Going to the rolling foothills of the Arkansas countryside is a thrill on its own, even more so when there is bluegrass involve. Yonder Mountain String Band carries on the tradition of collecting their string loving friends for a weekend of knee slapping. Colorful hillside the view from the mountaintop was the backdrop for the entire weekend as the attendees filed in by the carloads for the highly anticipated fall festival. Gusty winds kicked off the weekend blowing in excitement for the music to begin. With headlining bands such as Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth, Bela Fleck, along countless more memorable appearances and collaborations. With yoga sessions and workshops with a mountainside view, there was more than just a dance that made the weekend. Recycling and garbage programs which created an environmentally friendly weekend. The amenities to Mulberry Mountain included a general store on site, vendors, shower houses, beautiful land to enjoy scenic views which were a package deal on top of the music. Music workshops were held along with question and answer sessions with some of the performing artists. This year also introduced the first annual, Fiddlin' and Pickin' contest. This gathering highlighted the family feel of the south with a child friendly festival including a whole area dedicated to the youngsters. The children's area included tumbling and dance lessons; with Quixotic fusion School of Performing Arts, face painting, art projects and more. Recreational activities including hiking, fishing, canoeing also an onsite disc golf course appeased outdoor enthusiasts looking to combine these passions with their love of music. Bands shaking the hills and a crowd enthused for the weekend began a stomping start to this bluegrass bonanza.
Thursday October 13th 2011 Literally blowing in the attendees with the crazy whipping wind the weekend was off to an unforgettable start. With the unique sounds of the Ben Miller Band hit the stage to kick off the Main Stage music. This band, from Joplin Missouri, mentioned the horrific tornado that just ravaged the area. This was a reminder of the intense weather that has blown in the area. Hyping up the crowd by saying, “We need some brass in this grass,” these guys kicked it up a notch. Washboard bass adding unique twang to the music. The most fascinating draw to this band was the variety of instrumentals used to create music that made you stomp. Their set included a cover of “What’s going on,” along with a version of, “Black Betty.”
The afternoon progressed with music erupting from all four stage areas of the festival. Mountain Sprout busting out the string movements on the main stage. Followed by Matthew and the Atbus, traveling all the way from Europe. Their down tempo mellow afternoon mood music was perfect to break in the day. A swaying crowd moved to the flowing sets of music. Corey Smith came out on stage with his soft rock infused string music. This artist showed his country boy combined with bluegrass talents. Sweet vocals blended with the instrumental talents coming from Georgia to be at Mulberry Mountain for this festival. A proud redneck singer and songwriter, expressing this by performing a song, ”Redneck in Me.” Music just kept flowing throughout the day as the first day was drifting by.
A blanket of fall colors and wisps of clouds closed out the first day transforming into evening. A picture perfect sunset was the sweetest treat as the night Progressed, Todd Snider took to the stage followed by an anticipated performance from Railroad Earth. Opening with guest appearance by Railroad Earth's Violin player; YMSB's Ben and Jeff and Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon and Great American Taxi. Lyrics smooth and fluid to an audience who grasped onto every chord and vocal. Banters of the 15 years Snider has been traveling around the country playing his music for whoever will listen. Silly lyrics and comments kept a crow hooked, “free your mind and your ass will flow.” Covers including a personalized touch were performed. Roars of applause and gratitude from the band to the audience members. Vocals linked the attendees to activities the crowd spent the whole weekend doing; having fun. A very powerful set was just the opening to the evening and the whole weekend.
Yonder Mountain String Band took to the stage for a hyped up bluegrass bash. The energy just flows from this Quartet. With a deafening applause the audience was anxious for this bands first set of the weekend would entail. The set began with “Cuckoo's Nest”, flowing through the first set with, “Dawn's Early Light,” into “Angel.” With silly banters and sounds vibrating the hills combined with the light of the stage competing only with the stars above. The set was what makes this festival such a powerful gathering. Guest appearances by Todd Snider on Guitar and Vince Herman on vocals were a highlight of the set. The crowd belted out along with the band to numbers like; “Looking Back Over My Shoulder,” “Snow on the Pines,” a Talking Heads cover, “Girlfriend is Better.” The perfection of the song choices with this set was a tease for the next two nights that YMSB would be performing. “Good Hearted Woman, ”Traffic Jam” into “After Midnight,” closed out the set. The night was far from over as the main stage shut down for the first night.
After an enthusiastic start to the evening from Yonder, Railroad Earth hit the stage to extend on the bluegrass melodies. The band members have such a powerful presence on the stage. They illuminate the Harvest Tent with their skills. Opening their set with the number, ”Saddle of the Sun,” then moving through the set with energy and power. The audience moved and stomped through their whole set. Performing songs that was a buildup for the rest of the weekend. The set included; “The Hunting Song,” “Like a Buddha,” “Been Down This Road,” Water Fountain Quicksand, ”Mission Man.” The end of the set dwindled down with a gripping conclusion by this bands mastery bluegrass skills. “Warhead Boogie, ”My Sisters and Brothers,” then the tranquil end with “Jupiter and the 119,” into “Fiddlee.” Railroad Earth was a moving mid-night set for their first appearance of the weekend. The evening was covered by a sky spotted with bright stars as you stepped from the Harvest tent awaiting the next performance. The first day was now over and drifting into the early start of Friday. Split Lip Rayfield closed out the Harvest tent as the crowd lifted into the next full day of music.
Friday October 14th 2011 Awaking to the warm sunshine and the cool mountain breeze was a refreshing start to the day. The beauty of the surroundings and the moments captured with the music were a bright start to the second day on Mulberry Mountain. There was enthusiasm and an anxious feeling in the air for music to begin.
