Yonder Mountain String Band & The Railsplitters 12.30.16

Boulder Theater
Boulder, CO

Words, Photos & Video By Coleman Schwartz Media

Yonder Mountain String Band continued a great tradition of ringing in the New Year at the Boulder Theater with a two-night run this year. As I selected from a vast array of great bands (STS9, String Cheese Incident, El Ten Eleven and more) in the region, it was clear to me that I had to include some Bluegrass in my weekend. This decision, spurred on by my sublime experience at this summer’s Northwest String Summit, led me down the road 40 miles from Denver to the sleepy streets of Boulder on the night before New Year’s Eve.

I arrived early to catch local support act The Railsplitters, whom I had not yet seen. This quintet plays an eclectic mix of Bluegrass and Americana music that is very easy on the ears. I found them to be well-rounded, with strong songwriting meeting great instrumental and vocal execution. I wish they would spend a bit more of the set just jamming and pickin’ with each other, but what I did see was plenty to get me super excited for what I knew I could expect from Yonder once they took over the stage.

Sure enough, Yonder came out guns-a-blazing with “Rambler’s Anthem” and mandolinist Jacob Jolliff immediately established himself with some thick, syncopated chops as he backed up bandmate Adam Aijala’s flatpicked guitar solo. The musicianship was through the roof as they moved forward into the explosive instrumental “Kentucky Mandolin.” Jolliff’s tone was a consistent highlight on this track, he gets closer to nailing the sounds you’d expect from Hendrix or Gilmore on the mandolin than anybody else I can think of right now. He has a special level of mastery of his instrument that is transfixing to watch.

After a slower middle section to the first set, fiddle player Allie Kral took over the spotlight for an epic cover of Del McCoury’s “All Aboard.” Kral really made this tune her own and put a soulful spin on it with her powerful vocals. I love to see bands pick covers that play to their strengths, and this one struck me as a particularly smart pick for the band. They earned bonus points for sandwiching the Benny "Burle" Galloway tune “Not Far Away” inside of it before returning to let Kral bring the house down with the final verse of “All Aboard.”

The second set was filled with crazy cover bustouts and The Railsplitters sit-ins, with plenty of slick electric bass playing from Ben Kaufmann, but I was surprised to find that my favorite part of the set was the pair of songs from their most recent album, Black Sheep. “Love Before You Can’t” has a really fun riff and the neatest dissonance to the mandolin solo, and “Landfall” is probably my favorite composition I’ve heard out of the band with their current lineup. It took these songs awhile to grow on me to this point, but I can definitely say I love them now after seeing how excited I was to hear them live.

They closed the set with a cover of the obscure, George Harrison-penned Beatles number “Only A Northern Song,” with their old-school original “Sidewalk Stars” sandwiched in the middle. Upon hearing the first notes to “Sidewalk Stars,” I let out a loud scream, grateful for a chance to see one of the songs that helped me to fall for this band a back in 2012. This psychedelic tune never disappoints!

After a crowd-pleasing encore of “Dancing in the Moonlight” and “Idaho,” the band took a second to bask in the love of their hometown crowd and let them know how much they would like to see them again tomorrow to ring in the New Year. I already had big plans with STS9 in Denver, but I think I could also have been quite happy to stay for another night with Yonder. It was wonderful to spend the musical holiday in a spot with so many great options!

Yonder has been through a lot and they are definitely putting out a different live product these days than they have in the past. The addition of two virtuosos to the preexisting and rock-solid core of band members and songs has produced a whole new monster, which has now had time to gel and adjust to life on the road. Things are more old-timey now, but the band’s efforts have been refocused on their musicianship and communication. Many veteran fans are still recovering from and pining after what they lost, but you have to put aside your expectations and show these five freakish talents the respect they deserve. They are doing something very different than they used to, but that does not mean the quality has dropped off by any means. This Boulder performance served as great validation for me that the band is firing on all cylinders and I can’t wait to hear what they have in store for us in 2017.

Coleman's Photo Gallery


Set One: Rambler’s Anthem, Kentucky Mandolin, Left Me In A Hole, Troubled Mind, Winds On Fire, Bad Taste, I’m Holding You, All Aboard > Not Far Away > All Aboard

Set Two: Finally Saw The Light, Girlfriend Is Better*, Eat In Go Deaf Eat Out Go Broke, Chasing My Tail, Rolling In My Sweet Baby’s Arms^, Richard Smoker, Love Before You Can’t, Landfall, Take A Chance On Me, Only A Northern Song > Sidewalk Stars > Only A Northern Song

Encore: Dancing In The Moonlight, Idaho

* with Dusty Rider (The Railsplitters) on banjo
^ with Lauren Stovall (The Railsplitters) on vocals


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