Yonder Mountain Weekend

February 19th, 2008 by Greg Goodson Leave a reply »
  • SumoMe

A great weekend to say the least. To sum it up, I saw Yonder Mountain String Band in Athens, GA on February 14th, drove up to see them again on February 15th in Knoxville, and headed straight from the show towards the Smoky Mountains for a camping/fastpacking adventure which lasted a few days and drove back to Atlanta.

A longer version is in check however. If you have been living under a rock, Yonder Mountain String Band is practically one of the coolest bands touring these days. Their genre is “jamgrass”, which is a mix of bluegrass, lots of improvisation, and wicked live performances that include 25 minute songs, fun interactions with the band, and a very long set. They are a four piece band with Dave Johnson on banjo, Adam Aijala on the guitar, Jeff Austin on the mandolin, and Ben Kauffman on the upright bass. They all sing, and are all very good at it.

We drove up to the show on Thursday after taking a half day at work – got there in time to secure a spot next to the stage. The show was at a small venue in Athens called “The Georgia Theater” which the band had managed to sell out a week before the show date. They came on around 9:30pm or so, and played through to 2:00am, which included only one intermission. Their first set included the following songs:

Looking Back Over My Shoulder> Southbound, Mental Breakdown, This Train Is Bound For Glory, Another Day, Angel> Follow Me Down To The Riverside> Angel, Must’ve Had Your Reasons, Not Far Away, Bloody Mary Morning, Amanda Rose, Kentucky Mandolin> Sidewalk Stars> Death Trip

They took a short break and played the following during the second set:

My Gal, Left Me In A Hole, Don’t You Lean On Me, Eli Renfro, Damned If The Right One, Near Me, If There’s Still Ramblin’ In The Rambler (Let Him Go)> If You’re Ever In Oklahoma> Little Rabbit> If You’re Ever In Oklahoma> Ramblin’ Reprise, Lost John, Loved You Enough, Out Of The Blue> After Midnight> Out Of The Blue E: Ooh La La, Hit Parade Of Love

We gathered up the folks that came with and headed our own separate ways. JR and I headed up north with the intention of getting as far as we could before we got tired – which didn’t take long. We stayed the night at a Super 8 about an hour and a half away from Athens.

Woke up the next morning around 10:30am, checked out, and continued the drive north. We hit the base of the Smoky Mountains in Cherokee, NC around 2:00pm or so, and kept on truckin’ towards Knoxville with sporadic stops at the NP visitor center, Sonic’s, and A&Ws in Seyerville. We reached the Valarium in Knoxville fully expecting to find some local bars before the show that were in proximity of the theater, but none were in walking distance. We parked very close to Yonder Mountain String Band’s tour bus and threw back a few PBRs waiting for the doors to open. Once they did, we enjoyed a great view of the band on the front rail again, this time on the right side of the stage.

Yonder Mountain played 2 sets again, and in my opinion, a greater show than the last night if that was at all possible. They played the following songs in the first set:

Jesus On The Mainline, 40 Miles From Denver, Red Tail Lights, No Expectations, Bolton Stretch> Free To Run, Wildewood Drive, Country Boy Rock & Roll, Lonliness & Desperation, Naughty Sweetie, Midwest Gospel Radio> New Horizons> Steep Grade Sharp Curves> New Horizons

During the second set, they played:

Traffic Jam> Up On The Hill Where They Do the Boogie> Dawn’s Early Light> Traffic Jam, Night Out, Fastball> Blue Collar Blues, Crazy, Things You’re Selling, Fine Excuses, Just The Same, Finally Saw The Light, Fingerprint> Boatman’s Dance> Raleigh & Spencer E: At The End Of The Day, Casualty

This show was awesome as well as the Athens show. They played at least 3 hours of material during both shows and you may notice that they played completely different material both nights. Do you see that often in your typical bands that tour now a days? There are so many things that set Yonder Mountain apart from bands in today’s generation – their style of music, their completely laid back approach and casual demeanor on stage, the list can go on. I don’t care what kind of music you like – this is a band that will soon turn bluegrass music “cool” if you will. Until then, I am completely content with being one of the few people that I know who can call them my favorite band.

We hit the road completely dumbfounded from the concert. We drove into Cade’s Cove, a large campground and tourist area inside the Smokies around 3:00am after several brief stops for gas and food. We set up “mega-tent”, a tent that is the size of Arizona, on one of the campsites there about 10 feet from the car, and caught some ZZZs until 9:00am the next morning.

