Yonder Mountain String Band: "The Audience Is the Fifth Member of the Band"

Call it the mountain muse, the happiness of the heights, or maybe it's simply the mix of altitude with attitude. Whatever the case, Yonder Mountain Band consistently captures that spirit, a connection that has more to do than with their name alone.

Notoriously independent, they blend the frenzy of bluegrass with jam band instincts and acquired populist sentiments, a combination that's helped them become both festival favorites and indie entrepreneurs. For more than a decade, this Colorado-based quartet -- mandolin player Jeff Austin, guitarist Adam Aijala, bassist Ben Kaufman, and banjo player Dave Johnston -- has been entertaining audiences with their savvy and synchronicity, earning them legions of devotees both in their home state and throughout the nation. After initially developing their frenetic stage shows in clubs and other intimate environs, they quickly graduated to bigger venues, with a featured performance at the 2008 Democratic Convention in Denver helping to elevate their profile and affirm their intents.

A few months back, we had the chance to speak with the foursome backstage at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, an annual gig of which they're justifiably proud, and we took the opportunity to ask them about their affinity for the festival and the audience interaction that helps spur them on.