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Bluegrass in the Ozarks (Part One)

Harvest Fest!

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Mulberry Mountain, SE of Fayetteville, Arkansas was the setting for Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Music Festival.  My first journey to Arkansas for a music festival, Harvest Fest was quite the experience.  “Wow, you came a long ways” was the typical response I received when I answered the inevitable, “where are you from?” query upon meeting so many new folks.  After working the Upper Midwest festival scene all Summer long, it was nice to journey South for some (slightly) warmer temperatures.

The band I work with quite closely, Useful Jenkins of Mankato, MN was set for a couple of performances over the weekend and I was very excited to see Elephant Revival again.  The headlining sets by Yonder and many others were also on my radar, so my excitement level was high.  I had left Sioux Falls on Monday the 14th to meet my colleague (Tim McGuire of Helium Dolphin Video) in Minneapolis, and we traveled through the night on Tuesday night to arrive at the Mountain on Wednesday morning.  It was a long journey, but as you’d probably expect, it was well worth it.

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After we checked in, received our media credentials and settled our camp we started shooting.  It was Wednesday, a few hours before any music was to begin, so we familiarized ourselves with Mulberry Mountain and grabbed a few shots as folks were coming into the grounds.

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The Wednesday night sets were fun, but knowing I had a full weekend of music ahead of me, I decided to catch just a couple hours of music and turn in early.

Thursday started off with a bang.  My boys in Useful Jenkins helped to kick things off on the Backwoods stage early in the day and had an excellent set.  At a recent music festival in Minnesota, we filmed a music video for the title track off their latest album, Festival Express.  Keep an eye out for it’s release next month at www.everybodyonthebus.com

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The party was happening in the Harvest Tent on Thursday.  Mountain Sprout performed some ass-kicking Bluegrass in front of a crowd that was definitely ready to rage.  Having never heard them before, I enjoyed the set.  “Screw the Government” is now one of my favorites.

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The crowd was most certainly pumped and ready for action as Harvest Festival 2013 was just getting underway.  To say there were a few characters in the tent is an understatement, here are a few of my rage-buddies from Minnesota.

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As Thursday progressed the clouds moved in and out, and for awhile we were treated to some sunshine and a pleasant afternoon and early evening.  There were some lovely hoopers twisting and shaking outside the Harvest Tent, and as the Sun was starting to get lower on the horizon, I grabbed this shot of a hooper at work in front of the Harvest Tent.

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As the Sun went down on the first day, the lights came up, and the night time acts stepped up to the plate. Hot Buttered Rum performed with Allie Kral, and had one of the best sets of the entire weekend.  Allie Kral, who used to be in Cornmeal, looked very much at home on the stage with the boys from HBR.  Here’s a shot I took as upright bass player Bryan Horne was feeling especially excited.

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Now on to what I must admit was my main disappointment of Thursday evening, Les Claypool’s set.  Prior to the weekend, Duo De Twang was certainly one of the acts I was looking most forward to, unfortunately the achingly slow pace of the set and the “story-time” that Les fell into so often between songs had me falling asleep on my feet.  There was some brevity when one of the members of our group shouted out to Les about the apparent problem happening in his pants.  I was also disappointed (as a photographer, red-orange stage light is our worst enemy) by the “camp-fire” that Duo de Twang performed in front of, which had the effect of throwing ugly red-orange light up from below onto the players (basically about the worst lighting situation you could ask for as a photographer).

Thankfully, I had already planned on cutting out of Claypool’s set to see a group I’ve been excited to hear ever since some friends returned from Minnesota’s Boats n Bluegrass festival talking about nothing but the Shook Twins set.  The harmony of their voices, the passion and feeling were wonderful, despite the small crowd due to Claypool’s headlining set, I was very excited to catch them again later in the weekend.

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Luckily, Yonder Mountain String Band was still set to rock the tent, and earlier in the day I’d heard from some of the folks running the Harvest Tent that the lighting for Yonder was something to behold.  They weren’t lying.

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Seeing Jeff Austin and the rest of YMSB up close was something to behold.  I counted myself as very lucky to be standing 5 feet from Jeff Austin as he absolutely shredded his mandolin.  His vocal performances were also very striking, he’s got quite the voice, it reverberates throughout the entire mountain.  I also appreciated the rhythmically smooth lines and notes that came from Adam Aijala.

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A nearly full Moon was with us throughout most of the weekend nights, ruining any chances I’d had for talking nice pictures of the stars, but also helping to illuminate the Mountain after the Sun had set.

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Friday and Saturday were both setting up to be huge days, so I decided to call it quits for the evening and head to bed after taking a few night-time pictures following Yonder’s late night set in the tent Thursday.  Check back here tomorrow for a summary of the final two days of Harvest Fest!

Part two of this two part series on Yonder Mountain String Band’s Harvest Festival is available here.

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