Yonder Mountain String Band’s Kinfolk Celebration 9.19 - 9.20.14

Planet Bluegrass
Lyons, CO

Words By Parker Otwell Roe (The Lot Scene)
Photos By Will Rawls (The Lot Scene)

Friday, September 19th:

Just how intimate do you like your festivals to be? If you are a Yonder fan and you said "very," then their historic Kinfolk Celebrations are for you…this year being no exception. Held again at the legendary Planet Bluegrass in the lovely and charmingly diminutive mountain town of Lyons, Colorado, this year’s event was everything we have come to expect from the die-hard core group of Yonder’s Kinfolk fan-base community: small, intimate, relaxed, family-friendly and providing the perfect atmosphere to dance the weekend away to some particularly good bluegrass pickin’.

If you have never been to Lyons, then you are in for a treat when you finally get the chance to make a visit. The home of Planet Bluegrass for many years now, it is a quaint and picturesque little town nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains about an hour northwest of Denver and very easy to get to (and with it being such a small fest, no need to worry about traffic). Ringed by rust-red cliffs and bluffs topped with verdant evergreens, Lyons plays the very gracious host to several festivals held at Planet Bluegrass each year, Kinfolk being one of them. The deadly and disastrous floods of September 2013 did wreak havoc on both Lyons and Planet Bluegrass, however, heading to Kinfolk just after the one year anniversary made apparent the indomitable spirit of the people of Lyons exemplified by the obvious rebuilding and reconstruction throughout the town. Just goes to show it’s hard to keep a good town down.

The venue itself at Planet Bluegrass has never looked better. The entire concert venue was flooded last year and had to undergo very extensive and expensive reconstruction. However, the folks in charge of such a monumental task did it both quickly and well, getting the venue back up to operational status in time for the 2014 festival season. Bravo to all those who pulled off such a task! One could not ask for a lovelier small outdoor venue, either. The stage is back-dropped by red cliffs pouring down into the North Saint Vrain Creek and surrounded by trees on either side and with lush green grass perfect for dancing stretching back into the crowd. The venue is both wide and deep providing plenty of room in front for dancing or hooping or grabbing a good shot of your favorite bluegrass musician. Both families and superfans will feel right at home here with no feelings of overcrowding or harshing someone else’s mellow — one of those places that gets the balance just right for everyone. And, if you get too hot, you can always drag your self or your chair or both down to the creek and dip your feet in while you listen to those bluegrass notes bouncing off the bluffs. Truly one of the little paradises that we are all lucky to visit when we can.

Planet Bluegrass is a great choice to partner with for a fest, no doubt — their staff and facilities are both top notch. As such, exchanging your tickets for your festival wristbands and campground bands is a breeze. Just find the main entrance and head on towards the venue and the friendly staff will handle the rest — short lines mean getting you in quickly to see the music you paid for. Always one of the benefits of smaller festivals to be sure. Security is provided by both PB staff and Lyons police and was wonderfully relaxed this year — let us hope it stays this way in the future!

Camping for Kinfolk puts you either at Planet Bluegrass proper or down the road at Meadow Park — both tucked in along the North Saint Vrain Creek giving you access to a supremely refreshing place to splash a little cold mountain water on your face in the hot afternoon sun. At the Planet Bluegrass campground you will find more pickin’ parties and Kinfolk camps whereas the Meadow Park campground is populated more by family camping and RV folks. Both amazing, both safe, and both well-run with clean and plentiful facilities.

A word on food while we are at it…this year the vendors were few, but their offerings were plentiful. While I know vendors change from year-to-year, I feel it's important to at least report on what was there this time in the hopes that the spirit of the offerings will stay similar in the future. Simply put, omnivores, vegetarians and vegans all ate well this past weekend. Greek food, corn dogs, ice cream, tacos — all generous and nothing too expensive and with enough veggie options to satisfy those in need. My crew and I were able to make several meals out of vendor offerings enabling us to avoid returning to the campsite and missing out on music.

