It was chilly on Red River when I arrived in Austin Saturday night. Walking up to Stubb’s, I noticed a distinct lack of people milling about outside. I thought to myself there’s no way Austin wouldn’t turn out for a bluegrass show. The last time I had seen Yonder Mountain was several years ago out in south Florida, where they blasted through a high-energy show that still holds a special place in my heart.
It seemed as though the people multiplied in the minute or two it took to eat my hot sausage wrap. When the lighting changed, they drifted toward the stage. The opener was about to begin.
And what an opener it was.
Old Salt Union, hailing from St. Louis, Missouri, lit into an explosive set that grabbed the masses and would not let go. I had no idea who they were before they took the stage, but their blazing bluegrass is just what I drove up from San Antonio to see. They jammed with a playful fire that reminded me very much of my first Yonder Mountain show way back when.
Ryan Murphey, Old Salt’s banjo player, said they were very happy to be touring with Yonder Mountain and playing for larger audiences. Although this would be their last show with Yonder Mountain for now, they are hooking up again in March for some west coast action.
Yonder Mountain took the stage at 9:30. They were – pretty mellow, actually. That’s not to say they didn’t light it up several times throughout the night, but overall it was a more chilled show than I had expected – and a little more “outside the box” than your standard bluegrass string band.
Ben Kaufmann swapped his electric upright for a standard bass guitar every couple tunes, eschewing traditional bluegrass quarter-note walks, and Jake Joliff and Adam Aijala didn’t hesitate to step on the overdrive.
The overall result was a slightly unfamiliar, but not unrecognizable Yonder Mountain. It caught me by surprise. Somewhere down the line, while I wasn’t looking, Yonder Mountain changed into something new. This Yonder Mountain is a pleasure, but in a different way. Like sipping a Dr. Pepper when you’re expecting a Coke, I just need a minute to recalibrate.
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