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Grand influences guide Yonder Mountain's spirit

Published March 15, 2013 8:19 am

Music • Bluegrass band performs at The Depot on March 15.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Yonder Mountain String Band is one of the most prestigious bluegrass bands in the world — sorry, Mumford & Sons.

To achieve that status, the Colorado-born band has kept a loose interpretation of the bluegrass genre.

The quartet is a regular presence at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, but members say they are inspired as much by the punk bands Dead Kennedys and Black Flag as bluegrass legends Del McCoury and Bill Monroe.

One of the band's most requested songs is a unique take on Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train."

There are other indications that members defy stereotypes.

Mandolin player Jeff Austin said one of the first albums he owned was the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," an album that defied the notion of what a pop band should sound like. "My mom bought me one when the CD player first came out," Austin said during a recent telephone interview. "[The player] was as big as a house."

For bass player Ben Kaufmann, it was Metallica's classic album "…And Justice for All," an album that defied the notion that the metal band was dead after Cliff Burton's death.

These bluegrass rebels have a traditional side, too. Besides Austin and Kaufmann, Dave Johnston performs on the banjo, and Adam Aijala handles the guitar. All of them can sing.

Despite releasing 10 albums, most of them on the band's own Frog Pad Records, Kaufmann said Yonder Mountain is a live band first.

The band began when Johnston and Austin met in Urbana, Ill., home of the University of Illinois. Keeping with the hard-drinking, devil-may-care attitude of the Fighting Illini student body, the duo played around town as The Bluegrassholes.

Johnson and Austin moved to Colorado, settling in the small town of Nederland, where they met Kaufmann and Aijala at a club.

Band members say it takes a certain kind of person to live in Nederland — which makes Salt Lake Valley's winters seem like a Louisiana summer. The town hosts a "Frozen Dead Guy" celebration every March. And in 2010 Nederland became the second Colorado town to legalize the sale, purchase and possession of marijuana for people 21 and older.

Much of the band has left the tiny town. "Nederland got too big for me when it reached 1,200 people," said Kaufmann, who found a retreat at a higher elevation.

dburger@sltrib.com

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Four strings and the truth

Yonder Mountain String Band

When • Friday, March 15, at 8 p.m.

Where • The Depot, 400 W. South Temple, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $25 at SmithsTix