Yonder Mountain String Band brought a handful of friends with them to the Tabernacle in Atlanta, GA on Saturday, January 25th, 2014 for their Winter Tour. Performing with special guests throughout the run while mandolin player Jeff Austin remained home in Colorado to welcome his newborn daughter into the world, The Travelin’ McCourys joined them for the fourth of fifteen dates on this tour.
The Travelin’ McCourys, a band that in its current iteration has been together for going on nine years, add more than just guest spots to the tour. Opening each night, Ronnie McCoury (mandolin) leads his prodigal band mates including younger brother Rob (banjo), fiddler Jason Carter, and bassist Alan Bartram through a series of traditional and newgrass hits. Carter’s vocals and musical prowess were on display during “When It Comes To You,” while Bartram’s metronomic bass and pipes presented a take on Hank Williams “You Win Again.” As if the Travelin’ McCourys isn’t enough, Andy Falco of The Infamous Stringdusters is teaching a clinic on the six-string for the tour and his take on The Pizza Tapes’ (Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Tony Rice) “Rosa Lee McFall” was a standout among standouts.
If there is any doubt that the absence of Austin from this tour is anything more than support for his family, those objections were silenced within the first minute that Yonder took the stage as bassist Ben Kaufmann announced, “wonderful news on the Yonder Mountain front.” He continued, “our mandolin player Jeff, who is at home right now, is celebrating his first sunrise as the father of a brand new baby girl.” It wasn’t the last time that Kaufmann exuded positive emotions on the evening – that’s pretty much how he rolls – but it was certainly heartfelt and a reoccurring theme throughout the night.
Joining Kaufmann and the other half of Yonder, Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter lent their support throughout the evening, including Ronnie’s vocal efforts on an uptempo “Shady Grove.” Falco and Rob McCoury joined for the last third of the set, pickin’ with their grateful hosts on “Looking Back Over My Shoulder” and an “On The Run” split by banjoist Dave Johnston’s “Black Sheep.”
The true gem of this tour is the interplay of the musicians. The Yonder boys contribute some of the best songs from the current generation of newgrass bands, while the McCourys and friends are a bit more versed in the traditions of bluegrass. Watching Johnston and Rob McCoury approach the banjo with completely contrasting yet complimenting styles is an awesome experience. Similarly, Adam Aijala and Falco present guitar runs with their own style. As a beginning bluegrass guitar player, watching Aijala’s hands with his rhythmic approach (a slight pause following phrases is evident) and Falco – a bit more rolling and melodic – was an inspiring sight.
The second set was no less sublime. Kaufmann provided vocals to “Criminal” and “Casualty,” both from 2009’s The Show. Carter sang the traditional “I Know You Rider,” further contributing to the delight of the Deadheads in attendance (see “Rosa Lee McFall” and “Shady Grove,” both standout Garcia performances off the aforementioned Pizza Tapes). Similarly, Kaufmann’s vocal efforts on the Pink Floyd cover “Dogs” had the Kinfolk (Yonder fans) hollerin’, as it was played for the first time since 2010. Aijala sang “If You’re Ever in Oklahoma,” with Falco and Rob McCoury rejoining to close out the set.
All seven musicians reemerged for the encore’s lead-off “New Deal Train,” and Alan Bartram emerged to assist on the vocals of the closing “Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms.” The latter was a fitting tribute to Jeff and his new daughter, Penelope, just hours away from that “first sunrise.”
Yonder Mountain String Band and The Travelin’ McCourys will team up for seven more dates on this tour. Do yourself a favor: buy some tickets, get off the couch, and get on the road!
- 2/5/2014 Music Farm Charleston, SC
- 2/6 & 2/7/2014 Orange Peel Asheville, NC
- 2/9/2014 Freebird Live Jacksonville, FL
- 2/11/2014 Jefferson Theater Charlottesville, VA
- 2/15/2014 Orpheum Theatre Madison, WI
- 2/16/2014 Canopy Club Urbana, IL