After a hardy breakfast which consisted of a honey stinger and a glass of water, we packed up an overnight bag (I was carrying my wonderful Go-Lite Jam2 pack that can hold 3000+ cu in. but is lighter than 15 oz.) which consisted of a 20+ REI sub-kilo sleeping bag, a minimalist bivy sack, some cooking supplies which included food to last me for the day, a gas stove, utensils and a gas canister, clothes, a hammock for chilling out, and some other misc. stuff. We drove my Rav4 to the base of Lead Cove Trail along Laurel Creek Road. The hike up to the top of the mountain was only 4.7 miles, but it had an elevation gain of about 3,000 ft.

We started the hike around noon and got to the top around 2:30pm. We took several breaks along Bote Mountain Trail, as well as the intersection of Anthony Creek trail. The trail itself was either single-track or a double track jeep trail. It was pretty much uphill the entire way – it would have made for one heck of a run! Once we reached the top of the ridge where the Appalachian Trail met Bote Mountain Trail, we headed towards Spence Field and enjoyed a break, followed by a water refill. We stuck around for about 30 minutes before we headed NE on the Appalachian Trail for about a half mile where we spotted a grassy bald along the AT.

Near the Spence Field shelter

Last time we had hiked up to the top of Spence Field was during Memorial Day break in 2007 where we failed to register a spot in the shelter (my fault I thought it was first come first serve). When we hiked out of Spence Field that next morning, we noticed this awesome grassy bald with an orchard like feel to it about halfway between the Spence Field shelter and Jenkins Ridge Trail that we said to ourselves “we have to comeback here sometime”. So about 8 months later we finally made it!

The day was beautiful and warm – at least 60 degrees at 5,000 ft. elevation in February was something else. We set up the hammocks – I took an hour nap. I am not sure if it gets any better than that. We played “mountain stickball” for another hour with a little nerf ball that I happened to have in my car that I threw in my pack before we left. Great idea! By this time we began to ponder where to sleep, on the ground with the bivy sacks or in the hammocks. As we were testing out the sleeping bags in the hammocks around 6:00pm, the sun began to set and the winds began to pick up. We decided to set up camp under a large pile of rhododendrons near the field which had a ground covered with fallen leaves and protection from the wind.

Near the Spence Field shelter again

Turned out to be a good choice – after some grub we quickly set up the sleeping bags and the bivys and hit the hay as the winds really started to pick up. We were both in the bivy sacks for about 12 hours total – from 8:30pm to 8:30am. The wind didn’t stop the entire night. The gusts were constantly between 40-50 mph, with some gusts I am sure reading close to 70 mph. The wind brought the cool air, and with that it made for a cold night. Fortunately, I had packed many layers and between that, the sleeping bag, and some hot hands, I was fairly warm the entire night.

Cooking dinner on the AT

Also, for those of you who don’t know what a bivy sack is, it is essentially a sack that goes around your sleeping bag which protects the bag from outside elements (dirt, rain, maybe some smaller animals?). Rather than curling up on the ground with a bunch of clothes, it is probably one of the most primitive and minimalist ways to camp these days. I’ll tell you what – there is something to be said about waking up at 2:00am looking up at the half moon in the southeastern sky through the rhododendrons blowing in the 50mph wind. You are warm and protected from the elements with the help of your clothes, the sleeping bag, and the bivy sack, while at the same time you are able to taste and feel the cold air with your mouth and parts of your face if you so choose to stick out your head to get a better look at your surroundings. While a little nerve-racking the first nights in the bivy due to the vulnerable feeling you can get, it is worth the adventure in my opinion.

We woke up that next morning around 8:30am. The wind was stronger than ever, and packing up was difficult. We temporarily threw our stuff in our packs and marched the 0.5 miles back to Spence Field shelter to re-organize and cook some breakfast. I had the Mountain House scrambled eggs with red and green peppers and ham. While cooking, we took a shot of JD in lieu of the Yonder Mountain song “Whiskey before Breakfast”. Fun!

After conversing with some folk at the shelter for a few minutes, we grabbed some water form the local source, and headed back towards the car from Spence Field following the Appalachian Trail, Bote Mountain Trail, and finally, the Lead Cove Trail. While it rained the last several miles, it felt refreshing. Hit the Rav4 on Laurel Creek Road around 12:00 or so, and found ourselves back in Atlanta around 5:00pm.

After a winding down President’s Day (I had the day off!) and a 6 mile run on some trails in Kennesaw Battlefield Park, I would say this past weekend was one for the ages 🙂

Thanks for listening!


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