Yonder Mountain String Band Explains Their "Great Musical Coup"

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A foremost proponent of the so-called "Nu-Grass" phenomenon -- a genre that merges the best of bluegrass with jam band sensibilities -- Colorado's Yonder Mountain String Band has attracted a fervent following that spans both sides of the Great Divide. Extolling the populist philosophy first championed by bands like the Grateful Dead, Phish, and Widespread Panic, they incorporate banjos, bouzouki, and mandolins into a traditional rock regimen in an effort to spur their fan's evergreen enthusiasm. Merely investigate their last album, Mountain Tracks, Vol. 5, the latest in a series of live recordings released on their own Frog Pad record label to understand what YMSB is.

Now in their fourteenth year as an active ensemble, they have become regulars at the nation's major bluegrass gatherings, particularly in their native Colorado, where they command headline status. Here in South Florida there's nary a mountain in sight -- excepting, of course, Mount Trashmore -- but regardless, the band's managed to make significant inroads in the Sunshine State, as well. On the eve of their upcoming sojourn to South Florida, we spoke to guitarist Adam Aijala and bassist Ben Kaufmann about their role in today's so-called Nu-grass phenomenon.


New Times: You've been at this for more than a dozen years... Can you describe your trajectory up until now? Specifically, what changes have there been with the band's music and how has your following grown?

Ben Kaufman: It feels like periods of upward growth and plateaus. Really, a very natural thing. And that gives us a chance to introduce new ideas, styles, and what have you, giving them a chance to develop in front of an audience. As a whole, Yonder started as a bluegrass-Nu-grass only thing, and has grown to be a vehicle for expressing our wider musical interests.

Adam Aijala: We grew the fastest in our first three years and from then until now, it's continuing to grow, though at a slower rate. The music has changed and evolved because our perception of the band keeps changing. What we may have thought was impossible years ago is very doable now because we really don't have any constraints, short of the limits to our musical abilities. A lot of our fans are aging with us, although, I also still see a lot of young folks in the crowd. I'd say our average fan is a bit older now versus 10 years ago.

Ben: I'm continually impressed by our audience. We've been at this for 14 years, yet we're still growing, and more people are coming to the shows. And, I sense an increasing passion from the audience for what we're doing.

What do you think has contributed to your band's growing popularity? When did you know you could quit your day jobs and make music your livelihood?

Ben: Ah, the million dollar question. How did we accomplish this great musical coup? The most honest answer is that Yonder is simply greater than the sum of its parts. There's a way that the band, playing together, connects with the audience that exists in the "unexplainable."

There's an art to the live show, how you hope to build the energy from the beginning to the ending of the performance. And Yonder has been performing different set lists every night for 14 years. Appreciating that model, as we and our fans do, each night becomes a surprise, in a sense. I like surprises. But not in the sense of a snarling German Shepherd leaping at you from the backseat of a parked car at the supermarket. I don't like that business at all. 

Approaching the question from a different angle, I do feel that our songwriting is strong. If I admit to being proud, it's in our songwriting.

Adam: I think the main reason people still come to see us is because they have a lot of fun. Since we do a different set list every night, folks don't know what we're going to play, and we keep our sets interesting by having good ebb and flow. I also believe we have four very competent songwriters in the band. By the time we left Colorado on our first official tour in March of 1999, we were all committed to Yonder full time. I could be wrong though.

Ben: As far as a job, I lived on a credit card for the early and lean years. I don't recommend that necessarily, but it worked out okay for me in the end. You're known mainly as a live band and a good percentage of your album releases have been live.


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Culture Room

3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Category: Music


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