The Infamous Stringdusters & Yonder Mountain String Band 11.5.11
The Orbit Room
Grand Rapids, MI
Words By Greg Molitor (ReMIND Photography)
Photos By Greg Molitor & Shea Haddad (Eye's Mind)
There’s something consistently welcoming about bluegrass. Bringing the best out of folks with striking dependability, its stories, quite unlike any other in the biz, ease themselves into our hearts without fail. Through thickly delivered nostalgia and timeless American themes, we remember through bluegrass. Connected it makes us, and on November 5th, these old time feelings were returned to The Orbit Room by The Infamous Stringdusters and Yonder Mountain String Band, two of the best touring ‘grass bands in the land that filled the venue with some of the best damn vibes a roots music fan could ask for...
A joyous family atmosphere was abound as The Infamous Stringdusters took the stage to begin the evening. Led by inspiringly energetic banjoist Chris Pandolfi, the Nashville quartet moved through its set with contagious enthusiasm that’s seen very rarely during live performances these days. Even for the positivity focused, forward thinking world of improvised roots music, The Stringdusters were unabashedly delighted to just be there, playing for us with a happiness and appreciation rivaled by nothing I’d seen for some time. And as for music...? The band tore down the house multiple times with jams containing peaks that seemingly had no ceiling during their beautifully intense rises. With each member legitimately virtuosic at his craft, the band gave one of the most impressive bluegrass performances I’ve ever witnessed. Not only were the songs delivered crisply, but there was also a sense of improvisational aggressiveness throughout, signaling to us that the band was not satisfied with going through the motions and would rather push itself to the brink of its own limitations. Even Yonder Mountain String Band banjoist Dave Johnston joined the pickin’ party for a song, clearly having one helluva time with an opener whose talents far exceeded that title.
Headliner Yonder Mountain String Band, not to be outdone, then played powerful two sets of their own. Fusing rock and reggae with its bluegrass, Yonder’s music was less traditional than The Infamous Stringduster’s. Evident through the covers of Phish (“Sand”), John Hartford (“Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown”), and a combined band, nine man audial assault of The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post”, they have no problem venturing from the familiar in order to give the crowd a diversely rich experience. With “Whipping Post” included, the final four songs found both Yonder and The Stringdusters onstage.
Mandolinist Jeff Austin, who, as always, appeared borderline insane for most of the evening, led the other eight through final segment like a mad scientist. Walking up to each soloist then subsequently demanding him to leave it all onstage with his own wild flurries, Austin was in complete control of the moment, captivating the entire audience with his entertaining antics. For Michigan fans of modern bluegrass, this was a show not to be missed; those who came were treated to three outstanding sets of top notch bluegrass on a Saturday that will be remembered by many for years to come.
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