music / Columns

Jam Central Station: Yonder Mountain String Band

July 8, 2017 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski

Yonder Mountain String Band is a group that originally formed, not based primarily on talent or even similar musical tastes, but simply on the basis of opportunity. Banjoist Dave Johnston found out that his friend Jeff Austin happened to own a mandolin, which he had never actually played. Instead of encouraging Austin to take lessons or even study the instrument, Johnston simply invited Austin to come play with his current band, The Bluegrassholes. Johnston’s only requirement was that Austin play “loud and fast.” And that, believe it or not, is how Yonder Mountain String Band got their start.
It wasn’t too long before Johnston and Austin moved from Illinois to Colorado. It was in Colorado that Johnston and Austin met Ben Kaufmann and Adam Aijala. These four officially formed Yonder Mountain String Band in the winter of 1998. They began playing small venues in Colorado, and their progressive take on traditional bluegrass music soon earned them a substantial following. They released their debut album less than a year after forming, 1999’s Elevation. The album was released on Frog Pad Records, a label that the band founded for their releases. The success of Elevationallowed the band to begin touring outside of the West, and their taper-friendly policies quickly expanded their fan base. They became known for their high energy live performances, their unconventional approach to bluegrass, and their humor on stage. They followed up Elevation with the live album Mountain Tracks Vol. 1, the first in a series of live releases.
Their second studio album, 2001’s Town by Town, continued to raise the profile of the band, but they saw their first showing on the bluegrass music charts with their second live release, Mountain Tracks Vol. 2. The album was released on the String Cheese Incident’s record label, SCI Fidelity, and charted at #11 on the bluegrass charts. The band began hitting the summer music festival circuit on a regular basis, playing early slots at major festivals, and they were major draws at smaller regional festivals.
The band’s following grew steadily following the release of Mountain Tracks Vol. 2. Old Hands, their next studio album, was released in 2003. This album consisted of tracks written primarily by bluegrass writer and musician Benny Galloway. The album hit #5 on the bluegrass charts and also made it onto the country music charts. The next two releases in the band’s Mountain Tracks serious also charted high on the bluegrass charts and made the country charts. Their 2006 self-titled album hit #1 on the Bluegrass charts, along with charting on the Country and Independent charts.
In 2009 the band released The Show, an album that continued to show their diverse chops. Their continued success both on the bluegrass circuit and among jam band fans allowed the band to start their own festival, called Harvest Festival. Over the first 5 Harvest Festivals the band has brought in some of the biggest names in bluegrass as well as highlighting other styles. They’ve also played the Northwest String Summit at Horning’s Hideout on a regular basis, and that festival has also become a “Yonder-centered” event.
By 2013 fans were beginning to wonder when the next YMSB album would come out. There had been no real movement or announcement about a new album. Around this time Jeff Austin also began putting together a side project that played festivals over the summer of 2013. Later in the year Yonder embarked on a tour without Austin, stating that Austin wanted to spend some time at home after having a new baby. Even with the signs of trouble, it still came as a shock when, in 2014, it was announced that Jeff Austin was leaving the band permanently. There had been tension in the band for quite some time, much of it under the surface. Yonder didn’t miss a single scheduled date, however, and they continued to tour throughout 2014. While they had numerous guests sit in with them throughout the tour, by the end of the year it was apparent that fiddle player Allie Kral (formerly of Cornmeal) and mandolinist Jacob Jolliff of Joy Kills Sorrow were fitting in nicely with the band.
The band began work on their next album with Kral and Jolliff in studio with them. The album became a very collaborative effort, with the band actively seeking input from Kral and Jolliff. In interviews the band stated that this process solidified the lineup and made it clear that Kral and Jolliff would more than make up for the loss of Austin. Black Sheep was released in 2015, their first album since 2008, and was widely seen as a solid and exciting effort from the group. Everyone in the band had an opportunity to step out, Jolliff and Kral’s playing lifted the band to new musical heights, and Kral even sang lead at points, something she never did with Cornmeal.
Since the release of the album, the band has constantly been on tour. They have headlined the Strings and Sol destination event, played themed Halloween shows, and continued to be looked at as one of the top bluegrass bands on the circuit. They also recently released Love. Ain’t Love, and it will be interesting to see what the community makes of their new effort. Either way, it’s clear the the band has gotten new life after the lineup change and that they’re going to continue to move forward without looking back.


