Nestled within a shady grove of maple trees off of the Ohio River is a small old timey amusement park that features an open-aired dance hall, the Moonlite Gardens. The history of the property dates back to 1867 when a local farmer purchased the property to grow apples, little did he know at the time of the purchase that folks cruising the river on steamboats would be more interested in renting the land so their lavish parties on the steamboats could continue on land into the wee hours of the night. Over time his property became known as Parker’s Grove and went through several changes and additions to what is now Coney Island. The open-aired dance hall, Moonlite Gardens is steeped with mid-west American tradition, a welcoming dance hall to host the 4th of July, Yonder Mountain and Railroad Earth extravaganza.
The box office opened promptly at 7:30 PM and doors of the venue opened at 8:00 PM. Yonder Mountain String Band was scheduled to start at 9:30 PM but was delayed due to the fireworks. The fans started chanting and eventually Ben Kaufmann (vocals/bass) sauntered to the stage to announce a Happy 4th of July to everybody and let everyone know the Gardens initially said the band had to wait on fireworks to be over but it started to feel like a Samuel Beckett play so they thought they would come out and just “pick a little.” Ben introduced power chord extraordinaire Adam Aijala (guitar, vocals) to which Adam replied by kicking off a salty, “Southern Flavor,” sitting in with Yonder on mandolin and vocals was Jake Jolliff who added his own taste of spice to the fiery number. It wasn’t long before the dashing mix of guitar and mandolin oozed into Dave Johnston’s (banjo/vocals) sweet banjo rolls and flicked like lightning back to Adam and Jake. Ben dropped the lower end and brought the band into, “Shakedown Street,” the crowd began to sway and before Yonder could bust into, “Robots,” they were a sweaty mess of dance moves, the mnemonic haunty tune, “Robots,” segued back into, “Shakedown Street.” The mandolin riff’s charged through the night, creating a new feel to the band. Dave and Ben shared vocals on “Polka On A Banjo,” the tessitura of Dave’s vocals wove and dipped creating smiles through the crowd. A flip of bass teased the crowd into, “Sideshow Blues,” the grindy number segued into, “Pockets,” with Adam taking his first spin on lead vocals for the night before dipping back into, “Sideshow Blues.” The silky smooth old timey number, “Deep Pockets,” seemed to fit the feel of the dance hall. Ben asked Jake to take a number and with a quick tuning of strings, Jake took lead on a Del McCoury tune “Whitehouse Blues.” The band thanked everyone for coming to the show before turning it over to Adam for, “Spanish Harlem Incident.” The pairing of Adam’s vocals and Jake’s strings brought a beautiful harmony to the night. Tim Carbone (fiddle) of Railroad Earth joined the band and they thrust into a fast John Hartford number, “Cuckoo’s Nest” with Ben on vocals. They segued into, “Remind Me,” with Adam on vocals the nine minute number segued into, “Boatman.”
The sold out dance hall bowed and breathed as they waited for Railroad Earth to take the stage. The summer tour kicked off with the two bands sharing stages and by the 4th of July the tour was in it’s second week. With an introduction from the house announcer Railroad Earth hit the stage. Tim Carbone’s (fiddle) strings filled the night as he quietly tuned, Todd Sheaffer (vocals/guitar) joined him and the two brought the ensemble into, “The Jupiter and the 119” that segued into a fast paced diddy, “Fiddlee,” with John Skehan (mandolin) and Andy Goessling (multi-instrumentalist) riffing through the night, Andrew Altman (bass/vocals) keeping time and Carey Harmon (drummer/vocalist) driving the tempo. They dipped into a slow Ricky Skaggs tune, “Cathfish John,” and gently brought the pace back up with a beautiful, “Saddle of the Sun.” They segued into, “The Cuckoo,” “RV,” and landed in a fifteen minute “Birds of America.” The quick bouncy beat of, “Warhead Boogie,” jammed into “Powderfinger” with Adam and Jake coming back onto the stage. Dave Johnston joined his bandmates and RRE for, “Long Way To Go.” They wrapped up the set with all of Yonder on stage providing the boogie for, “Bringin’ My Baby Back Home.”
As the band filtered off stage, folks could still be heard whistling and cat calling into the night. The evening had died down to a perfect temperature and folks wandered out of the venue still feeling the joy from the stage.
Set 1: Southern Flavor, Shakedown Street> Robots> Shakedown Street, Polka On A Banjo, Sideshow Blues > Pockets > Sideshow Blues, Deep Pockets, Whitehouse Blues, Spanish Harlem Incident, Cuckoo's Nest* > Remind Me* > Boatman*
Set 1: The Jupiter and the 119 > Fiddlee, Catfish John, Saddle of the Sun > The Cuckoo, RV, Birds of America, Warhead Boogie > Powderfinger*, Long Way To Go**, Bringin' My Baby Back Home***