Jam ‘n’ Grass

In 1995, the year Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia died, banjoist Dave Johnston met mandolin player Jeff Austin during their Urbana, Ill., college days. Johnston invited Austin to play and sing in his band The Bluegrassholes. Austin admitted he owned a mandolin but didn’t actually play it. Johnston, obviously having faith in Austin, told him to “play anything, just play fast and loud!” The two moved to Colorado, where they met bass player Ben Kaufmann and guitarist Adam Aijala at a free-for-all jam session at The Verve, a bar outside of Boulder, in 1998. Upon that fortunate meeting, their niche was set. “It was an eye-opening experience because we heard a unique sound,” says Johnston. “Something coalesced that night.” That was the conception of the Yonder Mountain String Band, currently one of the fastest rising touring jam bands in the country. One of the most surprising things about these guys: None of them grew up listening to bluegrass music.

You can’t call the Yonder Mountain String Band just another bluegrass band, not with influences like Hot Rize, The Seldom Scene, Frank Zappa, The Dead Kennedys and Ozzy Osbourne. Call them newgrass, jam grass or just a damn good band; whatever you call them, their music will get you on your feet and a good time will be had by all. In the tradition of a true jam band, YMSB sets are loaded with improvisation and you’ll never hear the same set list twice. Jerry would be proud.
This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, April 16, 2009

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