Yonder Mountain String Band - Saturday 10.18.2008
Mountain Tracks: Volume 5, a double-disc CD featuring the unreleased and in-demand live show from Columbus, OH at the Lifestyle Communities Pavilion (July 21, 2007) truly captures this sound. It also features a compilation disc of the best live tunes handpicked by the band from the past couple of years. As bassist Ben Kaufmann notes, "it’s a ‘through-the-years set of music" with the material ranging from 2004 through 2007. The compilation album has been sequenced so that it recreates the flow of an actual live show. It connects all the key elements of a live Yonder show: the fans, the music, the band and the energy.
Yonder (Adam Aijala-guitar, Jeff Austin-mandolin, Dave Johnston-banjo and Ben Kaufmann-bass) first came together in September 1998 over a growing love for bluegrass that quite unexpectedly brought the four players together during a free-for-all jam session at The Verve, a bar outside of Boulder, in 1998. Once they met, they knew they were onto something. "It was an eye-opening experience because we heard a unique sound," says Johnston. "Something coalesced that night."
Emphasizing song craft and unafraid to push its boundaries, things began snowballing quickly. In 1999, the band debuted with Elevation, produced by Grammy-winning dobro player Sally Van Meter and released (like each of its ensuing studio discs) on their own Frog Pad Records. Yonder Mountain returned in 2001 with Town by Town, helmed by Grammy Award winning songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Tim O’Brien. Van Meter was back behind the boards for the 2003 set Old Hands, a concept album of sorts that featured the songwriting of Benny "Burle" Galloway. Featured on the evocative tunes about cowboys, miners and all sorts of hard-livin’ Western folk were O’Brien, lauded fiddleman Darol Anger (Bela Fleck, David Grisman Quintet, Vassar Clements) and dobro player Jerry Douglas (Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris). In between those studio discs, the band released Mountain Tracks Volume 1-IV, issued on Frog Pad Records, and each capturing the energy of its increasingly popular live shows. Their last studio release, "Yonder Mountain String Band" was produced by rock producer Tom Rothrock (Foo Fighters, Elliot Smith, Beck) creating a sound for the band that continues to close the gap between bluegrass and rock. It's an album that "represents us more than any other record we’ve done," states Aijala, "because it incorporates more of our musical influences than ever before. It’s a really cool thing to be a part of and I’ll never take for granted just how lucky we are to do what we do. It makes me more excited for the future."
With little radio support, Yonder Mountain has become one of the fastest rising touring bands in the country, its fanbase having ballooned over the past five years through steady gigging and high-profile festival sets, all of which are full of improv and none of which feature the same set list. "Now that we’re maturing as performers, our improvisation is more beholden to playing with good tone, good feel, good timing," says Johnston.
It can’t be understated just what the band has achieved with that untraditional banjo/bass/mandolin/guitar line-up. Using bluegrass as its bedrock, the band has grown like few rock bands even do these days. "It’s funny," says Austin. "But now we’re selling out Red Rocks in Denver, just 40 miles from where we became a band." Yonder will return to Red Rocks August 2nd after last year's triumphant sold-out show. This summer will be a big year for the band with a co-headline tour with longtime collaborator Keller Williams, lots of festivals (Bonnaroo, Rothbury, Telluride Bluegrass, the band's own North West String Summit), and ending the summer with a hometown show at Red Rocks.