Camp Bisco
July 13-15
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
The Disco Biscuits (6 sets), Bassnectar, GRiZ, Pretty Lights, Lotus, Twidle, Turkuaz, Electric Beethoven, Break Science, Beats Antique, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, The Werks

Northwest String Summit
July 13-16
Horning’s Hideout
North Plains, OR
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Del McCoury Band, JJ Grey & Mofro, Elephant Revival, Fruition, Turkuaz,

Levitate Music & Arts Fest
July 8-9
Marshfield, MA
Dispatch, Umphrey’s McGee, Ziggy Marley, Lake Street Drive, The Revivalists, Twiddle, JJ Grey & Mofro, Rubblebucket

Deep Roots Mountain Revival
July 20-22
Marvins Mountaintop
Masontown, WV
Brandi Carlile, Lettuce, Yonder Mountain String Band, Dr. Dog, The Motet, JJ Grey & Mofro, Moon Taxi, White Denim, TAUK

Floydfest 17: Freedom
July 26-30
Floyd, VA
Michael Franti & Spearhead, St. Paul & Broken Bones, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Shovels & Rope, Turkuaz, TUAK, Fruition

Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival
August 11-13
Alta, WY
The Infamous Stringdusters, Sam Bush Band, Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, Del McCoury Band, The Travelin’ McCoury’s

August 18-20
Wellston, MI
Greensky Bluegrass, Sam Bush Band, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, Fruition, Joshua Davis, Larry Keel Experience, Billy Strings, The Accidentals, The Crane Wives

August 24-27
Arrington, VA
The Avett Brothers, Phil Lesh & Friends, Gov’t Mule, Widespread Panic, John Fogerty, The String Cheese Incident, Umphrey’s McGee, moe, Greensky Bluegrass, John Butler Trio, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, TAUK

Grand Point North
September 16-17
Waterfront Park
Burlington, VT
Trey Anastasio Band, Grace Potter, Dawes, Joseph, Son Little, Hurray for the Riff Raff

The Festy Experience
October 5-8
Infinity Downs
Arrington, VA
The Infamous Stringdusters, Ani DiFranco, Drive By Truckers, Elephant Revival, Sam Bush Band, The Travelin’ McCoury’s, Jerry Douglas, Cabinet, Billy Strings, Beats Antique

Hillberry Music Festival
October 12-15
Eureka Springs, AR
Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, Leftover Salmon, Keller Williams’ Grateful Grass, Dumpstaphunk, Dirtfoot

Suwannee Roots Revival
October 12-15
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn, The Wood Brothers, Peter Rowan Dharma Blues featuring Jack Cassidy, Donna the Buffalo, Steep Canyon Rangers

Hangtown Music Festival
October 26-29
Placerville, CA
Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, Dark Star Orchestra, Leftover Salmon, Turkuaz

Suwannee Hulaween
October 27-29
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
The String Cheese Incident, Ween, Bassnectar, The Disco Biscuits, Portugal The Man, Lettuce, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Benevento/Russo Duo, Greensky Bluegrass, Kamasi Washington, TAUK, Dumpstafunk, Spafford

Dominican Holidaze
December 1-5
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Umphrey’s McGee, STS9, The Disco Biscuits, GRiZ, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, TAUK, The Motet, Lotus, Spafford

Strings & Sol
December 8-12
Now Sapphire
Puerto Morelos, MX
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, Infamous Stringdusters, Fruition

Gov’t Mule’s Island Exodus
January 13-17
Jewel Paradise Cove
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
Gov’t Mule, Warren Haynes, JJ Grey & Mofro

Jam in the Sand
January 18-22
Jewel Paradise Cove
Ruanaway Bay, Jamaica
Dark Star Orchestra, Hot Tuna, Rumpke Mountain Boys

Jam Cruise
January 17-22
Medeski, Martin, Scofield & Wood, Galactic, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Maceo Parker, Lotus, Lettuce, Gramatik, Keller Williams, The New Mastersounds, Dumpstaphunk, Turkuaz, The Main Squeeze

Panic En La Playa
January 26-30
Riviera Maya, Mexico

June 7-10
Manchester, TN

Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!