If there's one thing that hippies love more than bluegrass, it's far-out bluegrass played by hippies, for hippies. That's why Yonder Mountain String Band is as precious as a magic topaz crystal mined from the caverns of Tim Leary's wisdom-mind (wooooaaah).
The band's roots are undoubtedly in traditional bluegrass, and it mostly stays within that vein, but the four-piece delivers the wholesome groove in a way that could turn Del McCoury's white hair tie-dye. And Friday night, the tropical YMSB lovers came out of their beach-side stoner dens and filled Revolution with good vibes (and great smoke), proving just how widespread (ahem) this group's popularity is.
The place was full, but not completely packed. This was nice because it allowed plenty of room for wiggle-dancing. And there were some crazy dancers on the floor! From the get-go, the thing was a party. That's the environment YMSB creates. We all could have just as easily been in the lot of a Phish show (where, if his Phish 2009 T-shirt is any indication, mandolin player Jeff Austin was hangin' recently), or around a campfire. There was no pretentious-mystic attitude that is so off-putting from some jam bands. The four pluckers were right there in the room with us.
The band played two sets, and both were full of solid music and humorous banter. Austin has the stage presence of Trey Anastasio with a concussion. He's a goofball and a great player. Early on, when talking about being on tour, he said that "the brain is the first thing to go." That may explain why later on in the night he mentioned that the band is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. (All online bios, including the one on the band's own web site, say that the quartet got together in '98.)
Musical highlights included the first set John Harford cover "Granny Woncha Smoke Some Marijuana" and the second set jam in and out of the YMSB tune "Peace of Mind." The scariest part of the night was when Austin pulled out an effects box. Things quickly turned electronic and weird. Having never seen Yonder before, I was afraid that we were abandoning the righteous bluegrass jam for a String Cheese-style electronic wash-out.
To my delight, after a short trip into electro-land, the band pulled the plug and jammed through the rest of the night using only the strings. It was cool that they played with the lights and knobs, but great that they didn't rely on them.
Personal Bias: It's likely that I was suffering (suffering?) from the effects of second-hand smoke.
Random Detail: Despite being from Colorado, home of some of the best breweries and greatest beer appreciation in the country, Jeff Austin was drinking a Corona on stage. Weak.
By the Way: YMSB recently released an accompaniment to their latest album, last year's The Show, which features the members performing the songs that they wrote for that record solo.
-- Travis Newbill