Head for the Hills - Sadly, we ended up arriving to Planet Bluegrass just as Head for the Hills was finishing their set. I am lucky in that I have had the opportunity to see them several times before, so I can only imagine how amazing the entire set must have been, especially given the magnificent weather that Friday evening conjured for all of us gathered there. Fortunately, we made their last two numbers and as the sound washed over me in the golden setting light my thoughts kept turning to how happy I am to know these four gentlemen will be on Jam Cruise this year, ensuring that the grass offerings help keep the balance.

John Bell - The frontman and voice of Widespread Panic continued the music for our evening. The crowd was treated to a quick 30 minute solo set from Mr. John Bell who sat and crooned and played guitar as the cool night air settled in around us. It was plain to see the larger Friday night throng swell towards the front to hear the man that so many of them clearly came to see. A friend of mine remarked that “J.B. brings a crowd” and judging from the smaller Saturday night audience to follow, I would have to say he was right. Truly this short set was a mere appetizer for the main course to come when John joined the boys and gal from Yonder Mountain String Band for some rather masterfully chosen collaborative selections for the assembled talent. It was great to hear John by himself for my first time as well…it really gave me a chance to get a sense of him as an individual musician for a change.

Yonder Mountain String Band (with John Bell) - So, is it “official” yet? Are they actually “Yonder 2.0” now?? Well, while there is still nothing new regarding such rumors from the YMSB camp, the band’s Kinfolk 2014 line-up performances certainly convinced all of us that such a thing would be worthy and wonderful in its own way. Adding Jake Joliff on mandolin and Allie Kral on fiddle to the three Yonder lads like many times before, created a mighty wall of energy and music; clearly a different sound from the band’s previous incarnation, but also one with a whole new story to tell. And it is one worth hearing, believe you me.

As I was walking back to Planet Bluegrass from a quick campsite jaunt, I was treated to the sound of the band’s first number from outside of the venue. The notes were ringing off the cliffs around the town of Lyons with a lightning storm to the east electrifying the night and providing deep bass thunder that echoed behind the music. It was an astoundingly beautiful way to encounter Yonder inviting John Bell to the stage again for a goodly part of their two sets. He sat in on guitar and vocals for the beginning of set one starting out with a cover of Widespread Panic’s “Ribs and Whiskey” and moving on to a rocking Jerry Joseph’s “Climb to Safety.” Bell continued on with another Panic classic cover “Fixin’ to Die” by Bukka White and then finishing off with a crowd-pleasing “Worry” after which he left the stage. Jake Joliff offered up a fantastic rendition of Jim Croce’s “I Got a Name” which was one of the highlights of my YMSB evening. Yonder then proceeded to round out the set with some classic repertoire such as “Loved You Enough” and “All The Time.”

The second set started out with a “Looking Back” into “On the Run” which continued through a “Black Sheep” and back again. At that point, Bell came back onstage to lend his unique voice to the already stellar lineup. Leading with another Panic song, “Mercy,” they then took a Yonder turn with a “Winds On Fire” and then back to Panic for an “Ain’t Life Grand.” Needless to say, all the assembled Spreadheads in attendance were as happy as could be. After Bell departed again, Yonder brought us back in with a great “Winds of Wyoming” and then we got the wonderful and delightful treat of Miss Allie Kral singing Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” for us. Simply stunning! The remainder of the set saw a “Casualty” into a “Pockets” and back, but the real show stealer was the encore of Ozzy’s “Crazy Train” into the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie,” with vocals once again by John Bell. All in all, it was one hell of a night of music, most certainly heavily influenced by the presence of Widespread Panic’s frontman. It certainly made for a unique Friday of Kinfolk!!

