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Thursday, March 15

Yonder Mountain String Band

Old Salt Union

6:30 p.m. doors, 8 p.m. show

All ages welcome

$25 advance, $30 day of show

Yonder Mountain String Band

For nearly two decades, 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. YMSB 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 as Yonder traverses the country with an ever-rigorous tour schedule. Yonder is a quintessential ensemble honing its craft night after night on the road, and the fans are there to experience it in real time. The result is music that doesn't stand still, it's always progressing and breaking unprecedented ground.

With their latest album, Black Sheep (scheduled for national release on their own Frog Pad Records at Telluride Bluegrass Festival on June 16, 2015), Yonder Mountain String Band - 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 YMSB release produced by the band itself, Black Sheep is, by any measure, a triumph, perhaps the most mesmeric of their career. The result, says Kaufmann, is that, "This record sounds more like Yonder than any record we've ever done. I'm hoping that when people are finished listening to it, they'll just hit play and listen to it again."

Black Sheep marks the first time in Yonder's history that they're actually utilizing, throughout an entire record, 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 YMSB members during the past couple of years. Three of the new songs - "Annalee," "Landfall" and the title track - have already been road-tested on tour; others will be added to the band's live repertoire following the album's release. The majority of Black Sheep was recorded at Coupe Studios in Boulder, Colorado, with Adam handling much of the engineering at his home studio and while on the road; the first time a band member has taken on that task.

Even on first listen, it becomes instantaneously apparent that Black Sheep is the work of a new Yonder Mountain String Band, one with a strong commitment to re-exhibiting itself and broadening its parameters following the departure of a founding member. While it's immediately recognizable as YMSB music, there's undeniably a raw aesthetic to the studio tracks - a sense of daring is embedded in both the instrumental interaction between these five singular players and in the lyrical content of each song.

Yonder has its roots in the year 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 fanbase 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 the members with seminal influences while they were growing up. "We didn't even hear bluegrass until our 20s," says 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 invitation for some of today's top pickers to help shape their evolving sound brings intriguing opportunities to the table; ones that set YMSB 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," says Aijala. "It doesn't feel like work when you get to hang out with people that you care about and play music."

Adds Kaufmann, "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."

Says Johnston in conclusion, "Yonder Mountain String Band is as durable as bluegrass itself. It changes and morphs and has an open-endedness that makes anything possible."

 

Website:
http://www.yondermountain.com/

Instagram:
https://instagram.com/yondermountain/

YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/user/yondervideo/

Twitter:
https://twitter.com/yondermountain

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/yondermountain

Soundcloud:
https://soundcloud.com/yondermountainstringband

Old Salt Union

A great band is more than the proverbial sum of its parts, and in the pursuit of becoming something that can cut through the clutter of YouTube stars and contest show runner-ups, a great roots music band must become a way of life.  Less likely to rely on production or image, they've got to connect with their audience only through the craftsmanship of their songs, the energy they channel on the stage and the story that brings them together.

Old Salt Union is a string band founded by a horticulturist, cultivated by classically trained musicians, and fueled by a vocalist/bass player who is also a hip-hop producer with a fondness for the Four Freshmen. It is this collision of styles and musical vocabularies that informs their fresh approach to bluegrass and gives them an electric live performance vibe that seems to pull more from Vaudeville than the front porch.

In 2015 they won the FreshGrass Band contest and found the perfect collaborator in Compass Records co-founder and GRAMMY winning banjoist and composer, Alison Brown, whose attention to detail and high standards pushed the group to develop their influences from beyond a vocabulary to pull from during improvisation and into the foundation of something truly compelling in the roots music landscape.

Violinist John Brighton mentions some names familiar to the Compass roster as key influences, musicians like Darol Anger, Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall and Mark O'Connor, all of whom have collaborated with Brown in the past.  Primary vocalist and bassist, Jesse Farrar (for the indie rock heads - yes, he's related - Son Volt front man Jay Farrar is Jesse's uncle) brings an alternative rock spirit as well as his unique formative experiences as a hip hop producer and bass player for a national tour of The Four Freshmen.  The band's self-titled Compass debut combines these instrumental proclivities with pop melodies and harmonies into a coherent piece of work that carves out a road-less-travelled for the band in the now crowded roots music genre.

The album kicks off with a nod to alternative rock sensibilities - a deconstructed symphonic drone creeps in slowly, while Farrar emerges through the atmospherics to deliver the first lines "Stranded on a lonely road/Trying to find my way back home/A dollar and a broken heart/Didn't seem to get me very far".  His words are followed by a dramatic moment of silence (a trick often used in hip hop) that quickly launches into "Where I Stand", a hard-driving bluegrass track that gets moving so powerfully you almost don't notice the layer of angelic harmonies flowing consistently underneath.

Mandolinist Justin Wallace takes over lead vocal duties for the second track "Feel My Love" as well as a version of Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al".  He pops up again on  his composition "On My Way" and his no-frills, approachable voice is the perfect complement to Farrar's more gymnastic style.  The two work together beautifully on the Wallace-penned, "Hard Line".  Wallace is further showcased on the disc's lone instrumental "Flatt Baroque", composed by Brighton, who joins him in some twin mandolin, and it's this more contemplative moment on the album where the listener hears him reaching to be in perfect sync with his bandmate, that best reflects Wallace's role in the evolution story of the band.  If Farrar has emerged as the heartbeat, then Wallace is the soul.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the band was founded by banjoist Ryan Murphey, the aforementioned horticulturist who came to bluegrass music and the banjo later in life.  Finding a kindred spirit in Dustin Eiskant, the band'sformer guitarist and Farrar's cousin, the pair started the band in 2012 and Murphey played the banjo and led the band's business through its early incarnations, including the recruitment of Farrar in 2014.

When Eiskant quit in 2016, just as the band's already impressive trajectory seemed to be taking a significant step forward, Murphey and the band were able to reset, adding guitarist Rob Kindle to the lineup.  Kindle brings a bluegrass foundation from his early exposure to the music as a child in family settings, as well as a degree in jazz performance to the mix.

Though the band had established themselves as a growing festival act with performances at LouFestStagecoach FestivalBluegrass Underground, Winter Wondergrass, Freshgrass, Wakarusa, Yonder Mountain String Band's Harvest Festival, and the 2014 Daytona 500, it was their breakout track on Spotify, "Madam Plum" that seemed to amplify awareness of the band beyond the bluegrass bubble.

Of working with the band in the studio, producer Brown says, "These post modern bluegrassers are true renegades.  While they look like a bluegrass band, their musical sensibilities run much deeper and broader, borrowing as much from indie rock and jazz fusion as from Bill Monroe.  And, even more exciting to me, they know no fear!   They are wide open musical adventurers and we had a great time experimenting in the studio at the crossroads of these disparate influences."

The most unexpected but possibly most fascinating song on the album is a ballad entitled "Bought and Sold".  Its earnest beauty is balanced with a youthful inventiveness that leaves a solemn mark on the listener who might wake up at the end of it thinking, "What just happened?".

At this point, the future of the band seems marvelously unclear. The album closes with "Here and Off My Mind" which seems like the bluegrass song that Conor Oberst never wrote featuring a lyric that ends with the promise of "a better life" though from the all-hands-on-deck jam session that breaks out in the middle (is that a kazoo?) one gets the sense that the band can't imagine a better one than they have in the beat up Winnebago they currently call home.