There are musicians who have been on the scene for a long time who make ripples into everybody’s sound waves. Sometimes these artists are famous in different circles than in the mainstream. One band in particular seems to find its way into various niches that require great sounds. That group is the Colorado bluegrass rockers, Yonder Mountain String Band. Almost every radio station or friend I met in high school had their stuff playing in the background. Slowly, they became regulars in my music library and I wanted badly to see them live. Luckily, my chance came this past week when I was invited to come witness their musical sensation in Brooklyn as well as gain some insight from bassist Ben Kaufmann.
Prior to the event, I went for a run in Central Park, in which a torrential downpour began. I was soaked head to toe. Once I got ready for the show, the clouds had departed and the loveliest glowing-orange sunset came bellowing out across the cityscape. As I entered Brooklyn, the sunset was still showcasing its colors along the way while I meandered to the venue. Yonder Mountain String Band was performing at the famous Brooklyn Bowl, which was celebrating its sixth birthday! It did not take long to find the space, as the band’s tour bus was right out front of the entrance.
Yonder Mountain String Band were taking part in their Black Sheep Summer Tour, in promotion for their new album, “Black Sheep.” As Ben shares, “…We have had the privilege of working with some very talented people over the years when making records. ‘Black Sheep’ marks the first time we self-produced. I couldn’t be happier with the results.” They chose the right place to do it too. Brooklyn Bowl is a ginormous warehouse with both bowling alleys and a performance stage included. Imagine the most fun barnyard bowling party you could ever have. The building is right by the water, which makes it even better to visit in the summer.
As I entered, the band was already in the thick of it. With the impressive assortment of a banjo, violin, mandolin, upright bass and an acoustic guitar, these musicians were filled with talent. Yonder Mountain String Band was just jamming all the way. Up on the ceiling there was a net of balloons at the ready right next to a giant disco ball. Viewers could watch the show from the bowling lanes, concert floor or via the jumbotron on the wall. Brooklyn Bowl was filled with tons of fans. Every single person was happily cheering after each song. Yonder Mountain String Band were masters at keeping the flow going throughout the night. Even the bowlers had a video screen in each lane to enjoy the show.
Many of the band’s songs include some singing but mostly endless jamming sessions that were greatly welcomed. Yonder Mountain String Band consists one amazing lady, Allie Kral and four brilliant fellas, Adam Aijala, Dave Johnson, Jake Jolliff and Ben Kaufmann. “The only thing I ever really wanted to do was play music. Specifically, I wanted to be in a touring band and have that provide me with a sustainable income. When we first started playing music together it was just obvious to us all that there was something special happening and, at the very least, we were looking at our best shot at success. The pieces just fell into place,” Ben proudly remarks. The people and pieces definitely worked out for them. I loved watching Allie smiling throughout the whole show; I do not think I have ever seen a more satisfied musician in her element like that before. Then again, each was in their own musical bubble working their magic. Marvelously, all five of the musicians were in tune with one another to provide one incredible sound for the night.
Each musician had their singing moments followed by a powerful instrumental solo/jam. The spotlights shined strikingly on each when they sung. “The ideal performance is one where every single breath I take is a conscious one, literally, every single one. Why? Because that’s enlightenment,” Mr. Kaufmann states. Listeners and viewers could see that enlightenment between all of them. I loved the parts of the show when they all came together as a unit to jam. In their songs I could not get over how divine the violin solos were. They completely captivated me. The musicians all had surprising plucking skills that were astonishing.
Even though it was dark as hell in the space, the band lit everything up beautifully with their psycadelic light show. Fans crowded the plentiful bar space with drinks in hand as they cheered on the powerful banjo licks. People in the back were dancing like crazy and simply having a great time. Throughout the night more and more people kept funneling in to listen. The crowd even began watching from the bowling lanes. Fans were made up of mainly a young group with a handful of hippies in the midst. After a while, the bar filled up pretty quickly.
Probably the most entertaining part of the night was this bearded hippy with a red shirt, sunglasses and baseball cap who was clearly the dancing king of the floor. Tons of people were joining him with ease, as he showed no sign of slowing down. Fans walking past him were immediately grinning with happiness. People even began partaking in the harmonies of the songs as they continued their hippy moshing.
Ben reflects on his future. “I don’t feel a calling toward another artistic medium. At least nothing like the calling to write and perform music. I do have a passing interest [in] film and video but can’t see myself having a career in those fields. At some point, I can see myself enjoying producing albums for other musicians and bands … For now very nearly all of my time is taken up with [Yonder Mountain String Band].” As the night came to a close, the birthday balloons fell after Yonder Mountain String Band sang Happy Birthday to Brooklyn Bowl, of which everyone joined. It was a perfect summer evening with excellent music. If you are curious about the tunes, listen to their new album and catch the crew as the play Red Rocks in August. I think you will be deeply satisfied.