Bluegrass music is one genre which sends a sense of goodness into the souls of those who embrace it. Over the weekend of Harvest Festival there was a lot of good that was spread. Located in the homely state of Arkansas, tucked away on Mulberry Mountain strings took over the echoes for Yonder Mountain String Band's festival. The band scooped up some friends and brought their instruments and invited people to come and party. Sponsored by Boulevard Beers and Greenhouse Grills out of Fayetteville, Arkansas the hospitality of this beautiful state shinned throughout the weekend. Mulberry Mountain is open year round, offering many activities and sights to see on top of the music. Camping, hiking, ATV trails and wildlife watching all included. The festival provided extracurriculars such as morning cartoons, yoga meditation, joy of poi, hoop lessons, open jams, tye dying and late night movies. This festival brought out more of a family gathering, from babies to the elderly enjoyment was found by all. Children were entertained throughout the day with planned activities. There was even a disc golf course on site which created opportunity to get in a round or two before falls end. All the activities mixed with the music made the weekend an escape. The dramatic changing fall colors created the perfect scenery to enjoy the string plucking jams which were made.
The weekend kicked off Wednesday when the gates opened up on the mountain. The first attendees began to trickle in. Music did not start until later in the afternoon. There was plenty to occupy your time with on the mountain though. Taking a moment to appreciate the environment which surrounded this festival was one of the most positive attributes. Hiking the mountain trail attached to the festival grounds or just enjoying the scenery filled up the afternoon. Later in the evening the pre party kicked off. The high spirits of the weekend lifted with the music. The trio, Ben Miller Band thumped away with their traditional bluegrass and folk ways. Different versions of musical chairs seemed to occur on stage, swapping instruments played. During their set a toast to the mountain was ordered raging on the first night. This twangy band had originality in their sound. Quite entertaining to the crowd who made it out to the mountain early. Also playing pre party Wednesday was the band White Water Ramble. The first night on the mountain was kindling for the mass bluegrass party.
Thursday October 14th
As the car loads of people continued trickling in on Thursday the anticipation for the music to start was in the air. Dirtfoot set in motion the yee-haw factor for the day by bringing their southern folk flare. Instruments included the usual bluegrass strings along with bluesy saxophone addition. The early afternoon crowd jumped around, some carrying tin cans which were created into homemade maracas. Dirtfoot certainly proved to be a one of a kind band with a unique crowd who enjoyed the early afternoon set. Comedic lyrics as well as a bit of beat boxing and yodeling all wrapped in there. As the set concluded the good cheer within the crowd was heard by,”Happy Harvest,” said while many passed.
While the afternoon sun beamed down Mountain Sprout took to the stage. This band bumped out tunes with an entangled twang, comical lyrics and a fast tempo made dancing easy. They represented performing in their home state of Arkansas for this festival. Their set highlighted the lax atmosphere which is felt within the bluegrass family present. The band in between strums commented on the elevation and beauty which surrounded. Mountain Sprout strummed through their set performing solid originals such as, “Screw the Government.” This band's laid back attitude and intensely powerful instrumental use made for a delight on first afternoon.
The next set on the main stage was the growing favorite bluegrass band from Chicago, Cornmeal. This band knows how to get a crowd going. With intense string jams infused with powerful moving lyrics and uplifting choruses. This band was the perfect pick right before sun down. The energy was as high as the elevation. The audience who consistently stomped up the dust throughout the bands time on stage. Smiles cemented onto the bands faces as those grins were reflected straight back by the attendees. The set flew by with songs such as “River Gap,” a song which bursts fast paced movements. Near the end of the set a treat was in store. Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth stepped out on stage for a fiddle duel. As the strings on stage cooled down the energy and excitement for more music was lifted. Cornmeal who left the crowd hanging for more stepped off stage as the music still lingered in the air.
Martin Sexton jumped into his set with his soulful voice full and flowing with the addition of the acoustic sounds of the guitar. This artists name proved to go along with his vocals perfectly, smooth and sexy. The set was calming and mellow in the early evening as the last sunlight sank away from the day. Sexton's narrative lyrics with relation to his life; such as the tune sung on how his wife and him met. The smooth consistency in his playing combined with moments of fast progression kept the crowd swaying. Melodies traveled from this musician were very loose and laid back. They went well with the moon entering into the sky. Martin Sexton put on a jolly one man show. The spirit of the audience was felt as attendees yelled, “Marty we love you.” Sexton's graciousness was highlighted in the performance as he concluded the set.
