“We’ve got some fast banjo music for you all” said upright bassist Ben Kaufmann, and man did the Yonder Mountain String Band deliver. On Saturday night the band went on at 8:30 and two sets and two encores later ended at around 11:30. It was three hours jam packed full of fiddle, banjo, mandolin, and acoustic guitar solos and collective improvisation. The band is, at its core, a three piece of Kaufmann on upright bass, Dave Johnston on banjo, and Adam Aijala on acoustic guitar. For this performance, they were joined by featured mandolinist Jake Jolliff and fiddler Allie Kral.
This is the first Yonder Mountain String Band show that I’ve seen without their longtime mandolin shredder Jeff Austin, but Jolliff did more than fill his shoes, playing with similar virtuoso skills. I do miss Austin’s downright demonic facial expressions and characteristically screaming metal-like vocals, but Jolliff still fit the bill, and the band didn’t miss a beat. Allie Kral’s featured fiddling added nice textural layers during the verses, and her solos sounded like something off of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” which was pretty awesome.
As is tradition with every bluegrass show I’ve been to, there’s always a question of what wild or offbeat bluegrass cover is the band going to do. In this show they covered two songs featured in memorable scenes in Quentin Tarentino movies. First was “Stuck in the Middle With You” by Stealers Wheel, featured in Reservoir Dogs. Then they closed out the first set with Allie Kral singing a rousing version of Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” featured in Pulp Fiction. It was a pretty great way to end the set and the crowd was definitely into it, singing along to every word of the chorus.
In both the first and second set, the opening band The Larry Keel Experience came out and joined Yonder Mountain String band for a couple songs. A highlight of the set was during the first set they had a guitar and banjo jam between Larry Keel and Dave Johnston. It was a lot of fun, and that fed right into a bass solo with both Kaufmann and Jenny Keel sharing a bass for a moment of upright bass virtuosity. The combined group of 8 people on stage were smiling throughout the whole exchange and it was so good that they brought back guitarist Larry Keel and 5 string banjoist Will Lee for more songs in the second set.
This is the fourth time I’ve seen Yonder Mountain String Band and they rock it out every time. They play fun sets, and every time I’ve seen them it’s been a wild night of dancing, with this night being no different. They definitely set a high bar for the “new grass” movement that’s emerged in the last couple years, and I look forward to the next time they roll around Brooklyn.
Article by: Steven Klett
Photo credit: Jay Blakesberg