Smile Politely

Yonder Mountain String Band returns to Urbana

Popular bluegrass players Yonder Mountain String Band will return to The Canopy Club this coming Sunday night. The band is known for their ability to manifest incredibly high-energy live performances. Yonder’s live shows truly do have their own pulse, it’s something that is both created and nurtured equally by the band and their audience. Bassist Ben Kaufmann calls Yonder fans family, and you can feel that connection when they step on stage. 

“We have to show up and light the fire. But then it’s all of our great privilege or opportunity — audience and band — to work together to create these moments,” he said. “We’ve got this community of fans, and they always show up. They’re always so into it, and responsive, and encouraging. It’s a big family, and it’s what we’ve always wanted.”

Despite their massive following and undeniable stage presence, the band exudes a sense of passion and reverence for the deep roots of their genre’s tradition.
Yonder’s music is often identified as more than bluegrass. Their sound settles somewhere among the territory of progressive bluegrass, country, rock, pop and jam music. Having played together for a solid fifteen years, the band’s sound and signature have developed steadily and naturally. Their synergy on the stage speaks to their years playing together. Kaufmann maintains that this kind of organic upward growth saw them through 2013, too.

The beginning of 2014 has brought a temporary change of pace for the band. After the band’s News Years Eve run, Mandolin player and frontman Jeff Austin took some time away from tour to stay home with his newborn daughter. This is the first time Austin has spent extended time away from the band and their rigorous tour schedule. Yet, the band has not suffered from his absence. Instead, Austin’s brief intermission has allowed for a completely new experience — both for the band and for their audiences.

Filling in for Austin during the months of January and February are mandolin player Ronnie McCoury and fiddler Jason Carter of The Travelin’ McCourys. Now those are some pretty incredible stand-ins, if you ask me. “We couldn’t have gotten two better musicians to take [Jeff’s] place. They will just blow you away with what these guys are doing,” said Kaufmann.

In a way, Yonder has had to manage putting together an entire new band by incorporating Carter and McCoury. No one knew exactly how it would play out. Still, the guys in Yonder are working with total professionals. The new combo of seasoned players was sure to be explosive. After their first gig without Austin in Lexington, Kentucky the band was sure there was nothing to worry about. The energy of the live shows are still peaking per usual. “The performances have been, I think, stellar,” said Kaufmann. “It continues to work.”

In a way this is a very special opportunity for bluegrass fans. If you’ve seen Yonder perform live before, you can expect a different kind of show this time around. “You’ll be confronted with right away. It’ll be part of your show experience,” Kaufmann said. “In a way, it’s this once-in-a-lifetime experience.” What’s more, this new temporary touring band speaks to the beautiful community that exists because of bluegrass music; the brotherhood and the sisterhood. “Everybody wants to help. Everybody wants to jam. There’s this openness in people’s minds. All we want to do is play, play, play,” Kaufmann explained. “It’s so nice to be able to play music and also to have an appreciation for what a solid community is.”

As their winter tour comes to an end, the band will be heading back into the studio to record a new full length album. They’ll record the album in Boulder, Colorado, a place where they feel comfortable and at home — a safe space to let the creative juices flow. The band had originally planned to record and release a series of EPs throughout 2013, stopping at different studios on the road to lay down short collections of original tracks. After releasing EP 13 last fall, the band decided to diverge from their original plan. Still, recording the EP was a safe way to get the band back in the studio and get them reaquainted with that fun feeling.

“We’ve been admittedly negligent in our producing studio records,” Kaufmann claimed. But the band is ready to spend some serious time in the studio this May. “We’ve got the songs, we’re ready to go, we’re excited to do it,” he said. “It’s time.”

You can catch Yonder Mountain String Band at the Canopy Club this coming Sunday with the Travelin’ McCoureys. Doors at 7 p.m., show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door.

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