Performing in the Nomadic Dreams tent, Tryannosaurus Chicken brought back a classic feeling of bluegrass. The band is impressively age diversified. A single female member belted out a powerful addition vocally besides the male members. This band sincerity in their music brought out a joyful act. Unique instruments and musical skills, including a gazoo solo! This bands name has a draw just as well as the music. Entertaining and talented, a small band with large skill. They were a great set to see in between the main stage acts.
Next to hit the main stage spotlight was Brett Dennen. The American musician coming from California sent a tropical flow over the fall air with the loose beat in his music. The stage was glowing with Dennen's beautiful vocals which sent chills down your spin. A harmonious set well in tuned with the backing instrumentals as well as a dash of pop music at this bluegrass bash. Lyrics sent insightful and moving messages such as, “Its the life that you make, don't be afraid of the hands you play.” This musician was a unique delight to have on the lineup and got the crowd swaying for the next set.
The highly anticipated bluegrass band Railroad Earth lite up the evening right as the stars began to beam a bit brighter. Kicking the set off with an uplifting intro into the tune“Saddle of the Sun.” Straight from the get go the audience was revved up. This band has such a sweet yet rocking way of busting out the bluegrass music they create. The music seems closely connected to the environment, especially with the mountain tops that surrounded. Todd Sheaffer on lead vocals and acoustic guitar presents his voice with trust and nobility. As the set drifted into a strong version of “Head,” the captivated audience members never ceased to dance. The song drifted into a powerful jam, instruments relaying off one another, then the clincher straight back into “Head.” This band has a way of flowing you away from all your worries and encompassing only their music around you. Playing original songs such as “Mighty River,” “Like a Buddha,” and “Bird in a House.” The set was sensational and gripping till their time on stage was near end. With the release of the bands new self titled album in late October, the set at Harvest Fest was a comfortable mixture of classic favorites while promoting new songs. A new song named, “The Jupiter and the 119” was the last song played in Railroads set, it bought a lot of excitement for their new album. As the band drifted back stage, the night of music raged into the late night sets.
Late night began with a bang as Split Lip Rayfield jumped on to the stage and asked everyone to jump along with them. Talk about high energy with music, this band has it. These musicians had a steady stream of blues music mixed with string melodies. The up build with crazy additions of sound and wacky vocals was perfect for the late string rage. Later on as the night came to a close, Poor Mans Whiskey came to the stage. The evening grew a chill but warmth came with knowing another day of bluegrass was a few hours away.
Friday October 15th
Awakening on the second day of the festival brought a lot of anticipation for the musical moments which were made. In the morning there was a lot of thrill as Yonder Mountain String Band started the day off with a sound check including breakfast. Playing a few songs then letting people enjoy a solid meal was quite the treat. The bands began at noon with Big Smith and continued throughout the day with masterly bluegrass talents.
While enjoying the glorious fall weather and the crisp mountain air, the music topped everything. Playing traditional, deep folk tunes the Traveling McCoury's performed an incredible set. Automatically the close knit attitude was felt with this band. Several of the members of the band are kin to the bluegrass musician Del McCoury. Rob McCoury on the Banjo embraced the others he shared the stage with. The band stood in unison on stage with their strings and a high level of appreciation. These gentleman were literally “shuck'in the chords,” belting out deep country vocals. All in all this strong and entertaining band created a set that swung by only to entice attendants for the continuation of music.
On the backwoods stage, YMSB's guitarists, Adam Aijala along side Larry Keel created an entertaining mix of talent. The duo was an interesting and thrilling combination of instrumental use. Covering several songs from Yonder Mountain String Band, including “Bloody Mary Morning.” These fellas made the afternoon that much sweeter, much more music was still in the forecast.
Split Lip Rayfield hit the Main Stage to start off the evening sets. Playing their second time, the fast bluegrass progression this band puts forth is fascinating and deeply entertaining. With a tease of having Jeff Austin from Yonder step in the night was off to a terrific start with this set coming to a close.
