The Culture Map Interview

Yonder Mountain String Band on Devo and the magic of live music

Yonder Mountain String Band on Devo and the magic of live music

Yonder Mountain String Band (from left): Adam Aijala, Jeff Austin, Dave Johnston, and Ben Kaufman
Yonder Mountain String Band plays Stubb's on March 2.  Photo by Jay Blakesberg
Yonder Mountain String Band (from left): Jeff Austin, Dave Johnston, Ben Kaufman, and Adam Aijala
Yonder Mountain String Band does plenty of non-bluegrass or jam band songs, like Devo's "Gut Feeling." Photo by Dorothy St. Claire
Yonder Mountain String Band (from left): Adam Aijala, Jeff Austin, Dave Johnston, and Ben Kaufman
Yonder Mountain String Band (from left): Jeff Austin, Dave Johnston, Ben Kaufman, and Adam Aijala

Yonder Mountain String Band is one of the most aptly named bands around today, especially in the jam band genre. Based outside of Boulder in Nederland, Colorado, the four-person string band has cultivated a devoted following by combining original songs, traditional string band and bluegrass numbers, and pop music covers in their improvisational live shows.

Live show juggernauts, they play a relentless lineup of shows and festivals where their improvisational skills, in-between-song banter and mid-song gibberish outbreaks have endeared them to bluegrass and jam band fans alike. But the band transcends the jam band or bluegrass genre moniker and provides something for everyone at their live shows, which feature lots of dancing in a party atmosphere.

For those unfamiliar with the band’s music, any of the Mountain Tracks live series albums is a good starting point. The albums capture the band in their most natural setting and feature the best of their live shows. In addition to having a knack for improvisation, Yonder displays strong songwriting skills on their studio albums.Some of their most well-known album songs include "Half Moon Rising," "40 Miles from Denver," "At the End of the Day," and "If There's Still Rambling in the Rambler (Let Him Go)."

Recently we spoke with Jeff Austin, singer and mandolin player for Yonder, to discuss his recent musical tastes, the magic of live shows and what festivals he’s excited to play this summer.

Culture Map: What is your favorite venue or city to play?

Jeff Austin: I’ve got to say the Tabernacle in Atlanta is right up there. Red Rocks and Telluride Town Park in Colorado are my favorite spots.

CM: What have you been listening to lately?

JA: Todd Snider. I just get so inspired every time I listen to his stuff.

CM: Yonder plays a lot of cover songs. Which is your favorite?

JA: Lately we’ve been playing "Gut Feeling" by Devo. That song is a blast to sing.

CM: Do you feel a responsibility to carry on the traditional songs and styles of string band/old time/bluegrass music?

JA: I just feel responsible to keep doing what we are doing and keep coming up with new music for the fans.

CM: How has the recent popularity of bluegrass affected the band?

JA: Nothing I really notice; our fans have been loyal for a long time. They've stuck with us through all kinds of trends that have come and gone.

CM: What is it about the extended improvisations or culture of jam band music that you think attracts people?

JA: It's watching musicians being very free in the moment. By being there and being in the moment with them, you can change the course of a show.

CM: Has anything crazy happened on this tour so far?

JA: Haven't hit the road yet! (Editor's note: Yonder played throughout January but has been on break since February 3.) Home time is family time for me. The craziest I get is staying up past 10 pm.

CM: What can concertgoers who haven't attended a Yonder show expect? Anything new for seasoned fans?

JA: We are bringing new music out all the time. We find it very important to keep people engaged.

CM: What is it about playing live that can't be captured in a studio?

JA: That fan reaction is just irreplaceable.

CM: Are y'all working on any new music right now?

JA: Yep, trying to get some stuff in the studio done. But, between touring and life, it's been a little rough.

CM: For those planning their spring or summer concert festival trips, which are you most excited about?

JA: Telluride Bluegrass Festival, All Good and String Summit. But playing outside is just the best. I look forward to it each year.

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Yonder Mountain String Band plays Saturday, March 2, at Stubb's BBQ.