It was especially moving when they went back into it after “Only a Northern Sun” to end the set.
The enthused crowd was not going to let that be the end of this special, personal show, so the band came back on for an encore even though their sound guy began unplugging everything. After an attempt at the microphone, Jeff said a word to the audience and, speaking of covers he loves, started strumming the chords of “They Love Each Other.” Whether it was for the people begging for it during the show, or because then genuinely felt like playing it, or maybe both, but they wobbled their way to the front of the stage and took real advantage of the theaters acoustics, no pun intended. He wailed out the first verse and when the chorus came around, the crowd couldn’t help but sing along. It turned into a big family carol and was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had with Yonder Mountain String Band.
Another review coming after the NYC show on Saturday!! Oh how I love fall tours in the northeast!