"It's not really a genre I listen to," a bearded, crossed-armed and stoic fan admitted during set break, "but given not one, but four or even seven talented musicians like those guys up there, and I'd listen to anything they played. Even bluegrass. Anything would sound good played by the right musicians."
Four to seven (after set break the total was actually eight) talented musicians is exactly what the Culture Room had to offer as Yonder Mountain String Band took the stage. Typically a quartet with no sense of promptness, they took the stage exactly an hour after the doors opened. This left little room for nonsense, or their typical good-humored stage banter, and plenty of room for exhibiting their honorary fifth band member for the evening, Jason Carter. He's the fiddler for the Del McCoury Band, one of the most noted groups in the bluegrass genre.
The same keen attitude toward nonsense was not shared however by the folks running the show that night, as half the crowd was still in line waiting to get in by the time the music had begun. Not only were the queued eager to get in, but once at the front of the line, the security fellow on duty was notifying each individual patron that if their car was parked in a particular handful of spots, it would not be there by the time the show was over.
Fort Lauderdale is a parking lot in its own right. Lots of room offered by massive corporations speckled all over the Oakland Park area for consumers to park during business hours, become absolute wastelands by nine o'clock. Given that the parking lot belonging to the Culture Room leaves enough room for barely a quarter of the venue's capacity, more than half the folks waiting in line were fearful enough to turn right around after making it to the front, just to move their cars.
Where did Mr. Security suggest we park?
"The Best Western right next door is charging ten dollars a spot."
But being greeted at the door with the paranoia of having your car towed didn't stop the room from filling up, and certainly didn't take a toll on the energy in the room as five sets of strings plowed through a crowd pleasing "Straight Line" which fed right into "Troubled Mind," featuring Carter's first chance to flaunt his superhuman fiddling powers.
The band is great at maintaining a certain synergy between stage and floor in their music. For having no percussion section, the upright bass, played by Ben Kaufmann, and banjo, manned by Dave Johnston, fill a huge sound gap that might otherwise exist and typically keep that energy at levels even Ritalin kids can get in on. And while the first set was on the upswing, it certainly seemed as though the band was holding back. It was riddled with a less cohesive sound, which left something to be desired--a feeling of "they've got to have something up their sleeves."
And right on time, the quartet, turned quintet suddenly became a hebdomad of stringy folk infused madness so largely proportioned, one is left to wonder if it was truly and fully appreciated. An awesome moment exploded as Matt Flinner and Ross Martin, of the Matt Flinner Trio, were invited on stage.
Things got interesting as Matt Flinner and Jeff Austin took turns destroying the conventions of mandolin as we know it, then passing the buck to Adam Aijala, who took the time to get involved in the self declared "pick fest" along with fellow guitarist Martin.
This seriously went on for a good ten minutes at least--so long that when the song ended and you didn't realize that was the end of first set, you might have been one of those keeping the security guards busy tracking down the tufts of mystery smoke somewhere in the dense crowd.
The second set belonged entirely to Kaufmann. It must have been his birthday or something. He was all over it.
The band pulled out "Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown," one of their sing-a-long type songs that got the room all friendly and focused again. But it wasn't the crowd participation that made the room rumble underfoot, it was that unassuming Kaufmann banging out these deeper than space, funky rhythms that literally had the walls and all contents within, straight bouncing.
How often does a show-goer get to see two musicians playing the same upright bass at the same time? Oh yeah, that happened too.
The energy in the room turned from warmed up, high gear shift of your soul, fiddley bluegrass to a buoyant groove, which the crowd mimicked in their body language when "Two Hits" got into the swing. That movement continued through "Pockets."
Vanished was the jolty, elbow ridden hoe-down dance. What appeared now was something you'd see a tour kid doing during a Mike jam at a Phish show. Bass drunk wiggle arms and funk fueled jelly legs. Kaufmann was holding it down, making it all sound new again.
For a show that started out slow and for a crowd met with security induced paranoia at the door, Yonder, along with all their friends delivered an exceptional show that continued to build momentum, song after song, leaving bluegrass newcomers and experienced fans alike, eager for a next time.