Yonder Mountain String Band at the Barrymore

  • Post Author
    by Web manager
  • Post Date
    Mon Feb 02 2015

Yonder Mountain String Band Studios Sessions

Editor's note: On 1/31/15 progressive bluegrass legends Yonder Mountain String Band played the Barrymore Theater in Madison, WI with indie-folk band Horse Feathers. WSUM's Chloe DeVries and Megan Roessler attended the show and filed the following report.


The opening band, Horse Feathers from Portland, Oregon, gets the crowd moving right away. Everyone has been sitting, saving their excitement for Yonder Mountain, but after a song or two almost every audience member is up on their feet in front of the stage. The band is known for a much quieter sound, with gentle strings and guitarist and lead singer Justin Ringle's despairing lyrics. I would describe them as graceful. Tonight though, Horse Feathers comes out excited and upbeat. The members dance and the drumbeat is driving, and the audience loves it.

Most of their set list is comprised of songs from their new album, “So It Is With Us”, which was just released in October. The new album and the show both take Horse Feather's typical sound and vamp it up, and the results are pleasing. Horse Feathers played a wonderful performance that really made their music come alive. Listening to their music again after having seen them, I find that it's full of a passion I hadn't heard before. I would definitely recommend this band live to everyone.

Now it's time to wait (and S/O to whomever made the Barrymore's playlist, because “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye was an excellent choice). The man in front of me has long grey hair and is wearing a motorcycle jacket – the patch on his arm is a skull, framed by the words, “Sharp Knives, Loud Guns”. Next to him is a hipster couple, skinny jeans, secretary glasses and all. Next to them is a man with half of his head shaved, and written on it with glitter, in all capital letters is, “This machine kills fascists”. It's an audience I would never in my life have guessed would willingly stand together in the front rows of the same concert, but here they are, all waiting for Yonder Mountain String Band. As the five-piece group walks on stage setting down their beers and bottles of water, everyone loses it.

The band, hailing from Nederland, Colorado, was originally a quartet made up of Dave Johnston, Ben Kaufman, Adam Aijala, and frontman Jeff Austin. After Austin left the band last year, the remaining members of the original group recruited violinist Allie Kral and mandolinist Jake Joliff. They are entirely too talented and I hate them all. After an opening jam session, and crowd pleaser “Mother's Only Son”, it's clear that the five are still working on becoming as comfortable playing together as the “new” Yonder Mountain, but throughout the concert, as each musician breaks off to do an intense, impassioned, and sincerely blue-grassy solo, that fact is easily forgotten. Suddenly Aijala's hammering guitar riffs, or Joliff's twangy mandolin, or Kral's mournful violin become the only thing in the world.

About halfway through the set, the spotlight falls on Allie Kral. She steps up to her microphone, looks around as the bass line starts, and begins to sing. Before the first line is even over, everybody recognizes the tune, and by the time she reaches the chorus of Dusty Springfield's “Son of a Preacher Man”, we are all singing along. Kral replaces the song's originally brassy instrument breaks with violin, and as the final riffs end it's clear that despite her being a new addition, she is adored by Yonder Mountain's fan base. The crowd erupts with cries of, “ALLIE WE LOVE YOU”, “ALLIE”, “ALLIIIEEE”. People push past a crowd of dreadlocked and tie-dyed hippies just to get closer to her. I'm pretty sure there are marriage proposals.

Later, bassist Ben Kaufmann welcomes to stage Drew Emmitt, mandolinist and front man of Leftover Salmon. He's got shaggy hair and hiking boots and is perhaps the most quintessential bluegrass player they could have found. In perhaps the most touching moment of the night, Kaufmann explains to the audience how he met Emmitt in a New York club and fell in love with his music. The meeting convinced Kaufmann to leave jazz behind and move to Colorado to be around the bluegrass scene; it seems like we've got Emmitt to thank for the Yonder Mountain String Band ever existing at all. Everyone on stage then bursts into a roaring version of their song “Traffic Jam”, which gets the audience going crazy. Seeing Emmitt solo on his mandolin was another highlight of the night. His mandolin playing was incredible, prodigious, and shocking(?). I don't think I can express it in words. You rarely see such a good musician in your life. This was one of those times.


I was really impressed with Yonder Mountain String Band's performance tonight. I saw them play at Summerfest a few summers ago when they were still with Jeff Austin, and the best part about the show was the energy the four drew from each other. You could tell how much they loved what they were doing. The new Yonder Mountain lineup isn't quite at this point yet – and how could they be? But for a newly formed group, they played a spectacular show. As they grow as a group together I expect that they'll become more comfortable with one another and find a new energy as engaging as the original, especially with all the love and support of their fans, which I could clearly see at this show. Sounding at once improvisational and familiar, Yonder Mountain String Band is guaranteed to give a performance that is unique and exciting, and an experience that you won't forget.