With the passing of bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs Wednesday, Thursday night’s Yonder Mountain String Band show at Liberty Hall became something of a tribute to the banjo pioneer.
Right off the bat, mando player Jeff Austin paid his respects, calling Scruggs an innovator and an influence. Later in the show, bassist Ben Kaufmann alluded to the fact that without Scruggs, YMSB would not be what they are today.
Indeed, Scruggs paved the way for today’s contemporary bluegrass and country acts, and is credited with basically inventing the three finger rolling style that most people automatically associate with banjo-playing.
Yonder belted out multiple Scruggs numbers over the course of two sets and an encore- along with their usual assortment of barn burners and ballads- to a raucous 2/3 full room of beards and summer dresses…
Overall, Yonder delivered exactly as expected. And I have a fairly solid set of expectations when heading out to a YMSB show. After all, I’ve seen these guys probably 15 plus times, in venues from the size of the Jackpot all the way up to main stages at several festivals with crowds of 20,000, starting in 2001 when they were still just a Colorado bar band.
Yonder is just one of those bands that you need to see live to appreciate. Not that their albums aren’t good, but the studio stuff doesn’t truly capture their energy.
Their live show is always energetic and experimental, with the members riffing off each other and using constant eye contact to dictate the direction any given song will go in. Such was the case for their show at Liberty Hall.
The first set was pretty mellow by YMSB standards. But of course it still included some smoking fast instrumental breakdowns, highlighted as usual by Austin, the gregarious mando player and de facto front man whose facial contortions make it seem like he’s injuring his little instrument.
They wrapped up the first set after about an hour, with a back and forth mando-bass duel between Austin and Kaufmann as an extended outro to fan favorite New Horizons, a song off the 2001 release Town by Town.
The second set picked right up where the first set ended, starting with Boogie into Kaufmann’s Had to Leave My Boots Behind, followed by the downhome Ripcord Blues, and the best song of the night, the Flatt and Scruggs classic Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down.
Yonder played it with several banjo breaks to highlight the rolling Scruggs style before ending the set with a long jam that saw Midwest Gospel Radio turn into On The Run, and then morph into the reggae-calypso Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown.
Most in the crowd seemed to empathize with that last one, judging by the haze hanging in the air.
Even after blazing through over two hours of material, of course the high country boys came out for an encore. They slowed it down with Casualty, then sent everyone home happy with Dim Lights, Thick Smoke.
Was it the best YMSB show I’ve seen?
No, but that was to be expected as the band did what they felt they had to by honoring Scruggs, which resulted in a few less of the standard crowd pleasers like Left Me in a Hole, etc. And they did the right thing.
But with a band that thrives on their live performances it’s always an event, and that it was.
01. No Expectations
02. Polka on the Banjo
03. Martha White
04. Dear Old Dixie
05. Northern Song
07. Crying Holy
09. New Horizons >
10. Mother’s Only Son >
11. New Horizons
02. Had to Leave My Boots Behind
03. Ripcord Blues
04. Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down
05. Pain In My Heart
07. Finally Saw The Light
08. Winds of Wyoming
09. Rag Doll
10. Jail Song
11. Midwest Gospel Radio >
12. On The Run >
13. Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown
15. Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Loud Music