How many roads must a band drive down before you can call them a band?
Your arithmetic may vary, but for Boulder’s own Yonder Mountain String Band, it’s a moot point. Now entering its 15th year, Yonder Mountain is comfortably north of 1,000 shows by its members’ estimate.
“We do right around 100 shows a year, and it’s been that way for 10 years,” says Yonder guitarist Adam Aijala.
The band’s longterm relationship has made a well-oiled bluegrass machine out of the four-piece. Like any married couple could tell you, communication is key to success.
“It was good when we started, but we just know each other’s nuances so well at this point,” Aijala says.
“I can tell when someone’s about to do something before they do it without even looking at them. Our ear is a lot better. So is our sound guy,” he adds.
Of course, such familiarity has its drawbacks, too. It’s thrilling to see a new band stake their claim on a scene; like watching fire burn, there’s something entrancing about it. Though YMSB’s passion is still undeniable, it’s impossible to hang on to that spark forever.
“Most people like a band’s early stuff,” Aijala explains. “It probably has to do with when you’re a new band, you have more energy. We still have a lot of fun and energy in our shows, but we’re 15 years old as a band. That honeymoon phase [is over].”
The band has matured since it sprung out of a Nederland bar in 1998, and so have its members. Once strapping singles, each of them is now married.
Mandolin player Jeff Austin will forego the first 17 shows of the band’s first tour of 2014 to prepare for the birth of his daughter. Aijala’s songwriting contribution to the band’s new EP, YMSB 13, may be about trouble in paradise, but it’s an update of a song and relationship that date back to his college days rather than a portent of disaster.
“‘All The Time’ is kind of a more mature version of [‘Left Me In A Hole’],” Aijala explains. “The feeling on the song is, ‘we tried, but it didn’t work.’ My wife was in the same room when I wrote it, and it felt kind of weird because it had nothing to do with her,” he laughs.
From member to member, there are no seeds of discontent to be found in Yonder Mountain. To hear Aijala tell it, the band has never been more fruitful creatively. Though it just released YMSB 13 in October, it already has another dozen songs fit for recording.
With most of the year behind it, one hallmark stop for the band remains in 2013: a New Year’s Eve run in Boulder. The band has played New Year’s Eve in the state almost every year since its inception, decamping just twice for shows in St. Louis. This year, the band will enjoy a five-night stand at Boulder Theater, complete with special guests like lap-pedal steel guitarist Roosevelt Collier and mandolin legend Sam Bush. In addition, they will host a silent auction the first three nights to benefit Planet Bluegrass, raffling off prizes like festival tickets, venue laminates and artwork.
In their Dec. 28 show, the group will hang up the title and expectations of Yonder Mountain String Band for one set to perform as the elusive, costumed four-piece Cosmic Bowling League. It’s a rare treat — both for steadfast fans and, you’d imagine, the band. After all, Cosmic Bowling League is a relative unknown, with all the energy and potential that Yonder Mountain has managed to harness since 1998.