It’s hard to picture a more fitting setting for a Bluegrass and Americana festival than the rolling peaks and valleys of the Ozark Mountain chain in Arkansas, or a better band to host it all than the Yonder Mountain String Band. With a lineup of stellar acts ranging from the legendary Peter Rowan and Bela Fleck, contemporary explorers Cornmeal and Greensky Bluegrass to the rabble rousing bands like Split Lip Rayfield or Dirtfoot, a varied crop of acts were laid out on the musical table at Yonder Mountain String Band’s Mulberry Mountain Harvest Festival.
Yonder’s hosting the festival went as far beyond simply lending their name to the proceedings as is humanly possible. By inviting some supremely talented friends to the party and filtering out onto the festival grounds, these hosts were as hospitable as one could fathom and managed to spread the feeling of boundless togetherness through their simple love of playing music.
One of the Mulberry Mountain Harvest Festivals true hallmarks were the sit ins, with violinist Darol Anger proving to be the leader in the weekend’s stag hopping. Not only did Anger guest with YMSB for all three of their headlining sets, but played with his frequent partner Scott Law, joined former pupil Bridget Law (no relation) as she played with her band Elephant Revival, got into a fiddle duel and round robin with Jason Carter during the Travellin’ McCourys’ set and was never anywhere without his fiddle.
Superstars like Bela Fleck, who performed with his Flecktones that welcomed Howard Levy back to piano duties, led informative workshops that were packed front to back with aficionados and musicians alike — all eager to learn. Then there were workshops that degenerated into pure parties, as was the case when Cornmeal and Greensky Bluegrass got together for classic rock cover showcase that ended with everyone in the tent rising to their feet and dancing to the crazy configuration of the complete double band blend.
Performers actually walked the festival grounds, joining free playing buskers and campground jams with the same reverence as any onstage show. The sense that the musicians were there for the show as much as anyone in the crowd was embodied by Vince Herman (Leftover Salmon, Great American Taxi), who jumped off stage to join the crowd to watch the proceedings from the crowd.
The crowd was appreciative of all Â of the “once in a lifetime music” Â that they were witnessing and the buzz throughout the weekend was speculation and wonderment in regards to which player would sit it with whom and where he/she would do so.
Fans enjoyed close camping and picture perfect weather, with blue skies stretching beyond the horizon during the day, and a haunting moon in the sky reflecting not just light but love down on all below it’s luminescence.
The grounds were as alive after the official music stopped as they were during any point in the day, with campfire jams sprouting up all around. You could hear wandering musicians picking, fiddling and drumming in the distance, adding to the musically connected vibe that defined the weekend.
Most amazing of all, if you listened close enough, you could hear the strolling players meet up, and listen as they joined each other. Whole bands that would have to be billed as super groups on any official line up were born, shone brighter than any sun and then faded away as they players once again drifted in search of the next sound.
The festival promoters are to be congratulated on the stroke of brilliance that was bringing in the Yonder Mountain String Band to host the party. More than just their plethora of friends who were eager to join them, beyond their ticket selling cache and their stellar talents, the guys from Yonder are great people. Their joy is so evident when they play that you don’t want the show to stop more for their benefit more than your own. You simply want them to be able to keep enjoying themselves. Banjo player Dave Johnston alternates from intense focus to the widest grins you’ve seen, while Adam Aijala’s legendary focus seems to transcend simple attention and move into a blissful realm of pure group synergy. Ben Kaufmann lays the bass with the confidence of a man fit perfectly in a role. Front man and mandolin troubadour Jeff Austin contorts his face like a child with a fresh ball of silly putty.
Joined by Darol Anger for all three of their sets, Yonder welcomed any and all to their stage, from an amazing sit in for “Fire on the Mountain” by legendary Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann to the entire Flecktones band. It seemed as though if you played an instrument and had it handy, you were welcome on the stage.
Picking parties turned into cacophonous rising moments of distilled energy Â before the band departed the stage and promising to return next year.
They appeared exhausted, smiling and proud; having spent every last drop of their musical fuel onstage and inÂ so doing, providing a pure example of what a festival should be about:Â celebration of music and camaraderie for one and all.
On The Scene at YMSB’s Harvest Festival with Dead Winter Carpenters, Jay Nash & Mountain Sprout (Performances & Interviews)
Writin’ Home for Five and Gettin’ Ten w/ Yonder Mountain String Band (Interview)
Cornmeal & Greensky Bluegrass team up for a cover of “Lay Down Sally”