High on the Mountain

Yonder Mountain String Band will perform in concert at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 1 in the MSU Amphitheatre, with special guests the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Tickets are $15; $10 for students. (662) 325-2930.

To say Yonder Mountain String Band eats, sleeps and breathes its music isn’t really much of an exaggeration.

The bluegrass jam band, made up of Jeff Austin, Dave Johnston, Adam Aijala and Ben Kaufmann, spends months on the road, providing unique shows for its fans to bootleg, and the band members are constantly forming new tunes in their heads. Being on tour so much actually helps create the music rather than stifle it, Kaufmann said.

“The first week (on tour) is always an adjustment. By week two, people are starting to wear their gig shirts for the second time, because we haven’t been to a place with a washing machine. By week three, the only way to describe it is like a trance – you’re so exhausted because you’re sleeping on the bus while it’s moving, and so the only thing you’re thinking about is playing music, singing, performing … and that is a powerfully cool place,” Kaufmann said. “I’m not sure it’s healthy, but it’s cool.”

Yonder Mountain String Band formed more than 10 years ago.

The band members were into jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish, but also loved bluegrass and rock. They moved to Colorado, where the contemporary bluegrass scene continues to thrive. But the guys knew they had to make music that was their own.

“I’m from Boston, the other guys are from Boston, Chicago – we couldn’t sing Little Girl of Mine in Tennessee’ and have it feel authentic,” he said.

Yonder Mountain String Band released its first album, “Elevation,” in 1999, and since then the group has self-released all of its studio and live albums. Yonder Mountain is wrapping up its latest album, which will be released this fall, a few days after the band plays a show at the legendary venue Red Rocks in Colorado. After that, the band will open for the Dave Matthews Band.

“This is my dream. I just want to live this dream completely,” Kaufmann said. “If you’d have said to me years ago that Yonder Mountain String Band is going to be able to play Red Rocks and that we’re opening out at the Gorge (Amphitheater) for Dave Matthews, I’d say, we get to do what? Oh, man, are we lucky.”

And playing live is what fuels the non-stop energy of Yonder Mountain String Band. Kaufmann said the band can’t wait to get back on the road.

“If you come to one of our shows, you’ll get swept up in this energy that begins on stage but in the end it’s in the audience and back on stage. You get this energetic cycle happening. It’s amazing to be a part of, to see the energy and smiles on people’s faces,” he said. “You’re getting a band that is steeped in bluegrass tradition, and looks like a bluegrass band, but it’s all about rocking people’s faces off.”

Sheena Barnett/Daily Journal

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