Yonder Mountain String Band is one of the most prestigious bluegrass bands in the world — sorry, Mumford & Sons — but they only reached that status by believing in a loose tradition of what bluegrass is.
One indication comes when mandolin player Jeff Austin and bass player Ben Kaufmann are asked in a phone interview what the first albums they owned were.
For Austin, it 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. "[The player] was as big as a house."
As for 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.
Yes, the Colorado-born bluegrass band consists of the traditional: Kaufmann and Austin are joined by Dave Johnston on the banjo, and Adam Aijala handles the guitar, and all can sing. But while the quartet is a regular presence at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, question each member and they will say that their music in inspired just as much by the Dead Kennedys and Black Flag as it is by Del McCoury and Bill Monroe.
That’s why one of the band’s most requested songs is their unique take on Ozzy Osbourne’s "Crazy Train."
The band began when Johnston and Austin met in Urbana, Illinois, the home of the Fighting illini of the University of Illinois, and in keeping with the hard-drinking, devil-may-care attitude of the student body, commenced playing around town as The Bluegrassholes.
Both moved to Colorado, with both settling in the small town of Nederland, where they met Kaufmann and Aijala at a local club. It takes a certain kind of person to live in Nederland, which makes the Salt Lake Valley’s winters seem like a Louisiana summer. It is where "Frozen Dead Guy Days" is held every March, and in 2010 Nederland became the second town in Colorado to legalize the sale, purchase, and possession of marijuana for persons 21 years of age and older.
Much of the band has moved out of Nederland, including Kaufmann, who left town when "Nederland got too big for me, when it reached 1,200 people." He retreated to a higher elevation.
The band’s 10th album, "The Show," was released in 2009 on the band’s own label, Frog Pad Records. But Kaufmann stressed that the band is a live band, first and foremost.
It is a band that live seems to replicate the spirit of the first 7-inch 450 rpm record Kaufmann ever owned: "Mickey," the 1982 song by Toni Basil immortalized in the Kirsten Dunst cheerleading film "Bring It On."
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
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