“Flawless Bluegrass Execution”
Yonder Mountain String Band
The Vogue Theater
February 13, 2014
Words and Pictures by Amber Jennings
Over the past few weeks Indianapolis has been abuzz with chatter over the upcoming Yonder Mountain String Band’s show at the Vogue, located in the cities hip Broadripple district. Living up to the hype, the show actually sold out just before 3:00 PM the day of the show. The band didn’t include Indianapolis in their 2013 fall tour, instead they came during their winter tour and brought with them special guests, including Grammy Award winning multi-instrumentalist and close friend of the band, Sam Bush. Also joing them this winters evening was mandolinist John Frazier from East Nashville, Tennessee who has played alongside of some of the greatest names in bluegrass. The special guests were added to the latter part of winter tour so YMSB mandolin player, Jeff Austin, could be at home with his new baby daughter and experience the joys of fatherhood.
While subzero temperatures had been looming over the city broke and the city warmed up to a relatively balmy 20 degrees. The doors opened at 7:00 PM to allow the dozen or so diehards, huddled under the marquee for about an hour, to enter and warm up a bit. Once the doors a line quickly formed and shivering fans began filling the theater. The band took the stage shortly after 8:00 PM, walking on stage to a heroes welcome. YMSB on this wonderful night consisted of Dave Johnston (banjo, vocals); Adam Aijala (guitar, vocals); Ben Kaufmann (bass, vocals) with special guests Sam Bush (fiddle, mandolin, vocals) and John Frazier (mandolin, fiddle, vocals). Kaufmann welcomed everyone with a good evening and thanked everyone for selling the joint out. He teased the crowd about the weather by remarking that he’s pretty sure they don’t make sunshine anymore, that he’d just heard it on the BBC, they’re done, they’re over it…so huddle up. He also asked that we join our minds and hearts and send all the love in the world to our brother Jeff Austin who’s at home with his brand new baby girl and that her name is Penelope. Introducing Sam Bush. Kauffman noted he’s fond of saying, “There are many pretenders to the thrown but there is only one king, Sam Bush.” There was a bit of fun loving sabotage with Aijala’s gear, Kaufmann instructed the crowd to talk amongst themselves about how beautiful and great Sam is, this invoked a ditty from Bush while Aijala got his gear straight. Kaufmann thuds his bass and asks everyone if we’re ready and exclaimed, “By God let’s do this thing.”
A quick count off into a hypersonic chord rip by Aijala kicked off the night with “Rambler’s Anthem,” Johnston’s banjo rolls whipped around Kaufmann’s vocals as they drove their way into a chorus of beautifully harmonized vocals. Frazier picked up the intensity with his first solo of the night, his mandolin ripping through every chord flawlessly, Kaufmann’s thumpy string vibrations kept time as his vocals filled the night before passing the melody to Aijala to improvise into his own creation of flat-picking. Bush gracefully took lead as his fiddle pierced through the night, dipping and flirting through the other instruments wending the melody back to Johnston and ending the tune on another chord rip by Aijala.
Before plunging into the next number Kaufmann changed out his stand-up bass for an electric one, announcing that he and Adam would sing the next song and as much as he hated to name drop, that it was taught to them personally in the back of a golden diamond bus by Sir Paul McCartney…while Ringo and Bob Dylan were making out right next to them and it was awesome.Â Aijala played along with the joke, grinning from ear to ear and remarked, “Not to name drop or anything.” Kaufmann dropped a honey-laden bass line leading into “Hey Bulldog,” Bush instantly adding dimension by melding the notes of his fiddle against Kaufmann’s strings, the up surge metamorphosing into a spacey jam of banjo rolls sparkled with crisp mandolin notes, the tremolo elated and the higher pitch of the mandolin took off and Frazier executed an explosive solo. The energy on stage was amazing and smiles passed from musician to musician as each took over the melody bending it and shaping it into their own. Bush see-sawed the solo from Aijala with the precision of a surgeon and the group coalesced into a super jam.
Kaufmann was full of banter and mischievous jokes, exclaiming, “If you listened to Adam, and you believe what he says, Indianapolis is the home of the best shrimp cocktail in the entire world but that sounds a little fishy to me.” He laughs and says that it’s ok to boo when somebody does that. A bit of tuning and they kick into a fun little number about when the booze runs out, “Raleigh and Spencer.” The mandolin intro put everyone on their toes, the fast whipping crescendo’s sweeping the crowd into a body rock. Kaufmann’s vocals seemed to push the musicians into a frenzy, the rotation of breakdowns seemed to forever exploded into a greater jam while the accompaniment to the lead profoundly wound and dove to different levels. Bush took flight, diving and soaring at ferocious speeds before gently bringing it down to swirl through the shadows for a darker number by Johnston, “Fingerprint.” Bush’s haunting serenade seemed to add a level to the tune’s haunting feel only to be picked up by Frazier and passed to Aijala before returning to Bush and back to Johnston, the transfer of breakdown’s flawlessly executed and seamlessly orchestrated. They segued back into, “Raleigh and Spencer,” gently building the tempo into another frenzy of madmen on strings tearing through the night.
