Smile Politely

Yonder Mountain String Band returns to their Urbana roots

The quartet of progressive bluegrass all-stars known as Yonder Mountain String Band will return to Urbana this Thursday night. The band will be rolling through The Canopy Club after having completed the first full week of their 2013 winter tour. Hopefully, we’ll be catching them with wide eyes, fresh faces, and many a hot jam to liven up the night.

Urbana is always a special stop for Yonder to make on tour. Band members Jeff Austin (mandolin, vocals) and Dave Johnston (banjo, vocals) spent formative years in Urbana in the mid-‘90s, hanging out and playing music while Johnston attended the University of Illinois. When I got the chance to speak with Austin last week, he reminisced about living in Urbana before he and Johnston moved out to Colorado in 1998. “It’s a strange sense of coming home again,” noting his years in Urbana as those that really shaped his love for the music he was making. “It’s a return to the beginning of Yonder’s history every time we go and think about it,” added Ben Kauffman (bass, vocals).

For those who aren’t well acquainted with Yonder Mountain String Band, here’s a briefing: the members of the band hail from different parts of the country; Austin and Johnston are from Illinois, and bandmates Kauffman and Adam Aijala (guitar, vocals) are from Massachusetts. But the band’s individual members had to get out of town in order to meet their fate as a group. The four finally came together to make music in Nederland, Colorado, in 1998 and released their first studio album, Elevation, the next year. Since then, the band has released four other studio albums and a handful of live albums, too.

Their music is often noted for its exciting blend of bluegrass, rock, folk, and even country sounds. Ferocious picking and fervent, adrenalin-filled melodies shape their more upbeat, rock-inspired tunes. Yet, the band has the ability to bring their music back to incredible moments of serenity when they will it. Oftentimes, the band’s bold instrumental style is kept grounded with mild, sentimental lyrics that evoke equal doses of yin and yang. The songs embrace life’s battles just as much as its moments of pure, unadulterated bliss, as well as all of the spaces in between.

YMSB is a serious crew of tour junkies. In past years, they could be found touring most of the time, putting in jam-packed summer runs to boot. They’ve amassed a dedicated following of bluegrass and jam music fans who’ve supported them throughout their long touring runs.

Austin looks fondly on Yonder fans as an endless source of encouragement, or “fuel for the fire,” as he put it: “It’s not just the band who’re looking forward to the growth of tunes. It’s the fans.”

The band has been on a bit of a studio hiatus for the past couple of years. Their last studio album, The Show, was released in 2009. But Jeff, Adam, Ben, and Dave are back in action now working on a release for 2013. Because of the changing landscape of the music industry in the past several years, the band is playing with creative ways to put out the new album. Talk of a series of EPs has been tossed around, but the discussion is certainly still open among the guys. “It’s an interesting world right now if you’re not on Sony or Universal Records,” Austin said. “We’re trying to kind of figure out a new formula for how to get studio material into the hands of our fans.”

YSMB has the luxury of releasing music on their independent label, Frog Pad Records. So, however they decide to approach their new studio album, the method is sure to be hands-on. Some of this new material will be showcased in the upcoming shows, so keep your ears open to hear some new tunes.

If this is your first rodeo, you can expect a rollicking good time at The Canopy Club this Thursday night. Yonder Mountain String Band always seems to bring out a vivacious crowd and a positive energy; it’s so very tangible.


As always, you must be 18-years or older to attend this show at The Canopy Club. Doors will open at 7:00 p.m., and the music will kick off at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

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