Telluride Bluegrass: Yonder To Debut Latest Release
Yonder Mountain String Band celebrates the national release of Black Sheep at the 42nd Telluride Bluegrass Festival, performing at the Telluride Conference Center, Mountain Village, on June 17; at the Sheridan Opera House, June 19; and on the Main Stage, June 20, 4 – 5 :30 p.m. Scroll down to listen to a track from Black Sheep.
Telluride has its festivals. Nederland has Frozen Dead Guy Days. No kidding, celebrated annually from Friday – Sunday the first full weekend of March. A centerpieces of Frozen Guy Days is a screening of the film “Grandpa’s in the Tuff Shed,” a magnum opus which premiered at Telluride Mountainfilm in 1998.
A centerpiece of the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is another Nederland import: Yonder Mountain String Band.
For nearly 17 years, Yonder Mountain String Band has redefined bluegrass music, expanding the traditional acoustic genre beyond its previously established boundaries by steadily pushing the envelope into the realms of rock n’ roll and improvisation. Yonder has always played music of their own design, in the process attracting a devout coterie of fans that often resembles a tight-knit family on an epic musical journey, with Yonder crossing the country with an ever-rigorous tour schedule.
Yonder is a quintessential ensemble honing its craft night after night on the road with fans there to experience it all in real time. The result is music that doesn’t stand still.
The band’s latest CD, Black Sheep, is scheduled for national release on Yonder’s own Frog Pad Records at the warm-up event to Telluride Bluegrass 2015 on June 17, 2015. The concert takes place in Mountain Village at the Telluride Conference Center.
Yonder Mountain String Band today – Adam Aijala (guitar, vocals), Dave Johnston (banjo, vocals), Ben Kaufmann (bass, vocals), Allie Kral (violin, vocals), and Jacob Jolliff (mandolin, vocals) – begins a new era.
The first Yonder release produced by the band itself, Black Sheep is, by any measure, a triumph, perhaps a highpoint of the group’s career.
“From the very beginning Telluride has helped shape Yonder Mountain. We have literally grown up on that wonderful stage. We arrive at the 2015 Bluegrass Festival having in some ways been reborn. And there we are releasing what I feel is the most exciting record we’ve ever produced. It’s called Black Sheep. Throughout the week we’ll be playing those new songs and introducing the Festivarians to our two new members, Jake Jolliff and Allie Kral,” said Yonder’s bassist/vocalist Ben Kaufmann, who continues:
“This record brings us back to the beginning in a lot of ways. It’s very stripped down and relies on the instruments and vocals alone to capture an ‘edge.’ In that way, it reminds me of our very first record. The decision to release it at Telluride was an easy one. There’s no other week where so many like-minded music fans gather, many of whom have seen us every year for a decade and a half. We have something new to share and Telluride, being family, gets to hear it first.”
Black Sheep marks the first time in Yonder’s history the group utilized the conventional five-piece instrumental arsenal of bluegrass introduced in the 1940s: guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle and bass. With the exception of the album’s sole cover tune, “Ever Fallen In Love,” originally by the late ’70s British punk-rock band the Buzzcocks, each of the album’s new tracks were written by the Yonder members over the past couple of years.
For many longtime aficionados of the band, it’s the instrumental prowess that draws them in and continues to wow fans at live shows and on recordings. With its new five-piece line-up, Yonder is able to go places that were simply inaccessible before.
“The traditional bluegrass lineup allows us to rethink things on different levels,” said banjo/vocalist Dave Johnston, “but at the heart of it all is the same energy and drive and a freewheeling spirit. It’s an exciting time for us because we have an invigorating sense of the future. At the end of the day, Yonder is a band with almost two decades of music under its belt, but we’re always a bit restless. We want to move the music forward to new places, which keeps us on our musical toes.”
Yonder’s roots date back to 1998, when the original quartet came together in Colorado. Through steadfast gigging in all manner of venues from small clubs to massive outdoor festivals, Yonder Mountain String Band quickly built a robust fan base while continually experimenting to define its sound.
Some of the most fervent audiences were at jam band shows and festivals, where fans took readily to YMSB’s potent mix of the traditional bluegrass of Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers and Doc Watson and the improvisational sensibilities of the Grateful Dead and Phish. Also deeply ingrained in the band, albeit more subtly, was a fierce love for punk, which provided members with seminal influences while they were growing up.
“We didn’t even hear bluegrass until our 20s,” said guitar/vocals Adam Aijala. “Falling in love with the sound of bluegrass instruments, while also having all of these outside influences that had nothing to do with bluegrass — well, what comes out isn’t what we envisioned.”
With the band’s 17th anniversary coming this summer, and an extensive tour schedule running throughout the year, a revitalized Yonder Mountain takes delight in the fact that they are still reaching new fans while simultaneously retaining the characteristics that brought their greater community together in the first place. The loss of one member and the subsequent addition of two of today’s top pickers to help shape their evolving sound brings intriguing opportunities to the table; ones that set Yonder on its new path. Black Sheep is a bold statement, meant to passionately get fans up on their feet and ecstatically dancing, but it’s also about embracing the moment. Essential changes are a healthy step in keeping the music alive and well.
“We’ve been growing over the years and I feel like we really don’t have any limitations,” added Aijala. “It doesn’t feel like work when you get to hang out with people that you care about and play music.”
“It’s not just bluegrass. It’s progressive. Everything Yonder has ever tried to do, we’re doing in this record. It’s gonna take some time for fans to get acquainted with the new Yonder. When you make a big change like we did, it’s a huge thing. But the band is a force, and the album is such a perfect example of our new direction,” added Kaufmann.
“Yonder Mountain String Band is as durable as bluegrass itself. It changes and morphs and has an open-ended quality that makes anything possible,” concluded Johnson.
For a preview of Yonder and Black Sheep, watch this video:
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