Two shades of blue music made it hot in the Joy Theater on a cold Thursday night. A fantastic double-header, Yonder Mountain String Band came down to New Orleans with G. Love & Special Sauce for a night of intense groovin’ and foot-stompin’. The two groups are on the tail end on a winter tour together.
Garrett Dutton, known as G. Love, formed a trio with drummer Jeffrey Clemens and bassist Jim Prescott in Philadelphia in 1993. They call themselves G. Love & Special Sauce, and their style is self-described “hip hop blues.” G. Love plays guitar and harmonica, but is known for his rapping vocal style and cool-cat demeanor. He has worked with a number of artists such as The Revivalists, Jack Johnson, Slightly Stoopid, and the Expendables (who just played here on Monday).
Yonder Mountain String Band is a bluegrass jam band from Nederland, Colorado. The founding members Dave Johnston, Jeff Austin, Ben Kaufmann and Adam Aijala formed the band in 1998, however Austin left the band in 2014, and YMSB have since toured with Allie Kral on violin and Jacob Joliff on mandolin. Allie and Jacob became official members in 2015. They tour extensively, frequenting festivals, and are known for progressive improvised sections and solos in their music. Because of their dual nature as a group, they have acquired fans in both the bluegrass and jam scenes.
The show started at around 8pm. G. Love opened the show with what he called a front-porch session. This was because he sat in a chair to play his acoustic guitars, with Special Sauce providing the rhythm section. Their first tune was a cover of Professor Longhair’s “Go to the Mardi Gras,” whistling and all. They continued with some hits on acoustic including “Rainbow,” then G. Love stood up and grabbed the electric. G. Love rocked the house with his passionate blues licks and fluid verbal flows. Jimi Jazz and The Houseman kept a mean groove and beat. The Houseman even sang lead on a cover of Dr. John’s “Right Place Wrong Time.” Fans belted as the band moved their feet with favorites from their debut record like “Baby’s Got Sauce” as well as the final song of the night, “Cold Beverage,” with which he included a sincere freestyle unique to New Orleans. He’ll be back first Jazzfest weekend for a late show with Corey Glover and friends called “Love Glove” at One-Eyed Jack’s.
Yonder Mountain took the stage at around 10pm and began the bluegrass portion of the program. They started with “All The Time,” and the fingers didn’t stop flying. In the proper old-timey fashion, Yonder Mountain all sing and will alternate in the spotlight for lead vocals and instrument solos. And in the jam band fashion, they will play one song, improvise a section that transitions into one or two more songs, then go right back into the original tune. Another fabulous staple of their performances that they’ve picked up from festival-hopping is a spectacular light show. There is something hypnotizing about awe-inspiring finger speed and angelic vocal harmonies being surrounded by breathtaking color schemes and patterns. They also do some great covers. After jamming back into “All The Time” from “Train Bound to Gloryland,” they played King Harvest’s “Dancing In the Moonlight,” followed directly by the Buzzcock’s “Ever Fallen in Love.” They persisted with their bewildering skills, closing the set with a sandwich of “Traffic Jam” into “All Aboard” into “Traffic Jam.” Of course, they were cheered back on for a cover of The Eagles’ “Life in the Fast Lane” and “Loved You Enough” from their 2001 album Town by Town. As with of all of their shows, you can download the live recording from yondermountainlive.com.