As two buds in Urbana, Illinois, then playing as the Bluegrassholes, Jeff Austin and Dave Johnston probably never imagined they would one day form the prized gem of the modern bluegrass scene. A chance meeting at a club in Nederland, Colorado, landed the duo a bassist with Ben Kaufmann and a guitarist with Adam Aijala.
February 15, 2012 | 7:55am
The combined creative influences and label-free tactics proved their chops in the local, regional, and now national circuits. For the past 14 years, they have made Yonder Mountain String Band a staple act during festival season and an exceptional modern music tour de force story. Armed with new material, the adept pickers are taking it to the Southeast for the winter with an extended Florida run, including a stop in Fort Lauderdale.
As fans, we thought we'd tell you five good reasons to watch Yonder Mountain String Band at Revolution Live this Friday.
They Love Florida
As veterans of South Florida's biggest offshore music party, Yonder Mountain has made multiple noteworthy appearances at the Jam Cruise event. The ever-reputable mandolin player Jeff Austin has also floated on the boat as a solo artist at large and teamed up with Umphrey's McGee's Brendan Bayliss.
This winter, the annual Cabin Fever tour covers ground in five Florida towns, starting with Pensacola, then taking over land as far south as Fort Lauderdale before heading back up to Jacksonville. After that, they shoot up to the Midwest before returning in March for SpringFest in Live Oak.
When asked about their affinity for our state, Austin explains, "It's the strangest of places sometimes, but it really is one of those locations that we always have a room full of people that dig what we are doing onstage." It's not all work, though, of course, and Austin explains the perks: "For us to come down around February to hit the beach and go swimming and then have great gigs at night really makes it count for us as traveling musicians."
Even the biggest of sit-in whores would be hard-pressed to match the laundry list of artists and bands that Yonder Mountain has put its fingerprints on. Everyone from Jon Fishman (Phish) and Keith Mosely (the String Cheese Incident) to Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) and Futureman (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones) has gyrated creative juices with the boys from Boulder.
Austin played a handful of dates last month with the sons of legend Del McCoury under their touring vehicle the Travelin' McCourys. Showing off their ability to adapt in the face of the unexpected, Travis Book of the Infamous Stringdusters recently covered bass duties for Yonder while Ben Kaufmann attended to his newborn baby.
Banjo wizard Dave Johnston explains: "We have an open-door policy when it comes to other musicians, and if you like what we are doing and want to participate, then you are definitely welcome to do so. We don't demand perfection; we just want to hang out and kick some tunes with people." Austin adds: "I think that is one part of our band that is very bluegrass. When I got into bluegrass, it was always 'Come sit in with this band' or 'Did you see so-and-so sat in with someone at a festival?' and it was often encouraged to clear out the green room and bring everyone on stage. When it comes down to it, sonically, it is just fun as shit, and something like the idea of Jon Fishman wants to play drums with Yonder Mountain, well, it already sounds cool enough just to hear it in your head."
Inspiring the New Wave of Folk
As experimental takes on folk revival sweep the mainstream, there remains a constant form at the grassroots level. Yonder Mountain found its genesis in the deeply entrenched Colorado bluegrass scene that has served as a foundation for newcomers like the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons, capitalizing on the seemingly anti-electronic movement.
The foundational facets of the genre -- like solid songwriting, skilled instrumentation, and a feel-good vibe -- are what built Yonder Mountain. That legacy is carrying on into bigger markets, and as Austin remarks, "This generation that grew up with videogames and Adderall, you know, if I was them, I'd probably think dubstep was the greatest thing ever too, but with that saturation comes a craving for the other side of it." He continues expounding on recent hipster folk, saying, "There is something to be said for the marketing machine, but when you can write good songs to back it up, it is a combination of believing in what you have and creating a live energy that makes this music contagious."
Giving back to music isn't the only selfless endeavor the string quartet takes on. Last year, the guys threw a benefit for the St. Baldrick's Foundation at the Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina. The event raised money for the volunteer organization that funds the most promising research for cures of cancer in children. The band takes this to heart, knowing families that have suffered through the effects of childhood cancer. "We have a connection to this issue, and for us as a band, that is a strong tie to that world and trying to make a difference. We are doing it again this year, with other local entities getting involved, and it seems to be catching on."
As if that weren't enough, the band also works with Conscious Alliance, which combines the talents of artists with feeding those in need.
They Continue to Create
Yonder Mountain prides itself on releasing studio work and live releases on its own record label. This in-house approach gives it the freedom to write and record when it wants and, more important, what it wants.
The upcoming tour will showcase some of the new material that is set to drop sometime this year. The band's first record since 2009, the new studio effort comes with a high level of anticipation from loyal fans interested in how a rigorous touring schedule, infinite amounts of creative fraternization with other artists, and the modern thump of the folk mainstream will affect them.
"Any musician that doesn't want success is lying to you, but if you put good material out there, people will latch on to it," Austin says, confident of his own accomplishments.
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