Why, hello there! I figure you are poking around looking for something different and interesting to read, which makes me wonder why in the heck you stopped at BRP? Well, as long as you are here, I’ll try to entertain you for a bit. Good luck with that, right?
As you know, I occasionally will drift away from traditional rock and go see bands that exemplify a much different type of musical genre. That was the case last Saturday at the Ardmore Music Hall when Yonder Mountain String Band blew into town. Do you know this outfit? They are a modern day “newgrass” band, playing bluegrass with a modern riff, sort of like alt-country except using the bluegrass musical form as their base.
You might remember that I grew up in Virginia and attended college (oops, VT, which is sort of like college without all the smart people) in the Appalachians. Bluegrass is still a part of the fabric of life in non-Northern Virginia, and the closer you get to Tennessee, the more you’re likely to hear it. It’s not the only mountain tradition still thriving as the moonshiners in Franklin County can attest, but it’s legal and less risky to partake in bluegrass than it is in backyard Apple Jack. Anyway, bluegrass has its traditions in Irish and English music, and developed further with the blues and other African musical influences. Put all of that into the hollers of the Appalachians, let it brew and stew for generations, and voila!, you get newgrass.
OK, here are a couple of things to note about bluegrass. First, it ain’t all Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt, and if you don’t venture beyond those two guys, you will miss a lot. Nonetheless, they are a good place to start. Second, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys gave its name to the music, and they also defined the style: mandolin, banjo, fiddle, bass, and guitar are the primary elements. Finally, the music is high spirited and a “breakdown” is the name for much of what happens during live shows: each instrumentalist takes a turn playing the melody and improvising, while the others accompany, much like jazz performances. It’s country jam band stuff with banjos.
Enough of the roots. Just let it be said that this is Americana hillbilly music of the best sort, and like my dad’s Thanksgiving turkey stuffing, your love for it is born into you in the southern Appalachians and everyone else struggles to understand what all the fuss is about. I always liked it, and here’s a damn good reason why:
Holy crap, how good is that! If that doesn't make you want to jump up and dance like a crazy person, you need a defibrillator. And what a musical cast! So dance around like this guy in one of the best hillbilly movies ever made:
Let me just clarify that Ned Beatty wasn't at AMH on Saturday.
Your history lesson now completed, let me tell you about Yonder Mountain and try to enlighten you to the experience of seeing them live. I will start by saying that each of the musicians was absolutely top flight. Their riffs were tight, up-tempo, and difficult to play. The guy on the mandolin, in particular, was just spectacular. The accompanying musicians carried on as if they knew exactly what their jamming compatriot was going to do, but also as if they were hearing it for the first time and enjoying it themselves. It was probably a combination of both.
Who is Yonder Mountain? I’m glad you asked. They are Dave Johnston, Ben Kaufmann, Adam Aijala, Allie Kral, and Jacob Joliff, and the band has five studio albums out. Want to know more? Here’s a link to their website:
And finally, their songs were long – I’m thinking about 10 minutes each – which I thought was interesting but which bored my friends/fellow concert goers. Of course, I was right in my firmly held belief that they were interesting and the others were, well, wrong, but I could see how some of the tunes could have been tightened up a bit.
Then again, this was no Phish or Dead concert. They played a number of songs, and it wasn’t the experience of having a slow tune of 20 minutes thrown into the mix with lengthy solos so that the others could take some time off to take a toke. No sir. These tunes moved along briskly, and if the others were just accompanying, well, that required some effort. Toe tapping was the mode of the evening.
I will say that the song selection was interesting. They played a bunch of their own tunes, but also some covers, like America’s Sister Golden Hair (done at warp speed, thank god) and King Harvest’s Dancing In The Moonlight (a true BRP favorite). There were some other covers thrown in where I knew the song but not the title/artist, so apologies all around for that. I will say that I’m not a very big fan of the band America (as pretentious a band name as could ever be found) even though one of its members went to VT.
I can’t leave without mentioning the opener, a dude named Brad Parsons. He played with a band called Starbird, and we all liked them. Alt-country and rock all the way, but some country bro’ music thrown in, too. He’s from Portland but would be right at home in Nashville. Check ‘em out if you get the chance. Here's a couple of pictures, and yes, he looks like every scruffy millennial with that beard:
Up next, I’m doing the rock ‘n’ roll road trip down to DC’s new Anthem club. I’ll fill you in later on the band that has me driving a couple of hours, but suffice to say, I’m looking forward to being in a new venue and getting back to seeing some rock. And then, of course, I’ll chill at home for Thanksgiving before hitting the road again the following week to see one of rock’s biggest stars. Are you keeping up? Life’s for living, as the great band the Lovin’ Spoonful told us.
Did you listen to Rolling Blackouts, Flasher or Caroline Rose? Great, right? You know I’ll never steer you wrong, and if I do, the blame’s on you not me, ok? I remember telling people that there were no bad records in my massive collection, but there were people who listened to those records who didn’t appreciate good music. Hahaha, what a pretentious Mr. Insufferable I’ve become! Thanks for reading and I hope you have a good one. Ya’ll come back soon now, y’hear!?!
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.