Dave Johnston, Ben Kaufmann, Adam Aijala and Jeff Austin, collectively known as Yonder Mountain String Band, came into Dallas on April Fool's Day, although what they brought to the House Of Blues was no joke. To the inexperienced ear, YMSB may be referred to as a bluegrass band, but they're much more than that. Bluegrass forms the framework on their music, but woven throughout are traces of progressive and psychedelic rock, and country. They play it hard and they play it loud, and after Dallas, their tour will take them to Austin, Tulsa, then up to Montana, Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California, with the final dates at the Fillmore in San Fran.
I think that what elevates Yonder Mountain into a class of their own is that each of the four members is a virtuoso in their individual instrument. The bass, played by Ben Kaufmann provides the rhythm section, all the more important because they don't have a drummer. Dave Johnston adds the bluegrass backbone with his banjo, and Adam Aijala provides a counterpoint to the banjo with his guitar. Jeff Austin is the gravy on top, and with his mandolin, brings in the melody and the energy. They all take turns with the vocals, with Ben and Jeff providing most of the stage banter. Together, they deliver some of the best live music available today.
Friday’s show in Dallas was a very energetic, with an enthusiastic crowd. The fans as well as the band appeared to really enjoy themselves. The setlist included several covers mixed in with their own tunes. Highlights of the show included a 10 minute No Expectations as a show opener, Traffic Jam, which opened the second set, and a 10 minute If You’re Ever in Oklahoma. Also in the second set was a cover of Willie Nelson’s Bloody Mary Morning. Their encore was Waylon Jenning’s Good Hearted Woman.
With the festival season just around the corner, you can expect to see YMSB popping up around the country in places like Chillicothe (Summer Camp Music Festival), Telluride (Telluride Bluegrass Festival), and North Plains, OR (Northwest String Summit), among others. Make sure to catch them if they’re playing nearby. You’ll be happy you did.