A cheers from Kaufmann quickly turned to tears in beers, kicking into a honky-tonk number called, “8 Cylinders” followed by a speedier version than normal of “Another Day.” Kaufmann remarked it would be absolutely unforgivable of them to not ask Sam Bush to sing a number, which caused Bush to erupt in a couple “Whoops!” while he sauntered over to exchange his fiddle for his mandolin and replied “Would I, would I?” Kaufmann catching what was about to happen asked the crowd how many of them would like to hear dueling mandolins. The crowd went nuts and the reaction of pure joy in Kaufmann and Bush’s smiles from the energy of the crowd was priceless. Bush still smiling from ear to ear introduces the next number as an old Flat and Scruggs number done years ago and dedicated it to his wife and daughter “Little Girl of Mine in Tennessee.” The dueling banjo’s was a treat and the audience ate it up.
Kaufmann struck up a swanky little blues riff and as he trailed off Aijala built the ascension with Frazier joining in followed by Johnston and Bush, the song took form and they drove it into “Traffic Jam.” The velocity of the fiery tune was unstoppable, the breakdowns were mammoth. They segued into an old Little Feat tune, “Dixie Chicken,” with Frazier crooning out the lyrics. Aijala made his way across the stage to Johnston challenging him to a stringed duel that was followed by another duel this time between Frazier on mandolin and Bush on fiddle. The smiles and good energy from the band oozed off of the stage and into the audience. They took it straight back to “Traffic Jam,” to wrap up the first set.
Johnston eased into the second set up with a little banter asking “What do you say Indy? Please don’t stop the body rock, we are here to jam for you,” while each of the band members took turns tuning instruments and ripping through chords for sound check. Kaufmann informed the packed house that during set break they were all sitting on the bus talking and decided that while it may be a Thursday but they were going to do us a Saturday night show. He then thanked Indianapolis for the sellout show and said that they really appreciated that.
The music started off with Kaufmann on vocals for “Troubled Mind,” into a quick “20 Eyes,” and back into “Troubled Mind.” They kept up and segued into, “Black Sheep,” the tune twisted and wound itself around Johnston’s vocals before dipping back into “Troubled Mind.” Pausing, Kaufmann could be heard slowly thumping the strings of his bass, carving out the deep lines of “Midwest Gospel Radio,” Johnston rolled in lightly while Aijala and Frazier began to fill in the melody. Bush again added another dimension, his fierce mandolin playing helping the song transcend into a hymn all it’s own. The pace picked up with a completely non-ironic Johnston with a Green Day cover of “Dominated Love Slave.” Kaufmann checked in with the audience to see how everyone was doing and was greeted by an overwhelming reply of sheer happiness from the crowd. Kaufmann mentioned they were rapping on the bus about a good friend of theirs who plays banjo, Danny Barnes, and said they were going to play one of his numbers “Funtime.” Kaufmann’s bass solo was absolute slap happy affair of gooey bass goodness. They kept the intensity of the evening at full speed with, “Going Where They Do Not Know My Name,” after which Bush reached over and ran his bow over Kaufmann’s bass and they did an impromptu little ditty together. The lights dropped and Aijala struck the chords for “Honestly,” his voice calling through the darkness while Johnston rolled through the melody. They went straight into a Beatles cover “Only A Northern Song,” the eleven minute tune had the Kinfolk dancing and swaying with their eyes squeezed shut, enjoying the perfectly executed cover. Sam Bush led the band directly into a Bob Marley cover,”One Love,” getting the audience to sing thelyrics back to the band, before flowing back into “Honestly,” wrappingup the second set.
The audience didn’t even give the band time to exit the stage before chanting, “we want more.” Kaufmann returned to the stage, followed by the rest of the band. He expressed his love for the fans, saying the experience performing for them is one of the best he’s ever been a part of, how each and every one of them makes it happen, and that the band feels truly blessed. After thanking the audience from the bottoms of their hearts they thanked they opened their encore with a rollicking “40 Miles From Denver.” Bush took vocals for a traditional, down home “Molly and Tenbrooks,” and they closed out the night by playing a number called out from the crowd, “Sharecropper’s Son.” As Kaufmann thanked the crowd a chorus of voices could be heard crying back, “No thank you!” The fans weren’t quick to leave, lingering by the merchandise booth or outside the venue talking about what a wonderful show they had just seen. Everyone seemed to agree that between having two special guests, Sam Bush and John Frazier, a fiery pair of sets of amazing music and a chance to shake the winter blues had made the night one to remember.
Set I: Intro; Rambler’s Anthem; Hey Bulldog; Raleigh and Spencer >
Fingerprint > Raleigh and Spencer; 8 Cylinders; Another Day; Little
Girl of Mine in Tennessee; Traffic Jam > Dixie Chicken > Traffic Jam
Set II: Intro; Troubled Mind > 20 Eyes > Troubled Mind > Black Sheep >
Troubled Mind; Midwest Gospel Radio > Dominated Love Slave; Funtime;
Corona; Going Where They Do Not Know My Name; Honestly > Only A
Northern Song > One Love > Honestly
Encore: 40 Miles From Denver; Molly And Tenbrooks; Sharecropper’s Son