Yonder Mountain String Band made their return to Cincinnati for a midweek show at the 20th Century Theater in Oakley. Bassist Ben Kaufmann, guitarist Adam Aijala, 5-string banjo plucker Dave Johnston, fiddler Allie Kral, and mandolinist Jacob Jolliff hadn’t come to town in a few years -- but Ben gave the group’s history in the area over the 20 past years as he reminisced to the crowd about past shows at the Madison Theater, Southgate House, and a 4th of July show at Moonlite Gardens with fireworks providing a backdrop for the group’s fiery brand of bluegrass.
The group gave the crowd a favorite from the outset as they started with Rambler's Anthem, and followed up with a take on Tom Petty’s I Need to Know that let the crowd warm up their voices alongside the band. The group picked songs off their 12 studio albums as well as covers as the set went on, providing ample opportunities for the group to extend into the improvisational jams that keep fans coming back for more after all these years.
Fiddle phenom Allie Kral has only been a part of the Yonder Mountain story for the past 5 years, but she regularly takes charge of the group jams and brings them to ferocious peaks that make her an integral piece of the band. Her vocals are strong as well, as she displayed by leading the band through another crowd sing-along and 90’s staple No Rainby Blind Melon. The 2nd half of the nearly 2-hour set saw the band using distortion, electric bass, an improved light rig and more to take their music well beyond bluegrass and onto a genre-blending journey. The band used the new tricks to freshen up old tunes to the delight of the crowd, but it was a 10-minute raucous version of Metallica’s Fade to Black cover that left the crowd yelling (and checking their eardrums) as the set ended. Ben jokingly thanked Metallica members “Kirk Hammett” and “Lars Ulrich” along with the members of the band as they ended the set.
After a short break, Ben came back onstage and asked the crowd if they wanted to hear a classic Yonder song or some improv jazz accompanied by slam poetry. Though the latter sounded intriguing, Ben interpreted the loud cheers as support for a Yonder classic and the fivesome delivered with a nostalgic and stellar take on crowd-favorite 40 Miles From Denverfrom their debut studio effort Elevation (1999).
Fireside Collective from Asheville, North Carolina, opened the night. Formerly Jesse Iaquinto and the Fireside Collective, Jesse takes center stage with mandolin and vocals surrounded by Carson White on bass, Tommy Maher on dobro, Joe Cicero on guitar, and Alex Genova on banjo. The Fireside Collective displayed impressively tight vocals and well-practiced compositions that left me more than intrigued to send me on a YouTube rabbit-hole the next time I get a chance.
To end the night, Yonder Mountain once again invited Fireside Collective to the stage as all 10 musicians joined forced for an extended take on the traditional song My Gal. The final jam of the night was each musician on stage taking a turn, from stage right to stage left, to step forward and impress the crowd with a solo. The fun and masterful showcase of talent was the perfect ending to yet another chapter in Yonder Mountain’s history of shows in the Cincinnati area.