Saturday, September 20th:

The Travelin’ McCourys - “If you don’t know who these people are then you need to pay a LOT more attention.” -Pastor Tim Christensen

I honestly could not have put it any better myself. If you love bluegrass, newgrass, slamgrass, jamgrass or ANY other kind of grass-based music(s) then this band is most certainly for you. Every time I see the McCourys added to the lineup of a festival, it makes my heart sing with anticipated musical joys, so when I saw they’d be at Kinfolk for 2014, I was elated to say the least. The set that the Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob McCoury (banjo) and their compatriots delivered to us was nothing short of an absolute treat. Kicking things off with a sizzling instrumental jam into a soulful “Deeper Shade of Blue,” the band then handed things to ‘The Colonel’, Mr. Jason Carter (fiddle), whose “Wheel Hoss” had the entire grounds pounding to the dancing feet of the assembled smiling faces. Alan Bartram (bass) gave us a song he wrote with his good friend, Becky Bullard, about the unsung hero of the John Henry legend, “The Shaker” — and damn, don’t we just love Alan’s voice! Bill Monroe’s lasting “Body and Soul” followed next by one hell of a “Breakdown” led by Rob. One of my very favorite songs that the boys recorded with Keller Williams was to come later on down the line, “Messed Up Just Right.” It has to be one of the better bluegrass love songs out there at the moment for all the right reasons and Alan and the boys nailed it for us! As the lads drew their set to a close some wonderful highlights were Ronnie singing “On the Lonesome Wind” into the black night sky and finishing the evening’s magic for us with a song that Alan wrote specifically for the McCourys called “Travelin’.” Saturday night Kinfolk 2014 would not have been remotely the same without the talented, technical tailspin from the McCourys. Thanks, boys, and please come back to Colorado ANYTIME!

Drew Emmitt & Vince Herman - This set was most certainly one of the stand-outs of the entire weekend for me. As a long-time Leftover Salmon fan and Boulder resident, the strings and sounds of Drew and Vince are like home to me from a musical point of view. It is always both a pleasure and a privilege to see either of these immensely talented and influential men perform. To see them both on the Planet Bluegrass stage for our Kinfolk reverie was colossal. Drew and his mando and Vince on his guitar, the duo started out with “Sometimes a River” (Salmon, not Cheese) and then a mellow “Lonesome Road.” After that came the Salmon smasher from Drew, “Gold Hill Line.” Continuing in the uniquely hilarious vibe of Leftover Salmon, “When I Grow Up” was the next selection, full of witty jokes and local Colorado humor that Salmonheads have come to love. “...When I grow up, I want to work at Alfalfa’s where the cheese is dairy free!” (Alfalfa’s being a Boulder-based grocery store for those who might not know). Nothing like laughing to a good Salmon song. Then came one of my personal favorites, a fabulous version of “Liza,” sung by the effervescent Vince Herman. That man just brings such a powerfully positive energy to the stage every time I see him! A slow, lovely, soulful “Troubled Times” and a rollicking “Rodeo Geek,” two more Salmon faves, came afterwards. Our duo then became a trio as Jason Carter joined the boys on fiddle for “Down in the Hollow,” the textural mix of Drew’s tenor and Jason’s fiddle was musical happiness made manifest. The whole hootenanny finally came crashing down around our ears when Allie Kral joined to form a quartet for a ridiculously fun version of “Let’s Give a Party.” What a crazy, crazy good time and crazy, crazy good set!

Yonder Mountain String Band (with Jason Carter and Ronnie McCoury) - “We are Kinfolk and we are Kinfolk because of this band!!” -Pastor Tim Johnson

And now for the main event, so to speak. Talk about a fat show! No, truly, this was a fat, full show filled with lots of selections, lots of energy, lots of musicians, lots and lots and lots of hot bluegrass. Hitting the ground running, Yonder started with “Troubled Mind” into (and then back out of) a nice surprising “20 Eyes.” Allie took the microphone with her dulcet tones for a “You’re No Good,” the likes of which made all of us feel no good. Hey, it happens right? Let’s please keep giving the mic to that lady…Please? “Nothing But a Breeze” segued into Jason Carter and the McCoury brothers joining in for a long and amazing “No Expectations.” Yonder continued with “Pass This Way” jamming it into a seven minute plus “EMD” and jamming back out into “Pass This Way” to finish up the set with a throw down of a good dancing pick with “Redbird.”

