BACKSTAGE PASS

Yonder Mountain String Band brings version of bluegrass to The Venue


Published: Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 11:37 a.m.

Twenty five years ago, a band with a banjo, guitar, upright bass and mandolin had virtually no chance of being an international success. In 1985 Yonder Mountain String Band would have most likely been relegated to regional success, limited, if any, radio play and would have finished their careers as solid contributors to a niche genre. There would have been no Bonnaroo, no Red Rocks and no opening for Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention.

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The Yonder Mountain String Band brings its acoustic-instrument sound to The Venue on Wednesday.

COURTESY OF YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND

But now Yonder Mountain String Band has the aid of putting their shows on the Internet and reaching fans in every part of the country. And they have the aid of 12 years of constant national exposure through the jam-and-festival circuit.

The band, which includes Dave Johnston on banjo and vocals, Adam Aijala on guitar and vocals, Jeff Austin on mandolin and vocals, and Ben Kaufmann on bass and vocals will perform Wednesday at The Venue. Tickets for the 9 p.m. show are $20, available at Etix.com.

Johnston recently talked about the development of Yonder Mountain String Band, music on the Internet and other subjects.

Q: Your next tour goes primarily through the Southeast. Being from Colorado, do you think the bluegrass style travels well there?

A: I think for a while we had some kind of resistance going on. I think people realized we weren’t a straight-up, traditional band. But we do well in Florida and the Appalachian states. Since our popularity started on the West Coast it took a while to reach everywhere.

Q: Since people in the Southeast are more familiar with traditional bluegrass, how do they respond to the liberties you take with the genre?

A: We’ve deviated from traditional bluegrass to such a degree, that we don’t see too many traditionalists out at the shows. Our main inspirations came from the second-generation bluegrass acts. Those guys had already done the one-step-removed from traditional bluegrass thing, so we wanted to take it to a different level.

Q: How has the Internet helped to spread roots music across different regions and give bands like yours a fighting chance in today’s music industry?

A: I don’t think it leveled the playing field entirely. It definitely has helped roots music, the accessibility of it all. The Internet does two things, it exposes people to the music and they can become fans, but it also persuades people to start making this kind of music and then our genre grows. It’s really helpful.

Q: It seems like YMSB took a page out of the Grateful Dead’s playbook and starting making every show available for your fans. Can you talk about what it does for your band?

A: A great guy we’ve gotten to meet along our journey is John Barlow. He used to write songs for the Grateful Dead. He was also a great idea guy and confounded the whole notion that scarcity creates demand. He thought the availability of the music actually created demand and they are a great example that grassroots marketing is all about your availability. More of your great moments are captured on stage, and having down-loadable shows means more ears get to hear those great moments.

Q: After 12 years in the band, how does YMSB continue to redefine success?

A: You need to pick targets that you can hit, and that are worth hitting. Success doesn’t have to be a “big picture” thing. The big thing for us is to strive to be excellent in every moment and occasionally get there. We want to work with guys who want excellent content and excellent performances. We still have some goals, but that’s as short term as it gets.

Q: You guys do a lot of jamming on stage. Does the “zone” exist? What does it feel like?

A: The zone feels like listening to a recording of your own band, but it’s already happened. You preceed the moment and time becomes irrelevant. We know what we’re going to do one note from now, or even one measure from now and there’s no time delay between your brain and your fingers. From an improvisational sense that’s definitely the goal. But what the audience takes away from it is important too.

Contact Dante Lima at lima.dante@gmail.com.

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