Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Live Music

Look over Yonder

Express Staff Writer

Photo by Aaron Farrington Yonder Mountain String Band will play at the Big Easy in Boise.

Yonder Mountain String Band has been consistently growing in popularity as a progressive string band that has been able to maintain its existence outside of the mainstream while working with some of the most celebrated musicians and producers of bluegrass and instrumental music notoriety.

In a rare trip to Idaho, Yonder has included a stop at the Big Easy in Boise on Friday, April 27. Doors will open at 7:30 p.m. and the show will start at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $17.50 and $20 at the door.

Comprised of Colorado transplants who met during a jam session at the Verve in Boulder, Colo., guitarist Adam Aijala, mandolinist Jeff Austin, banjo player Dave Johnston and bassist Ben Kaufmann did not have a whole lot of background in bluegrass music, but once they discovered it they found a sound all their own.

"I got into bluegrass via rock because of 'Old and In the Way.' I was poor as hell in college, and I didn't have the luxury of buying music," said Aijala. "I knew about it in the early 90s, and I had Ricky Skaggs, Doc Watson and Norman Blake. I didn't get into it until I met Dave and Jeff. Then I went to a bluegrass festival, the RockyGrass festival in Lyons, Colorado, and I said to myself, 'I have to learn how to do that.'"

Yonder is a combination of folk, bluegrass and classic rock, which includes forlorn melodies and long jams of well-orchestrated picking. Their latest self-titled album, "Yonder Mountain String Band," is a collaboration of the band's writing and an experiment with style. The added drums of Pete Thomas, who is Elvis Costello's drummer, is an evolution for the band, but not a permanent fixture.

"The new record makes us less limited and opened doors," Aijala said. "We can play anything at any time. The band doesn't have a drummer, which is not the norm, but we are a string band."

This album is a collaboration of the band because it is the first time they all wrote songs together. In the past, their albums revealed more of their individual song writing talents. In songs such as "How 'Bout You?" Yonder reveals their ability to synthesize rock and bluegrass most noted by Johnston's banjo playing.

However, it is Yonder's live performances that have created something of a cult following and labeled the band as music festival favorites appearing as headliners all across the country.

"We don't play the same set twice, ever. We put ourselves in a good position by never saying that we are bluegrass and never saying that we aim to hit every right note every night," Aijala said. "Our shows are an event for people. It's about the whole night and the energy we produce, and it allows us to be really free at what we do and less afraid to try stuff. But, also, people recording shows and sending shows to each other from the very beginning was part of it, too."

The band attributes its growth to the Internet and its share circles of music, but its association with the jam band world has certainly lent a hand, even though Yonder is trying to distinguish itself from the jam band scene.

"We are trying to get away from playing covers—the fans love it, but we like to play our own stuff."

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