So, Ben Kaufmann had a little something to say to the crowd at the start of second set: “Hey Colorado you’ll never guess what we’re using to power our smoke machine. You all are going to have a groovy set whether you want to or not!” Good times! Man, I do love living in this state. But, I digress. Joining the “Fab Five” of Yonder 2.0 for the second and final set of Kinfolk 2014 were Ronnie and Rob McCoury and Jason Carter. Eight mighty bluegrass musicians gathered together on the Planet Bluegrass stage for one common purpose, to melt our very faces. The groove began low and slow and deep with a mighty “Angel” bleeding into an intense and fast-paced “Robots.” The sheer sonorous majesty and positively frenetic power of the river of sound flowing forth from the instruments throughout this was breath-taking. The assembled eight jammed it back down into “Angel” and then handed the microphone to Jason for a very happy-making rendition of the Dead’s “I Know You Rider.” What’s that? Dance some more? OK, then! Jason and the brothers McCoury took their leave once again and after that, the Yonder five continued on with “Mother’s Only Son,” but not before Ben had a chance to impart this bit of knowledge on us:

“Some of you may have gotten a chance to meet my mom this weekend; she is here. You know, I wrote a song once with the word ‘mom’ in it…'Mother’s Only Son.’ I love you very much, Mom. Here’s a song about me pretending to get shot for having sex with the sheriff’s wife. Oh, maybe I should have thought about this one more thoroughly. I couldn’t have done a nice love song, could I? Hope you like it!”

Out of the mouths of bluegrass bass virtuosi, right? But it is precisely this kind of stuff that makes it KINFOLK. Then we were all treated to a little Pure Prairie League care of Jake Joliff on the vocals for a spot-on “Amie.” Let’s get that man the mic more often, too, no? As if catering to my personal tastes, Vince Herman re-emerged to join for a “Steamboat Whistle Blues” that was pretty damn special. Ben also gave us another personal tale about how Leftover Salmon helped changed his life while he was living in NYC at the time. Ben ended up thanking Vince for inspiring him to quit med school and move to Colorado to be a musician. I guess we all have a lot to thank Vince for on that one! Back came the McCoury brothers with Jason and Cody Kilby to join in with Yonder for “Kentucky Mandolin” into a “Traffic Jam” that collectively clocked in over forty minutes. During “Kentucky Mandolin” Ronnie and Jake launched into a mind-altering dueling mandos building the fire up to a frenzied finish immediately after which Ronnie reached out and gave Jake a monster hug. It was one of those very special moments in music. “Traffic Jam” was a beast, plainly put, and one exquisite way to end the show.

YMSB returned and encored their 2014 Kinfolk Celebration with “Damned If The Right One” and “Southern Flavor,” both of which left me thinking about the entire weekend and the whole concept of “new” versus “old” YMSB or “Yonder 2.0” versus whatever and, truth of the matter is that bands change. Line-ups change. It happened to The Beatles. It happened to Pink Floyd. However, amazing music is possible when amazing musicians make it happen, regardless of change. Are things different without Jeff Austin? Of course, but that is obvious, right? The new and evolving incarnation of the band we have all loved for so long needs a bit more time to develop and the band it doing just that. In the meantime, I suggest we all enjoy the incredible music we’re being offered, remember the old times well, and look to the future with hope and happiness.

Many thanks to the members of Yonder Mountain String Band, their many amazing guests, the Planet Bluegrass staff, and the people and town of Lyons for such a wonderful weekend! Looking forward to the next Kinfolk already!

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