Fan, ho! Followers buoy Yonder Mt. String Band's bluegrass, jamband sound
Thirteen year in the biz says something about a band.
"We keep the show fresh–- that's what makes all the difference in the world," says mandolinist Jeff Austin.
"Fresh" is a valuable word when it comes to successful artistry these days; with the evolution of the music business, artists can never be certain to hit it big based on record sales or album rankings. Traversing the interwebs can allow an unknown artist to hit it big–- or allow fans to easily "steal" or illegally download music, leaving a musician with little to show for all his hard work in the studio.
But by re-focusing their energy on diversifying their live show, the Yonder Mountain String Band can keep fans craving more– a concept they hit on when they created their hybrid sound in 1998. After a few jam sessions at a local venue in Boulder, Colorado, the quartet hit it off when their mutual love of bluegrass stretched out in a multi-minute jam.
"We ended up playing this one older tune for six or seven minutes, and the crowd was still into it," explains Austin. "We liked how it was streching out and for the first time, we went, 'Wow, bluegrass instrumentation can stretch out and keep people's interest.'"
Elongating a song without keyboards or percussion can be a foreign concept to jam fans–- but the folksy combination of mandolin, guitar, bass, and banjo managed to elevate both genres into a multi-layered sound.
"We wanted to be the best bluegrass band we could be," says Austin. "It's cool that we can go another way and not limit ourselves to just being a bluegrass band and that's it. There's nothing 'traditional' about us."
Eschewing tradition and re-inventing expectations for their sound has allowed the band to avoid the stereotypes and pitfalls of both the bluegrass and jamband scenes, providing for a fearlessness in song choice and influence.
Despite the lack of percussion or keys, covering songs from Pink Floyd and David Bowie in a single set is a welcome challenge.
"Nothing is untouchable," says Austin, noting that no set is the same, resulting in tour followers not unlike the Deadheads that chased Jerry Garcia around the country in hopes of hearing a favorite song.
"If fans want to come to consecutive shows, they're not going to hear the same material," explains guitarist Adam Aijala.
Austin agrees. An engaged fanbase that's jonesing to hear specific songs will stay dedicated throughout a tour if a band has the playlist and creativity to mix it up.
"In the old days, airplay and record sales dictated success," says Austin. "These days it's about putting bodies in the door."
Yonder Mountain String Band plays at the Jefferson Theater, Wednesday, February 16. Show starts at 8pm and tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door.