Yonder Mountain String Band. (Jay Blakesberg / Special to Juice)
Creative forces move Yonder Mountain
Published on June 24th, 2014 | by Joe Lawler
It’s pretty much a guarantee that Colorado bluegrass act Yonder Mountain String Band will play Des Moines every summer. But while the band has become a local summer fixture, there will be one less familiar face in the mix when they return to Simon Estes Amphitheater Saturday. Singer/mandolin player Jeff Austin left the band in April.
But the group still has three other vocalists, so while Austin will be missed, the band isn’t starting from scratch with a new singer.
“Right now we’re kind of the in the process of figuring out how we adapt what we’ve already started and created into whatever is going to be its next form,” banjo player Dave Johnston said during a phone interview. “I’m not sure we’re totally beholden to the idea of just being four or five people. We’re thinking more along the lines of this not being a process ending in a final decision, but trying to participate in a process that will be a good creative force for the band for years to come.”
Johnston has roots in the Des Moines area; his dad is from Ankeny and his mom is from Granger. He used to vacation in Iowa every summer and said he “feels a kinship with Des Moinesers.”
For a lot of Yonder Mountain’s summer shows, the band is sandwiched into a 75 minute festival slot. A lot of times they’re the only bluegrass band on the bill, or close to it, like Yonder Mountain was at the first 80/35 Music Festival. But on Saturday the band will get to stretch out a bit and be a bit more loose with its improvisational style.
“You want to come out of the gates and hit a lot of line drives for a festival audience,” Johnston said. “You’ve got to do a lot of memorable things to stand out from everyone else. You want to strike a balance between being memorable and novel and being true to yourself.”
Yonder Mountain’s last full studio album, “The Show,” came out five years ago. The group released “EP 13” last fall, but fans can finally expect a full-length follow-up to “The Show” before too long. Johnston said the band has about five songs completed, recording with Jake Jolliff on mandolin. He’ll join YMSB at Saturday’s show, along with Allie Kral of Cornmeal.
Johnston said the three core members of YMSB are eager to tackle the new material and have been writing regularly for the upcoming release.
“It’s very exciting,” Johnston said. “As a different source of challenges presents itself, it’s fun to tackle that stuff in the creative spirit.”
Yonder Mountain String Band
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Brenton Skating Plaza, 520 Robert D. Ray Drive (moved from Simon Estes Amphitheater).
Cost: $22.50 in advance, $25 at the door.