Yonder Mountain String Band brings their high-octane mountain music to the 20th Century Theatre in Oakley on Wednesday, 3/13. The quintet - comprised of bassist Ben Kaufmann, guitarist Adam Aijala, 5-string banjo plucker Dave Johnston, fiddler Allie Kral, and mandolinist Jacob Jolliff- is moving into their 3rd decade on top of the bluegrass world.
Sometimes a story is the best descriptor - so while I have the microphone, I’ll tell one. Toward the end of high school (early 2000s) I began listening to jam music -- Phish, Widespread Panic, the Grateful Dead, etc. In a world before any and all music could be instantly pulled out of my pocket, I had never listened to bluegrass. YMSB was one of the first bands to break through into the world of jambands through relentless touring and festival appearances, and in 2003 I listened to them for the first time on a Bonnaroo sampler CD.
In February 2006 I was half way through my freshman year of college and got the chance to see Yonder in a small bar in Oxford, MS, called The Library. The band - a foursome at the time with Jeff Austin on mandolin and no Jacob or Allie - walked out onstage and kicked off Looking Back Over My Shoulder, and I can still easily remember my three thoughts in this order:
- First- this is amazing,
- Second- damn, I never appreciated the lack of drums in a stringband, and
- Third- turns out I love bluegrass music.
The final thought is what keeps me heading out to see the many options for great local and national string bands here in Cincinnati, but the first thought is what makes sure I never miss YMSB when they roll through the Cincinnati area.
YMSB didn’t rise to the top of the bluegrass and jamband worlds from mind-bendingly fast picking, or over-the-top stage production, or gimmicky effects. Rather, YMSB just plays damn fine bluegrass music. They don’t appeal to fans outside the genre with poppy melodies or tired covers, they appeal with their truly genuine songwriting and musicianship. Their energy and love for the music cannot be replicated and that all speaks for itself.
Yonder Mountain String Band is on the road testing out material that will be their 13th studio album and embracing and reinventing decades of past music that is the soundtrack to parts of my and many others’ lives. For me, it’s time to re-up with the group that has been a near constant for 15 years. For others, it’s your turn for that first mountain music experience. Join me and the rest of the kinfolk on Wednesday night!
Bonus: Up-and-coming progressive folk group Fireside Collective is opening the show and are worth the price of admission alone. So come early and settle in.