Yonder Mountain String Band Live at The Pageant
When jam-grass pioneers the Yonder Mountain String Band took the stage at the Pageant on April 9, 2016, they stepped in front of a crowd that seemed to be a tad skeptical of what was to come. This was only Yonder Mountain’s second show in St. Louis since the departure of their front man, Jeff Austin, and the band’s first show in the area since releasing Black Sheep, an album that featured new band members Jacob Jolliff on mandolin and Allie Kral on fiddle.
The absence of a fully present and excited crowd was something that one wouldn’t have experienced at Yonder Mountain shows prior to 2015. The band’s new lineup led them to leave behind their minimalist acoustic jam style for a sound that is much more full and consistent. This change can be put on the shoulders of Jeff Austin, as his departure definitely took the band down a very different road than the one they had been traveling along for nearly 16 years.
Without a doubt, the fans knew all of this was going on, and their uneasiness was clearly visible at the shows that occurred when this new version of the band first went live. Surprisingly, this anxious attitude still lingered in the air on April 9. Yonder walked on stage to a pit that was slightly barren, and a crowd that was mostly seated or at the bar.
All of this changed once the music started.
Yonder Mountain began the show vintage by opening up with “Idaho”, a tune that’s been part of their repertoire since the band’s inception. Harkening back to their beginnings seemed to strike a chord with the crowd as it caused the pit to quickly fill and bounce to the mandolin clucks that were being laid down by Jacob Jolliff. The nostalgia seemed to be short lived though, because it wasn’t long before Yonder Mountain quickly changed gears and began heavily showcasing material off Black Sheep. Attendees didn’t seem too pleased with this because soon, the murmur of individual conversations and the clank of beer bottles could be subtly heard as the music was being played.
After a few Black Sheep songs, guitar player Adam Aijala prompted the band to play “Bloody Mary Morning”, a Willie Nelson cover. The place went absolutely nuts and from then on, just about every other song Yonder played was a cover. As a way to make fans more open and listening to their newer material, Yonder intricately weaved fresh songs in and out of covers. One instance of this that the crowd particularly enjoyed was the usage of the Del McCoury song “All Aboard” as a catalyst to jam out the Black Sheep tune “New Dusty Miller”. Yonder played half of “All Aboard” before letting the song dissolve into a lengthy “New Dusty Miller”, who’s jam was brought back into “All Aboard”.
The second set brought about the night’s biggest jam, a very tight version of the Talking Head’s “Girlfriend Is Better”. This jam was interesting because it wasn’t led by a particular band member, something few jam bands manage to accomplish. As Adam Aijala locked onto the song’s main riff, the rest of the band traded solos and created a spooky spacey-ness over the groove he was playing.
The second half of the show also brought about the nights biggest sing along, which was surprisingly a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”. As soon as the song’s familiar guitar picking began, the crowd roared and began singing along with Allie Kral as she showcased her fantastic vocal ability.
Keeping with the covers theme, Yonder decided to close out the show with an encore that consisted of three covers, each very different from one another. Out of nowhere, the encore began with a soulful and fiddle driven rendition of the “Game of Thrones Theme”. The group quickly picked up the pace with a fast version of St. Louis native, John Hartford’s, “Down the River Road” that segued directly into the Grateful Dead’s “Bertha”.
Yonder Mountain String Band has quickly embraced their new identity and it is clear that the fans are slowly warming up to the changes the band has gone through in the last two years. Perhaps the most comforting thing about the new Yonder is that it’s clear that the band is just as dedicated to the fans as the fans are to them. Their show on April 9, 2016 proves that they are trying their best to appeal to their longtime fans, as well as communicating to them that they are a new and changing jam-grass band.