Opera House: Jeff Austin Band

Opera House: Jeff Austin Band

Former front man of Yonder Mountain String BandJeff Austin and his band play the historic Sheridan Opera House Friday and Saturday, January 16-17, 2015, with opening support from Grant Farm. Austin is joined by Danny Barnes on banjo, Eric Thorin on bass and Ross Martin on guitar. Doors are at 8 p.m. and show time is 8:30 p.m. Tickets for the show, available here, are general admission: $25 GA on the floor and $35 reserved seats in the balcony plus a $3 ticketing fee.


Mandolinist Jeff Austin appears to be unstoppable. He is celebrated for his fleet fingers and penchant for improvisation on stage, but those qualities also speak volumes about how he chooses to live. Austin has cultivated his natural musical abilities and allowed himself to be driven by his boldest instincts. In this way, he has been able to build positive, exciting momentum around his life’s greatest passions.

Austin’s enthusiasm for the vast, vibrant world of music took root in him as early as he can remember:

“I was always raised very musically. My mom always had music playing; she always sang.”

So Austin himself grew up singing too. From beginning to end of his years in grade school just outside of Chicago, he sang in classes, choirs, and musicals, allowing his musical influences to lead him wherever they may.

“I started listening to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings,” Austin said. “And then the Beatles, that turned into Bob Dylan, and then the Grateful Dead and Phish.”

Austin continued his forward march, attending University of Cincinnati and majoring in musical theatre until he came upon a crossroads that threatened to derail his plans.

“I remember standing in front of the Grateful Dead three weeks before I dropped out of college and thinking, ‘there’s so much more to this music thing than being educated and being told what you are,’” Austin explained. “You can take what you think is your value and throw it at a crowd of people, and they will throw it back to you. The beauty is that nothing is black and white. It’s all grey; it’s interpreted at the moment.”

Austin went on to illustrate what this realization meant for his future:

“At the time, I was auditioning for Broadway and off-Broadway shows. I walked away from everything I was set up to do because I realized that I just wanted to be in a band.”

Serendipitously, he met banjoist Dave Johnston, who encouraged Austin to try the mandolin and join his band The Bluegrassholes, so Austin learned how to play the only way he knew how – with music:

“I would listen to Not for Kids Only, which is a record of kids’ songs that Garcia/Grisman put out, nothing too fast. I would listen over and over and over and find the notes on my mandolin.”

Picking up an instrument for the first time was exhilarating for Austin.

“I never took lessons,” he admits. “I just threw myself in that world. I’ve always kind of learned in the line of fire.”

The line of fire inspired Austin to be better, so he kept coming back.

“For the better part of 3 years, I jammed night after night with these guys. There’s something about the pace, the speed, the aggressiveness, the chasing of the beat.”

Austin was hooked.

In 1998, Austin and Johnston relocated to Nederland, Colorado. Working at a bar called the Verve, Austin met Adam Aijala and Ben Kaufmann, with whom he and Johnston would form the Yonder Mountain String Band. Together, the four musicians created a wild, high-energy niche among the bluegrass legends of old and the up-and- coming jam band scene. Over 15 years, Yonder Mountain String Band has built an intensely loyal fan base from festivals and other venues across the nation, sharing the stage with legends like Jon Fishman, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzman, Earl Scruggs, Pete Thomas, and Jimmy Herring, and releasing five studio albums and five live recordings.

“My time with Yonder has taught me what is possible,” Austin says. “It has shown me that if you work hard at it and you believe in it and there’s a part of you that’s meant to do it, it will happen. It’s clichéd, but it’s true.”

The rich personal history at his back,  Austin is now moving in a new creative direction, preparing to step into the spotlight as a solo artist. On his forthcoming debut project, Austin’s songwriting remains rooted in Americana and the frantic energy of the jam genre, but also reaches  further into more mainstream themes reminiscent of his co-write contribution “Fiddlin’ Around,” featured on the 2010 Grammy-nominated Dierks Bentley album, Up on the Ridge. While the upcoming, untitled solo effort is still a work-in- progress, it can already be summed up succinctly as Austin’s love letter to storytelling.

“I love writing a three-minute song with a hook that would grab a five-hundred-pound marlin as much as I like writing something that goes, ‘okay, after the bridge, it’s going to open up and just go wide.’”

Indeed, “wide” is what Jeff Austin is all about. He wants new and different, complex and interesting. He wants everything the music world has to offer, and he’s willing to work hard to get it.

For a preview of the Jeff Austin Band, watch this video:

The Sheridan Arts Foundation was founded in 1991 as a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization to preserve the historic Sheridan Opera House as an arts and cultural resource for the Telluride community, to bring quality arts and cultural events to Telluride and to provide local and national youth with access and exposure to the arts through education. The Sheridan Arts Foundation is sponsored in part by grants from the Telluride Foundation and CCAASE.

About the Telluride Arts District:


Telluride Arts District logo


The historic Sheridan Opera House is a key player in the Telluride Arts District, a Colorado Certified Creative District, www.TellurideArts.org

The Telluride Arts District is a Colorado Certified Creative District, and works in partnership with the Town of Telluride, Colorado Creative Industries, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Telluride Arts District offices are located in the historic Stronghouse at 283 South Fir Streetand at Gallery 81435 at 230 South Fir Street

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