Concert Review: Yonder Mountain String Band w/ Cosmic Bowling League, December 28 in Denver

SONY DSCA veritable buffet of music descended upon the Front Range for the five days leading up to 2014. The String Cheese Incident, Yonder Mountain String Band, Tea Leaf Green, the massive EDM spectacle known as Decadence among many, many others were all set to perform within a twenty-five mile radius. Given my own predilection for several of the groups I opted to sample a little bit of everything.

Yonder Mountain String Band has consistently made the Boulder Theater their home for a New Year’s Run since the early years. This time around they took the opportunity to announce four nights and subsequently a fifth night to benefit Planet Bluegrass after the recent flooding. With so much going on the Saturday show for YMSB was a bit undersold. To entice fans, they announced a Cosmic Bowling League opening set. This is an exceptionally rare event that features the full Yonder lineup dressed in bowling shirts and ill-fitting mustaches. CBL claims to lean traditional and they certainly held that line by opening with the Flatt & Scruggs penned “The Ballad of Jed Clampett.”

Cosmic Bowling League

 
Set 1: The Ballad of Jed Clampett, Sophronie, Fox On The Run, Blue Ridge Mountain Girl, It’s Raining Here This Morning, All About You, Lost and I’ll Never Find My Way, Are You Tired My Darling, Some Things Does, Pig In A Pen

“None of you better tell nobody nothing about what you seen here tonight” – Ben Kaufmann

The lightly packed crowd was an equal mix of utter delight and mild confusion. For those in the back or perhaps not in the know, they were witnessing an odd mix of bowling, redneck, bluegrass, and shame. Their performance lasted all of forty-five minutes and included both a Jimmy Martin original and Jeff Austin’s alter ego ‘Wookie’ spitting out Doritos™ on the stage. A bluegrass version of glam rockers Sweet’s “Fox On The Run” was a treat, while Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Blue Ridge Mountain Girl” was a bit more reserved. Rolling Stones’ bittersweet homage to broken relationships “All About You” made it into the mix. CBL went back to their roots with “Lost And I’ll Never Find My Way” before a debut of The Carter Family’s “Are You Tired My Darling.” They closed the set with a snappy rendition of the bluegrass traditional “Pig In A Pen.” As fans wandered outside for fresh air I heard one girl say, “Who were those guys, I didn’t get it.” One kinfolk gingerly explained the significance of what she had just witnessed. The show continued after a short break with Yonder Mountain String Band in their usual garb.

Yonder Mountain String Band

 
Set 1: Troubled Mind> 20 Eyes> Troubled Mind> Elzic’s Farewell> Sideshow Blues, Illinois Rain, Just Like Old Times*, Catch A Criminal*, Lonesome Letter*, Fingerprint*, Kentucky Mandolin*> Death Trip*

Set 2: What The Night Brings, 40 Miles from Denver, You’re No Good, Honestly, If There’s Still Ramblin’ in the Rambler (let him go)> Mother’s Only Son> If There’s Still Ramblin’ in the Rambler (let him go), Rag Doll*, Don’t Worry Happy Birthday*, Pockets*, Straight Line*, Robot Jam*> Whipping Post*

Encore: Steep Grades Sharp Curves*, 2 Hits And The Joint Turned Brown*

*w/ Roy Wilfred Wooten aka Future Man

They basically designed both sets to be the same. Beginning with just the string band and then about half way through inviting out Future Man who was playing on a regular kit. This as opposed to his usually performance with the Drumitar. The boys launched into the main event with the Kaufmann sung “Troubled Mind,” which segued nicely into “20 Eyes” before going back to where it began. Yonder didn’t miss a beat as they blasted into the traditional “Elzic’s Farewell,” a song thought to be played first by a French carpenter as he went off to fight in the Civil War. Mr. Austin led the boys on an intense ”Sideshow Blues,” but “Illinois Rain” was a bit of a lull in the action.

YMSB brought out Future Man for “Just Like Old Times.” Whenever Yonder adds a drummer they are immediately transformed from a string band into a bombastic jamgrass group. It gives them a wider range and the ability to shake up their normal dynamic. I’ve seen them with Jon Fishman as well as Future Man previously and the addition of percussion always makes for an entirely different musical result. Ben again took the microphone on “Catch A Criminal,” but it was Dave Johnston that absolutely shredded the banjo on this track. Future Man held it all in place, as he and Kaufmann truly gelled on stage. The set closing “Kentucky Mandolin” into “Death Trip” was absolutely jaw dropping.

The snow began to lightly fall outside dusting the roads nicely. The temperature had dropped significantly, but it was still a very pleasant December evening. Yonder came out for their third set just after midnight, meaning this one was going to go late. They opened with a beautifully constructed “What The Night Brings.” We were treated to some classic YMSB with “40 Miles From Denver” and “You’re No Good.” “Honestly” was Adam Aijala’s best performance of the night. The category of facial hair notwithstanding; Adam was the only one during the CBL set to show up with some real some authentic Joe Dirt style red neck chin curtain. “If There’s Still Ramblin’ in the Rambler (let him go)” into Mother’s Only Son” into “If There’s Still Ramblin’ in the Rambler (let him go)” is as epic to write as it was to see live. This was a nonstop rip through all the things that make bluegrass good.

They again invited Future Man out for the remainder of the set, which continued delicately with an intricate Austin led “Rag Doll.” They slowed it down with the Dave Johnston sung “Don’t Worry Happy Birthday” before Adam regaled us with their pop bluegrass original “Pockets.”  They ended the second set with a transcendental Robot Jam into a perfect rendition of the Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post.”

Future Man really added an extra bit of zing to a stellar performance. Yonder Mountain String Bands is a group that can take on many forms within the realm of bluegrass. The fact that they opened for themselves as a bunch of burnt out bowling leaguers fixated on privacy and snacking proves that much. They encored with “Steep Grades Sharp Curves” before giving a little nod to the impending recreational sales with “2 Hits And The Joint Turned Brown.” As usual YMSB out did themselves as they continue to push their craft to the next level. The lackluster turnout on Saturday would be followed by two sold out shows including a star-studded fundraiser that demonstrates Yonder’s dedication to this community. This show felt like the sleeper of the run and it was only Saturday. 

Night two would take us downtown to the Fillmore for Umphrey’s McGee. Review coming soon!