Trail Mix: The Yonder Mountain String Band Experience

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I admit to being a bit scatter brained. My fire is a bit too small for all of my irons, so to speak, and things seem to slip my mind. Just ask my wife. I have a hard time keeping up with my keys and wallet, regularly forget to switch the wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, and often don’t take anything out for dinner to thaw on the days it is my turn to cook.

Thankfully, these are all rather innocuous things. No crisis ever stemmed from my misplaced keys. I tend to remember the significant things pretty well…most of the time.

From a musical standpoint, this is especially true regarding when I was introduced to Yonder Mountain String Band. To this day, over a decade later, I can actually call to mind the view I had of the mountains leading up into Shenandoah National Park, just outside Charlottesville, Virginia, as I headed to a hike with my good buddy, Jason Collier, when Yonder’s second live record, Mountain Tracks: Volume Two, was tossed into the cd player. I was captivated.

Long a fan of bluegrass and acoustic music, I knew immediately that I was being introduced to a new sound. I became swept up in both the band’s songwriting and energetic playing style. After hearing the “Peace of Mind->Follow Me Down To The Riverside->Peace of Mind” sandwich late in the disc, I knew I was hooked for good.

Over the last ten years or so, I have managed to catch the band around a dozen times. I’ve traveled to distant states -– even on school nights, which is nearly scandalous for a school teacher like myself -– to hang out with other Kinfolk, the close knit family of Yonder fans that spans the country and travels en masse with the band while they are on the road. I’ve seen them at festivals and bars, in theaters and music halls, and traveled back home through a blinding snowstorm following a show, all because the live Yonder experience is really quite something.

Knowing that my love for Yonder is shared by many, I reached out to some friends to chat about their favorite Yonder moments. Every Yonder fan has one. In fact, I think every Yonder fan has many. Here are just a few from Kinfolk from around the country:

“Back during the very first Northwest String Summit in 2002, the guys were playing a workshop set on the second stage and someone in the crowd asked if the guys ever played other instruments. A moment later all four of them handed their instrument to another member of the band to play one song, but Jeff got Ben’s old upright bass and had NO clue how to play it. I’ve had nightmares about that ever since, being onstage and expected to play an instrument you’ve never played before, but all four of the guys performed “I’m Troubled” pretty well. I know all the guys are now multi-instrumentalists, but this was hysterically funny back then.” —Pastor Tim Christensen, Butte, MT

“I saw the band the night the Red Sox won the World Series and broke the Curse of The Bambino. Starr Hill, now closed but a legendary room in the Charlottesville music scene, was packed the hilt. We’re talking squirming room only. The first set was HOT. The second set was HOTTER. During the second set, the crowd was raging as the World Series excitement kept pace with the band’s momentum. The floors were shaking and the people were getting rowdy. The band was feeding off both the energy from the crowd and the game. Yonder was on fiar the show reached a frantic, fever pitch. This was a small place, just a couple people, and it was insane. As “If You’re Ever In Oklahoma” began evolving into an unbelievably stratospheric jam that was timed perfectly with the last outs of the World Series, the place began erupting. I’d never felt energy like that before, and I doubt I ever will again. That night, Charlotteville Yonder fans had the ultimate pre-Halloween treat: a special show to cherish and remember forever.” —Jason Collier, Crozet, VA

“I’ve been to many great Yonder shows. One that stands out as being over-the-top fun was at the All Good Music Festival in 2010. Widespread Panic opened for Yonder, who didn’t come on until the wee hours of the morning . . . maybe 2:30 A.M. or so. I was up front and on the rail the whole time. It was epic!” —Phil Graves, Waynesbrah, VA

“The first time I saw Yonder was at a big rock club in Nashville. I had gone to see The Infamous Stringdusters, who were opening, but I stuck around for the whole show. When YMSB came out, I was immediately floored. There was a surge of energy from the crowd that didn’t let up for the rest of the night. It was incredible to see so many smiling faces dancing to bluegrass music in a cavernous club. I was standing next to a handful of old-school bluegrass fans at the start of the show, and I was able to see the looks on their faces change as they ‘got it.’ It was a great night for a bunch of reasons.” —Jeremy Darrow, Nashville, TN

“My favorite moment was seeing Yonder at the Paramount Center in Bristol, Tennessee, as part of a taping for NPR’s Mountain Stage. The crowd went crazy when they came on stage. Several bands were playing, so I went next door during the intermission to have a drink. I sat down and ended up having the best chat with this cool cat that turned out to be Jeff Austin. You would have never known he was getting ready to go up on stage. We had a toast and I apologized for not recognizing him. Definitely one of the coolest guys I have ever met. I have never been let down at a show, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to see them if you have the chance.” —Kristin Ely Stanley, Wise, VA

“Back in 2002, I threw a party in Gainesville, Florida, at this little farm called Shambhala. Yonder was set to play and we were anticipating a good turnout. The boys arrived as scheduled and it was my first experience talking with them and not just being a patron of a show. They were all super polite and very friendly. It was an outdoor show and it was super dark that night, and I remember Jeff Austin stating, ‘They’ve locked the gates and released the Gators!’ It turned into a rocking party with about 400 or so folks in attendance. Yonder played a Jimmy Buffet cover with the words mixed up to reference a specific herb, which was hysterical. I remember running into the house to keep flipping the blown breakers due to the large amount of current surging through the many extension cords! The night wrapped up with us giving each of the Yonder boys his own personal bottle of Jaegermeister, which we used to toast the night, and the entire party shared the liquor as it was passed around the crowd. It was an absolutely fantastic night and probably one of the best things I have ever done to make so many people so extraordinarily happy.” —Joe Kuhn, Whitehall, VA

My own favorite Yonder moment came at my most recent show, back in February of 2012 at the Tennessee Theater in Knoxville. It was a rare time that Yonder had an opening band, which happened to be The Infamous Stringdusters, another one of my favorite acoustic bands, and I took my oldest son, John Patrick, to the show. J.P. swears he doesn’t like bluegrass music, despite the fact that he plays guitar, dobro, and upright bass in a distinctly bluegrassy/folksy band, but on this night, I enjoyed very much watching him mesmerized by the music being made on stage. He had never really seen bluegrass done the Yonder way before, and I loved seeing him come to the realization that acoustic instruments could rock.

Yonder has gone through a bit of an evolution over the last few months, as Jeff Austin, founding member and mandolin player, has left the band and embarked on a solo career. Undeterred, the remaining members of the band –- Adam Aijala, Ben Kaufmann, and Dave Johnston -– soldier on. Plans are to confirm a new and permanent line-up next year. For the time being, Yonder tours with Jake Jolliff on mandolin and Allie Kral on fiddle.

Yonder Mountain String Band will be stopping at The Jefferson Theater on Sunday, August 31.

Trail Mix would like to offer you the chance to go catch the show. Take a shot at the trivia question below and email your answer to dave@blueridgeoutdoors.com. A winner from all of the correct respondents will be chosen at noon on Friday, August 29th.

Good luck! And please remember to email your answer, don’t comment here!

Back in 2012, YMSB swung through Charlottesville, Va., with a guest guitarist because Adam Aijala had to miss the show. Who was that guest guitar picker?

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