Live review: Yonder Mountain String Band @ Red Rocks AmphitheatreBy Nate Etter | August 22nd, 2011 | 3 comments
Colorado loves its bluegrass. On Saturday night at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, a sold out crowd gathered to watch three of the best finger-picking acts on the scene share a memorable bill: the Infamous Stringdusters, Railroad Earth and Yonder Mountain String Band.
Up-and-coming virtuosos the Infamous Stringdusters opened the show and immediately set the bar very high. Beginning the set with their hit “Fork in the Road” (from 2007’s highly-acclaimed album of the same name), the sextet delivered a tight, high-energy performance of speedy bluegrass. Each member of the band showed no hesitation when it came time to solo, led by Andy Hall’s twangy drobo playing and Chris Pandolfi’s jazz-inspired banjo. An original take of The Police’s “Walking on the Moon” showed the band’s versatility, including an a cappella ending.
With lighting crashing in the distance, the East-coast newgrass act Railroad Earth was next. The band is an inviting mix of down-home country, traditional songwriting and feel-good jams. Though they were the only act of the night to feature a drummer, Railroad Earth’s set was easy listening and could even be considered tame when compared to the breakneck sets it separated. Many songs featured catchy backing vocal harmonies that were quickly adopted and echoed by the cheery crowd.
“Lets play some fast-ass bluegrass,” Yonder Mountain’s front man Jeff Austin ordered his bandmates on multiple occasions Saturday — they would not disappoint. For two sets plus an extensive encore, the four-piece local favorites kept the Red Rocks faithful on their feet with sing-a-longs like “Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown,” classics like Todd Snider’s “Sideshow Blues” and surprises like a bass solo over a foundation of Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up.”
Yonder’s performance ranged from foot-stomping hoedowns to progressive experimentations, the precise reason the band has appealed to both the jam and bluegrass scenes. Though Austin’s animated mandolin playing draws the most attention, it is Adam Aijala’s incredible, stone-faced acoustic guitar picking that holds the band together.
For those who missed it, have no fear. The band left their fans ready for more by announcing a 5-night New Year’s Eve run at the Boulder Theater to end their 2011 tour.
Nate Etter is a Boulder-based musician and a new contributor to Reverb.
Lisa Higginbotham is a Denver photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.