It was a celebration of string music at the Brooklyn Bowl this past weekend, as Yonder Mountain String Band and the Larry Keel Experience ended a wild tour with a sold out show in one of Brooklyn’s finest venues. The banter was fiery Saturday night as Ben Kaufmann came out saying, “You look so good Brooklyn…but you would, wouldn’t you?” It was all fun and games as the now-five-piece bluegrass ensemble raged a two-set show for Jacob Jolliff’s homecoming.
The night began with the Keel’s performing as the Larry Keel Experience. Larry’s deep, southern growl primed the audience for a strong night of Americana, telling tales of whiskey drinkin’ and mountain climbing. The set ended with a fantastic Grateful Dead cover of “Brown-Eyed Women.”
Yonder hit the stage with their smiling faces, eager to pick some ‘grass for the Brooklyn faithful. Winter just hit here in the big apple, but that didn’t stop fans from lining up around the block to see one of the best acts in string music. Starting with a fitting tune of “Traffic Jam,” it’s clear, as always, that mountain music is just slightly out of place in the city.
The lyrics, “I’m sitting on a hilltop looking at a traffic jam / Laughin’ at the people as they drive as fast as they can,” is oddly poking fun at the NYC style of life. But Korean burritos and Pizza aren’t exactly indigineous to New York either, and we can enjoy ’em anyhow! Besides, I’ve sat on my Brooklyn rooftop watching many-a-traffic-jam, smokin’ many-a-spliff.
The much-covered Stealers Wheel tune “Stuck in the Middle” was stuck right in the middle of a “Traffic Jam” sandwich, offering up a really nice chunk of music right off the bat. Check out “Stuck in the Middle” in a nice crowd-shot video below.
“Straight Line” made an appearance in this first set as well, along with a story from Kaufmann that brings the lyrics full-circle. Apparently Ben spent some time at NYU in film school where he realized that his passion is actually music – not film. From there he moved to Colorado and eventually helped to start Yonder, but it was in NYC where he changed his trajectory. Here’s an awesome video of the band playing this song with the Travelin’ McCourys backstage at Jannus Landing earlier this year, another show we reviewed.
The first set ended on a really, really high note when “Troubled Mind” sandwiched “20 Eyes” before bringing the Larry Keel Experience out for “Kentucky Mandolin” and “All Aboard.” The hootenanny-styled playing was as much a treat for those on stage as it was for us in the crowd.
Set two pulled out some more surprises, the first notable bust-out being a cover of “Son of a Preacher Man” featuring fiddle player Allie Kral flexing her powerful vocals. “Left Me in a Hole” was a great sing-along, as the crowd really loosened up and let it all out. By the time we were halfway through the second set, the entire place was a big drunken barn-burner, transporting equal parts North Carolina and Boulder, CO in to our slice of New York heaven we call Brooklyn.
A set-closing “All The Time” made way for the encore of blitzing bluegrass, proving that Yonder Mountain String Band is currently killing it. As time goes on, the absence of Jeff Austin becomes more and more of an after thought. He will always be missed, and his passion as well as musical ability can never be understated, but this band is still a leading force in the bluegrass world…and still putting on an unbelievable show that melts traditional American string music with the improvisation and aesthetic of the Grateful Dead. And for that, we thank them.