With a stage plot full of traditional bluegrass instruments — banjo, mandolin, acoustic guitars, stand-up bass — Yonder Mountain String Band may, at first glance, appear to be a band with nostalgia for classic Bill Monroe music.
Yonder's fans know better. The progressive, four-piece unit made up of multi-instrumentalists Dave Johnston, Jeff Austin, Ben Kaufmann and Adam Aijala has bent bluegrass, rock and other influences to create acoustic tunes filled with dazzling chops and passionate stories — funneled through Yonder's charisma and "anything goes" attitude.
"My favorite moments are those when spontaneity comes out," says Austin, the band's mandolin player. "Those are the great moments where you can find yourself in some amazing spots. We can build on the chord structures of some songs on the spot. The music can fall out of time and get free, or get deep and groovy. It's ever changing."
Who: Yonder Mountain String Band
When: 8 p.m. Sunday, April 21
Where: Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St., Ashland
Tickets: $22.50 in advance; $25 at the door
Call: 800-992-8499 or see www.ticketswest.com
Yonder Mountain String Band will perform Sunday, April 21, at the Historic Ashland Armory, 208 Oak St., Ashland. Another Colorado-based string band, Head for the Hills, will open the show. Doors open at 7 p.m. The show starts at 8. Tickets cost $22.50 in advance and may be purchased at Music Coop in Ashland, Bad Ass Coffee and 619 Clothing in Medford, Listen Here in Grants Pass, online at www.ticketwest.com or by calling 800-992-8499.
The chemistry between Yonder's members hasn't changed since they first met at an informal club performance in 1998, according to the band's bio.
Johnston learned banjo while attending the University of Illinois. He and players in his first group, Giblet Gravy, split off to form The Bluegrassholes, a short-lived project that ended when he was drawn to Colorado's acoustic music scene.
Austin, raised just outside Chicago, discovered the mandolin in 1994.
"I went back and forth with it and the guitar," Austin says. "I can hear a wider tonal spectrum on the guitar, but I find the mandolin more challenging. I'm a huge fan of Sam Bush. He plays with such power and strength."
Johnston invited Austin into The Bluegrassholes in 1995. The two later met bassist Kaufmann in Nederland, Colo. Kaufmann had been playing in several bands, but soon found himself stepping onto an RV held together by duct tape and starting a new life with the Yonder Mountain String Band.
Guitarist Aijala loved power bands as a teen. Later, he studied forestry at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a field he worked in until 1997 when a third knee surgery forced him to rethink his career choice. Moving to Nederland, Colo., he met Johnston, Kaufmann and Aijala, and the rest is history.
The foursome has crisscrossed the country playing festivals, stadiums and clubs. Yonder has played Red Rocks Amphitheater in its home state and opened for Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention at Mile High Stadium in Denver. The band has headlined the Northwest String Summit in North Plains since its 2002 inception.
Yonder has five studio albums on its own Frog Pad recording label. The newest is "The Show," released in 2009.