Yonder Mountain String Band last played the famed Mishawaka in 2003. So much has happened in the life and progression of this band in the intervening years, the most obvious and monumental being the loss and subsequent passing of founding member Jeff Austin. One of Jeff’s final performances would take place at The Mish a mere 17 days before his death. The hills have a memory and that old river runs deep. The history and smell of the Poudre rushing by dominate the senses as you enter. The picturesque stage sits like a sturdy log cabin on the banks as the water flows making its own song. This venue is special. With a capacity of just 800 every show is intimate and every show is significant. While Red Rocks has developed into a 160 show season, The Mish still mainly keeps it to the weekends. You have to want to get there to be there. They have a fantastic deck and some killer VIP viewing areas in addition to several bars and a full menu. In short they have everything you need including some killer music.
Doors opened at 6:00 and The Sweet Lillies hit it promptly at 8 PM with an intoxicatingly tight version of DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat.” Their set contained a hip hop theme as they continued with a rousing rendition of Run DMC’s “It’s Tricky.” Dustin Rohleder took the vocals on their original track “Blood On My Hands,” which is the single off their new album Common Ground. Kyle Tuttle offered his banjo for a ridiculous take on Cypress Hill’s “Insane In the Membrane.” The Sweet Lillies have had some changes in their lineup over the years but they finally seem poised for much bigger things.
The veritable bluegrass super grass known os Tuttle, Pool & Gruel were up next. They honored the birthday of Mr. Jerome Garcia by opening up with a twangtastic “Dire Wolf.” “Rubber Love” is the story of a Covid era tryst and the precautions one takes when engaging in such activities. This band has a wide range for a trio with the ability to go from delicate to rowdy. In short they make beautiful music together. The setlist was a mix of covers and songs off their freshly dropped album, Cosmic Nudge. This band is ready for the late night stage on the festival circuit now. I think they could do all right if they can just work out a schedule. We were treated to unique versions of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of The Edmund Fitzgerald” and “Franklin’s Tower” to round out a solid set.
When Andy Thorn joined Leftover Salmon he brought a new and vibrant vitality to an old band. Subsequently there was a definite and positive shift in their musical output. The entire band got better as they coalesced around Andy’s banjo. I feel like we are witnessing a similar rebirth with Yonder Mountain String Band and the addition of Floodwood’s Nick Piccininni. The man is a ball of energy and limitless talent. He’s a multi-instrumentalist who’s main focus as a professional has been the banjo but he can play fiddle, mandolin and guitar as well. He adds an incredible range to Yonder’s and their already expansive repertoire. Did I mention he sings?
Musically Yonder seems to be a band anew. They opened with “Hill Country Girl” before blasting off with their now classic number “Left Me in a Hole.” The dynamic is more fluid with each band member communicating and shredding throughout the show. After a rendition of Flatt and Scruggs’ “Polka on a Banjo” we were treated to a very appropriate “River.” Yonder continued the Jerry Celebration by inviting up Adam Gruel on “I Know You Rider.” Prior to “Jolene” Adam Aijala “plugged in” by switching to a different amp setup and literally electrifying the crowd. Allie’s vocals on “Jolene” were spot on for the Dolly favorite. “Idaho” featured some impeccable harmonization from the group. Ben Kaufmann took over vocal duties on the Dillard-Hartford-Dillard classic “Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown.” Kyle Tuttle and Jared Pool appeared on the stage and the band dedicated “Steep Grades, Sharp Curves” to the memory Jeff. Yonder ended their set with a pair of covers that included “Shakedown Street” and Waylon Jennings’ “Good Hearted Woman.”