Photos and words by Natalia Samman
Quick! Think of your top five favorite things: if bluegrass, dancing, beaches, moonlight, and adorable fiddle players aren’t on that list, then we probably aren’t friends, and you’re probably on the wrong website. If they were on the list, then the bluegrass get-down falling coincidentally on the rare “Supermoon” last Saturday night was heaven on earth. On Saturday, July 12th, 2014 Railroad Earth and Yonder Mountain String Band with Allie Kral rocked the final night of their nearly three week tour in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.
The Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom is a historic site whose rustic wooden beams and floorboards have vibrated with the chords of such legends as Led Zepplin, B.B. King, Janis Joplin, and Phish. Through the open doors, one could see beyond the boardwalk to the ocean waves and the epic Supermoon glowing luminously above it all.
Railroad kicked it off with Cold Water and immediately every body in the house was grooving. It was clear it was going to be a fun night. As vibrant blues and reds beamed out onto the audience, Tim Carbone, hair flying. fell into silhouette, and the audience was spellbound by his bow scraping across the fiddle strings at speeds previously only reached by the Lamborghini or the Devil himself. As usual, a stunning light display set the mood without being distracting or over the top.
Todd Sheaffer’s hand was steady at the helm of Railroad Earth as they took the audience spinning through outer space during improvisational jams. Although one set is never enough, RRE once again amazed us with a packed-performance. This band excels in their ability to bend the laws of “bluegrass”. From the spacey, downtempo “Long Walk Home” to the funky “Mighty River” to the traditional stompgrass of “Happy Song”, RRE demonstrates remarkable creative versatility and musical prowess.
To address the question on everyone’s mind, Is Yonder still Yonder without Jeff Austin? I’ll say this: while Yonder’s frenzied, derailed-locomotive-stacked-with-dynamite, rock and roll energy that Austin embodied may not quite be there, the talents of Kaufmann, Aijala, and Johnston, combined with top notch technique coming from guest mandolin Jake Joliff and sheer star power of Ms Kral, has easily wiped memories and will leave audiences saying, “Jeff who?”
Yonder was on point from the get go, opening with a hearty “Rambler’s Anthem”. The raw, honest vocals by guitarist Adam Aijala in tunes like “Idaho” and whiskey-fire picking on tunes like “Landfall” from guest Jake Joliff on mandolin left the entire audience with nothing left to do but smile, smile, smile. Several covers like “Amie” and “You’re No Good” made for rousing sing-alongs, culminating with the encore’s “Second That Emotion”. The Smokey Robinson cover united the entire room, as the crowd boisterously chorused along, “if you feel like loving me, if you’ve got that notion, I second that emotion!”
The highlight of the evening may have been Allie Kral’s absolutely soul-shaking rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”. From the haunting call of her opening violin solo to the powerful, soulful pipes nailing every note, it was nothing short of a brilliant performance. As the stage fell to darkness in the final decrescendo and the smoky haze settled, the crowd paused, stunned, before erupting with cheers. The performance included fan favorites like “Black Sheep”, “Little Lover” and even “Game of Thrones”. Second set closed out with a whimsical “On the Run” for the sweaty, beaming crowd.
Just when you thought you’d maybe get a second to catch your breath, ten musicians came filing back on stage with a whole lot of strings. The “Yonder Railroad Mountain String Incident” jammed out to Second That Emotion, Whitehouse Blues, and Ooh La La. A three-song encore gave each musician time in the spotlight for some kickass solos (even if it meant that Ben Kaufmann (Yonder) and Andrew Altman (Railroad) had to take turns sharing Kaufman’s stand-up bass.
Yonder thanked Allie and Railroad for a great tour, saying how much fun they’ve had: “We finish up the show and the instruments don’t even get put away, we just head to the bus and keep on pickin’. It’s made for some late nights into early mornings.” If only they could stay on stage instead of heading back to the bus!
Photos and words by Natalia Samman