It had been seven years since I had last seen Jake Jolliff. At that time, he was a freshman at Berklee Music Institute in Boston. According to one of his friends, he was the first mandolin player to get a full-ride scholarship. I don’t doubt that it’s true. When Jake was still a kid, Ricky Skaggs heard him play at a festival in Oregon and subsequently invited him to come on stage and play during one of the shows. Jake was incredibly good at that time and he’s gotten a lot better in the past dozen years. These days, he is touring with Yonder Mountain String Band and people are saying he’s the best mandolin player in the country now. Most of those people aren’t even related to Jake.
As for me, well, I’m a bit more prejudiced in his favor than most, having been close friends with his parents since well before Jake was born. I’m in no place to debate the issue of where he fits in on the comparison scale; I do know that his mandolin playing is nothing short of absolutely amazing. Last night I had the privilege of taking my perspective on that subject a step or two beyond YouTube videos; I got to see Jake up close, live and in-person when YMSB played in Springfield, Missouri, last night.
I reckon the warm-up show achieved its purpose; with more and more Yonderites streaming into Gillioz Theatre, the band came out to a warm welcome. Since it’s a small theatre and everyone down front was going to be standing up, I decided to sit as far toward the back as possible. Soon into the first song, though, with Jake doing a solo, I got up and moved right into the dance section to take a couple of pictures.
I think “dance section” is a euphemism for the place where hyper fans and followers stand as close to the band as possible. While a couple of people actually did dance, most were just sort of bobbing and weaving. Many did all of their bobbing and weaving with only the absolute top part of their being, leaving them looking like a motley collection of bobble-heads on the dash of a ’68 Cadillac. I’d planned to take my pictures and get right back to my seat but when I looked around and saw how much fun everyone seemed to be having, I decided to stay right there in the thick of things for a while.
It was a good call.
I moved over toward the center so I was between the two huge banks of speakers. As I’d hoped, that lowered the decibel level considerably. I could still feel the bass notes through the concrete floor. People all around were standing close together but not close enough to totally inhibit movement. Some dipped their hips and some swung their arms. Some moved their shoulders back and forth, twisting their torsos just barely. Some bounced up and down and others continued the bobble-head dance. What was truly impressive to me was that every single one of them seemed happy as Hindu cows. They smiled at strangers, hugged friends, cheered the band and sometimes sang along. There was a wonderful sense of peace and acceptance, kind of like an old hippy festival or church or something. I stood there, looking around me from time to time, grinning like a hungry coonhound staring at a hunk of ham every time Jake did a mandolin solo. Surrounded by complete strangers, having a great time. Pretty soon, I was bobbing and weaving, swinging and swaying.
I couldn’t help thinking about how different our experience of a thing is when we decide to quit being peripheral purveyors and become genuine participants. If I’d stayed in my seat the whole night, I’d still know very little more about what it’s really like to go to a Yonder Mountain concert. Kind of like the folks who go to church but never really immerse themselves in the experience.
I can tell you that those up at the altar, losing themselves in worship, finding themselves at the feet of Jesus and experiencing a foretaste of glory divine, can’t quite figure out why it is that some folks prefer to just watch from their seats. But they’re glad they’re all there anyway and they’d welcome anyone who wanted to come and join in. And I’m pretty sure that everybody inside the house is getting something that those on the outside are missing. Even if they don’t know they’re missing it.