One of the most highly anticipated sets of the festival was Leftover Salmon. The powerful instrumental skills of Drew Emmitt and and Vince Herman. The band set the music for sunset with their rock infused bluegrass. Opening with a welcomed song about the beautiful location, Mulberry Mountain. Hysterical lyrics firing up the audience, “Gunna party, you bring the whiskey, Ill bring the beer.” The Colorado band certainly knows how to embrace the mountain spirit in their music. Speaking with graciousness for their return to Harvest Festival, the band indulged the attendees with a vast diversity of genres created with strings. There was a sense of electric, bluesy, funk flare mixed with traditional bluegrass elements. During the set it was fascinating to see the assortment of music wrapped into this Friday night dance party. There were numerous collaborations with other band's members, Larry Keel graced the stage with his presence mid set. Songs included in their time on stage were “Fighting the Fire Line,” a song commenting on the struggles with wildfires in their home state of Colorado. Other songs were,” Down in the Hallow” and the band even threw in a Rolling Stones cover. The conclusion of their set was intense and powerful. Each instrument was heard precise and clear, none was dimmed or withdrawn. Thanking Yonder Mountain String Band for the party during the encore, Adam, Jeff and Dave came out to join. Captivating guitar rifts and soulful blues music heightened the boogie factor. Yonder Mountain Salmon Band closed out the amazing set while stimulating the attendees for YMSB set next.
The headliners of this gathering took stage next for two sets of knee slapping hysteria. Illuminating the mountain valley with the first chords the crowd began to sway. Performing popular songs right from the get go including, “No Expectations,” “Blue Collar Blues,” into “Pockets.” The performance seamed to expand with the comical banters of mandolin player, Jeff Austin. This band is so vibrant due to the personality they add to the music. Playing tunes that seemed to fit perfectly to the tone of the entire evening, “Half Moon Rising,” made the moon over the mountains that much better. Covers performed with a bluegrass twang was perfected such as, “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Heading straight from the catching cover into “Ramblin' in the Rambler.” Yonder creates bluegrass music which took the audience to a consistent dance party, the perfect weekend release. The set flourished with, “My Gal,” followed by a reprise of, “Rambler.” The set had many surprises and dashes of extra excitement. Crowd pleaser's were thrown out during the entire time on the stage. As the first set came to a close, an intensely jamming “Kentucky Mandolin,” followed by “East Nashville Easter.” As the set ended the questions of what would follow in their next set came to mind.
Returning to the stage, the enthusiasm in the crowd for the music was very powerful. The relaxed yet appreciative attitude was felt from the band as the intro began. The song “Ten,” was played straight off. The set flowed into “Years with Rose,” going back into,”Ten.” Building up within the set, the songs were each moving to the audience. Songs included in the second set were favorites such as, “Man of Sorrow,” “Finally Saw the Light” as well as “Angel.” An ace thrown into the set was the song, “Two Hits and the Joint Turned Brown.” Comical lyrics with a catchy rhythm lit up the crowd. As the set moved forward, Yonder began to show appreciation to the band Leftover Salmon for they were credited for several members migration to Colorado. Once said, Leftover Salmon joined the stage for a Dead cover, “New Speedway Boogie.” It was a treat to see these talents collaborate on the stage to sum up a phenomenal set of songs. Concluding with, “If You're Ever in Oklahoma,” along with a hopping song,”Boatman's Dance.” They left the stage, only to return for round two Saturday night. The bluegrass of the evening was nowhere near the end as the late night performances began.
Succeeding automatically in the Harvest Tent was a Cornmeal late night performance. One truly captivating aspect to this band is the way they deliver during late night appearances. They know how to truly jam and combine popular songs of the band while showing off their impressive instrumental skills. All you could do is dance, it was perfect to stand under the stars, or under the tent with the lights highlighting the tone of the strings. Quoting band member, Wavy Dave Burlingame, “Its so nice to be here, so many faces smiling again.” It was nice to be there, especially for the conclusion of their set as Allie Kral belted out a country twang conclusion. The evening drifted on as Dirftfoot took to the late late night, only to energize the attendees for the final day.
Saturday October 16th
By the time Saturday rolled around spirits were high and attendees dove into the music on the last day. Oakhurst came out kicking off the music on the main stage. The Denver based band filled their set with a homely bluegrass vibe. It was a fabulous way to begin the day especially due to the addition of a comical song about eggs on your face. They added a unique flare covering the Wilco song, “Handshake Drugs.” Spreading positivity in their lyrics, the main message was adored by this band when commenting on our social responsibility to take care of mother earth and clean up after ourselves. The last day of music on the mountain was sunny and off to a dreamlike start with a clear blue sky and wisps of white clouds over the landscape.
A countrified thrill added to the line up was the Infamous Stringbusters. They appeared very intimate on the stage as they began their set. The instrumental use was rapid and stunning. The progression of each movement created a flowing performance. Emphasizing their appreciation and love for festivals also how they were grateful to be surrounded by such outstanding musicians. A feature to the set was the cover of the song, “Deep Elm Blues.” This set drew attention to the various ways bluegrass can thrill.
