Sunday, June 30, 2019

Remembering Jeff Austin

When Laura and I moved to Colorado in fall of 1999 one of the first things we did was go see Yonder Mountain String Band at Wolf Tongue Brewery in Nederland, CO on October 30.  That ended up being a crazy night and a grand introduction to the Colorado music scene of the time, of which Yonder would become the centerpiece.

I was already familiar with bluegrass by then, having been shown the way by Old and in the Way, which led to New Grass Revival, Hot Rize, Norman Blake, John Hartford, Tony Rice, Leftover Salmon and more.  But YMSB took bluegrass to places it had never gone before.  The songwriting, arrangements, dynamics, harmonies and rock n' roll energy jammed to the stratosphere were a mixture the world hadn't seen and didn't know was possible until their formation.

A big part of that chemistry was due to Yonder's mandolinist and defacto bandleader Jeff Austin.  Jeff was one of the best stage performers I have ever seen.  On his best nights - and there were many - Jeff seemed able to tap into and communicate with a muse or spirit that was equal parts guru and theater.

Jeff Austin performing w/ Larry Keel & others
at the 2001 High Sierra Music Festival.
Photo by Laura Fields.
In those formative days Jeff was often out and about in and/or around Nederland and Boulder so I actually got meet and chat with him more than once.  We were the same age/born in the same year.  The first time I ever saw him in person at that Wolf Tongue Brewery show I even noticed we were wearing the same shoes (Vasque hiking boots actually).  That was a good start. 

I would go on to see Yonder Mountain a couple dozen times (at least) between 1999 and 2006-ish.  In addition to that 10/30/99 Nederland show, some other favorites include 6/10/00 at the Gothic Theater in Denver, 12/30 and 12/31/00 at the Fox Theater, and both the 2001 and 2003 years at High Sierra.  Ah yes, High Sierra.  The fondest memories of them all.
Yonder Mountain String Band.  High Sierra Music Festival main stage.
I think this is 2001.  Photo by Laura Fields. Pardon the sun.

This week I've been listening back to some of these favorite Yonder shows.  I had either forgotten or didn't realize how much of a part of my life they were back then.  These are moments to cherish now and forever.
Adam Aijala, Jeff Austin and Ben Kaufman.
Brown's Island - Richmond, VA.  May 26, 2006. By Laura Fields.