With the mid-day start at the Main stage area; there was plenty to fill the morning with. A stretch and flowing yoga session; Hoop sessions or mellow bluegrass bands kicking off the theme of the festival were all options to make the morning for attendees. The Main stage opened with an upbeat yet relaxed band from Lawrence, Kansas; Dumptruck Butterlips. Most noticeable of this band was the fun vocals that were comical and kept the crowd moving in the sunshine.
As the sun got warmer and the bands kept playing, the crowd was without a doubt enthused for the next performance. Reverend Payton's Big Damn Band came out with a bumping bass sounds and soulful style. The deep vocals and combination of unique instrumentals were a performance visually as well as auditory. The music combined perfectly with the style of the instruments used. The day was flowing perfectly as the bluegrass kept beaming. A highly anticipated performance was up next with the Emmitt-Nershi Band. The combination of skills on the stage is gripping and impressive. Performing songs that were moving and connecting to the scenic backdrop; “BlueJay Sky,” a favorite tune was belted out. Overall though the smiles and joy expressed by the band members of their return to Mulberry Mountain were taken in along with the sensational melodies they created.
Bringing in a folk feel was Great American Taxi. Hitting the Main stage area in late afternoon busting out rock, infused with bluegrass jams and a folk vibe. Striking keys and strumming strings created music simple to move to. Appearing on stage was Vince Herman and the positive expression of the feeling being back in the mountains. They weren't the only band to have positive emotions to the mountainside.
Stepping out for their second appearance of the weekend was Railroad Earth ready to wow once more. The positivity beaming from the first rifts of “Elko.” The jam infused bluegrass sounds were unique and stunning to observe. A mix of upbeat dance grass like, “Dandelion Wine,” as well as more tranquil soft songs, such as “Seven Story Mountain,” and, “The Good Life.” An outstanding start to the nightlife of the weekend; which would get kicked up a bit with Yonder who appeared after this moving performance by Railroad.
Yonder Mountain String Band came out with a bang. Surprises and fast beat bluegrass busted the audience into a stomping mood. The band opened with “Part 1,” then moving into ,”What the Night Brings.” Their energy and gratitude on the stage is shining through the music which is played. The first set whisked by with a building set that included, ”Another Day,” “Rag Doll”, “No Expectations,” “Fun Time.” Leaving the attendees on the edge closing with, “Pretty Daughter.” Danny Barnes accompanied on stage with vocals and his banjo skills. The second set was gripping and meaningful not only for the audience but for the band. Opening up to ,”Althea,” into “Speedway Boogie.” The love of the strings and bands that have highly influenced these musicians was easy to hear. Bill Kruetzman, drummer of the Grateful Dead joined the stage for these tunes. The set was made straight from the get go and continued till the end. Once more there were friends to join the stage as Drew Emmitt came out for the finale, “Boatman,” then and encore of, “My Gal.”
The weekend was a smiling success continuing with 7 Walkers closing out the Harvest Tent, livening the crowd with covers and original songs. The band members knew how to get soulful with their music and many attendees looked upon stage to the musical styles and skills that were so well synced. With the festival halfway over, the Saturday morning start was just that as the sun peaked up for another day on the mountain.
Saturday October 15th 2011 With half of the festival over, by Saturday many were taking in all they could to enjoy the rest of the weekend. It was a clear day and sunny rays were once again beaming down, the slight breeze rustled the treetops and the bluegrass was off again. Trampled by Turtles hit the main stage to kick off the day on a mellow beginning. The Wilder's contributed with sweet feminine vocals and a soft sound that swayed the attendees. Adam Aijala of Yonder Mountain String band combined his talents with Larry Keel to move those witnessing this entertaining duo. The festival had a defined homely feel by the third day, collaborations of talents on stage and off made the weekend more powerful. The next performance to hit the the attendees with a classic bluegrass feel was the Travelin’ McCoury’s and Peter Rowan; the string instrumentals were the definition of bluegrass to its roots. With deep string progression an covers such as, “Sitting on Top of the World.” Their set was tacked in with a day of music that got bigger and better with every appearance.
Cornmeal came on to the Main stage with some Midwest love in the southern hills. Crazy Fiddle skills, solid string movements and overall instrumentals that were rapid and fluid kept the attendees stomping and swaying. With company on stage by Jeff Austin, the number of collaborations had become to many to count. This band is always a good time, their sweet vocals and sensational stage presence keeps you drifting through their whole set.
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones headed out on to the stage. This band is a terrific performance. With instrumental skills on the banjo by Bela Fleck as well as the members of the Flecktones, the music moving outwards is breathtaking. Their set was more like visual stimulation with the individual yet unique combining styles of each of the band members. This performance was one of the most anticipated for the weekend and rightly so.
The night continued with a final performance from YMSB. Their set was once again mind blowing with appearances by several friends throughout. Songs old and new were welcomed and danced to as the attendees winded down to the end of the festival weekend. The next day came on quickly as many raged their late night Saturday away.
Sunday October 16th With the final day on the rise there was still music to be seen and heard. This year added a fourth day to the festival and it was a thrill. Greensky Bluegrass came out and vibrated attendees, Dirfoot did the same. As the weekend came to a close with many local bands and second appearances; attendees prepared to head back to the real world.
Overall the festival was a bluegrass extravaganza. The number of amazing musical skills put together over the weekend was truly an experience to live for. The music mixed with the beautiful people and beautiful environment make Mulberry Mountain a joy to return to. With Harvest Festival going strong we can only look forward to next year’s gathering that Yonder Mountain String Band has graciously granted us with.