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Yonder Mountain visits the prairie

The band will come Nov. 10 to the Blue Note.

Published Nov. 5, 2010

Yonder Mountain String Band is not here to soothe an afternoon audience with slow show of cool jazz. They’re here to blow it away with sprinting rhythms and furious melodies that are virtually impossible to keep up with without a frame-by-frame remote control. The live show, as well as the band’s latest record The Show, is all about speed and energy.

Yonder Mountain is more than a typical bluegrass band. The band features an understandably bluegrass lineup of a guitarist, a bassist, a mandolin player and a banjoist, but there’s a definitely foot-stomping rock vibe the quartet gives off to any listener.

The Boulder, Colo.-based group recorded The Show, as well as its previous self-titled album, with producer Tom Rothrock. Rothrock, who also produced for Elliott Smith, Elbow and Badly Drawn Boy, infused Yonder Mountain’s famous bluegrass sound with a rock feel.

“Both of those, in particular, genres are good for each other,” banjoist Dave Johnston said. “I wouldn’t say it's typical bluegrass or typical rock.”

Unlike most bands, all four members of Yonder Mountain sing and write almost equally. Different tracks throughout The Show are often distinguished more by the changing lead vocals than the constantly rapid-fire musicianship. Having different songwriters allows the band to have a wide variety of rock and bluegrass influences.

“We just end up feeling influenced by the things we like,” Johnston said. “It could be bluegrass or Bob Dylan or Metallica or Led Zeppelin.”

Composed of only string musicians — hence the name — Yonder Mountain has created its signature sound, but it doesn’t quite provide the same punch as a standard rock outfit. Therefore, the band has recently and selectively chosen drummers to play with them and speed up the music’s lightning pace even more. In the past, the group has hired famous rock drummers Pete Thomas and Jon Fishman.

Yonder Mountain was not always so quick, though. Once upon a time, it was only a regular, fast-paced bluegrass band. The speed of its two most recent albums has been a change for the quicker. Johnston said they did not initially intend for the albums to be faster, but they mark a good starting point for a new musical direction.

“I think we all probably have a similar take on anything we do in the future,” Johnston said. “We don’t really know what’s going to go down.”

As far as the present, Yonder Mountain is enjoying its status as one of the premiere bluegrass acts in the country.

“The best part of what we do is we get to meet people in music who are really important to us, like the Del McCoury Band and Leftover Salmon,” Johnston said. “Having that kind of camaraderie is really cool, and we’re very lucky to have it. Personally, I’ll never feel like a big shot.”

Yonder Mountain puts on a notoriously good live show, so it frequently puts out live albums. As for future releases, though, Johnston said he guesses the next one will probably be another studio record. But the band’s website, yondermountain.com, has lately been offering downloads of recent shows on the current tour.

The band is on tour for The Show and will be stopping on Nov. 10 at The Blue Note. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door.

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