The Nomadic Dream Village was a very intriguing aspect to the festival. The artwork of the tent structure along with the activities and music held there made this location a hit. When the Sarah Hughes Band took to the stage mid- afternoon the small stage light up. Calming instrumentals and vocals came from the saxophonist and her band. The set included funky jams and a shaded environment. The afternoon was continuing as the attendees embraced the last day at the fest.
As the day was taken in, Emmitt Nershi Band came out to make it that much better. The strings were plucked in such a hypnotizing way by the gentlemen on stage. Creating a country, bluegrass sound with impressive use of their instruments. Beautiful echoing vocals blended with the environment. It was a great place to be on a Saturday afternoon, the band agreed. Playing songs spur of the moment, no set list was needed. A moving number called “Flight of the Durbin” was performed early in the set followed closely by a tune which was written by Bill Nershi's wife. During the set there were many other band's members who joined on stage, including a member of the Infamous Stringbusters on the slide guitar. The band was very descriptive on the numbers they performed. Such as the song which was written with a friend, Benny Galliway called “Midnight Moonlight.” Dedicated to those who raged passed four in the morning the night before they played, “The Road of Destruction.” It was a very realistic and comical with the lyrics. The silly banters and intensifying set of music had a lot of hysterical and impressive moments but the climax the the set was the String Cheese Incident cover of, “My Brain is like a Jellyfish.” As the set diminished the band had to take a moment to thank the fire fighters from Colorado who worked so hard to save many towns from destruction. This band brought a bit of the Colorado love to the mountainside. The sun began to set on the final day as more music and surprises were in store.
The night was accelerating musically as Keller and the Keels came out to join in on the fun. Opening with “Freaker by the Speaker,” a song by Keller which sounded phenomenal with the Larry and Jenny Keel. Confetti was literally flying for this set. “Good Hearted Woman,” was played which is a breathtaking song lyrically and instrumentally. Continuing the the collaborating theme of the weekend, Jeff and Ben of YMSB came out for a few numbers as well as Sam Bush on the Mandolin. The trio also covered a McCoury song showing respect to the tune. Keller wearing a beaming smile the whole time. It was hard not to grin though as songs like, “Porta Potty,” were added. A very unique and well put together choice of jams. Including a psychedelic version of a Ben Harper tune. As the treat of seeing these three amazing musicians came near an end there was no other way to end it than having Keller bust out the bongos and close it out. It was a jaw dropping performance which intensified the want for more sting music.
It was like a dream to think of seeing Yonder Mountain String Band play two sets, two nights in a row. Yet this was a dream come true as the set began with a welcomed version of ,”Free To Run.” The set had fabulous songs from start to end. Keller Williams came out to rock a bit more. So many good numbers, “Aint Been Myself in Years,””River” and “Cuckoo's Nest.” The energy and animation in this band is a performance on its own. Each song that began was such a delight, the crowd was moving and shaking. Sweet vocals along with the fire in each sting played were reason alone to make you hooked on this band's live shows. The set closed with,”New Horizon's” into a jam infused string cover of the Beatles, “Come Together.” Then they shot straight back into, “New Horizon's.” It was a thrill to experience the beginning of this bands time on the stage, it was even better to see what they had in store for their final at this years Harvest Festival.
Activating a dance party once more with the start of their propelling string use, YMSB stepped out. A jam filled intro into a fitting tune about the state which many audience members must have been in, “Peace of Mind.” The set lifted in the furry of bluegrass music and comical banters from the members on the stage. These fella's know how to make their performances feel very intimate and inclusive with made the music more positive. Gliding through the set with songs including, “Rag Doll,” “Another Day” and “Polly Put the Kettle On.” Grabbing the attendees attention one last set was a success as the set marked a close with,”Snow in the Pines, “ into “Raleigh and Spencer.” Welcoming a wave of applause for an encore, the band show their gratitude for everyone who could make the mountaintop shindig. Closing out their performance for the weekend with, “Rain Still Falls,” and “Casualty. “ The glow from this band drifted into the night as the music continued into the late night tents.
The last evening of music had a few more twists. As Big Smith took the stage once more to delight the last night ragers. Afterwards Mountain Sprout played busting out some solid bluegrass melodies reminding all of those there to dance till the break of dawn.
In the morning the flood of attendants packed up and moved off their mountainside getaway. All the moments that were created over the weekend were certainly celebrated as good bye's were said to old friends and new. Though the weekend whisked by, the moments and memories created brought a high level of anticipation for the next bluegrass party at Mulberry.