For fans of Colorado-based oddball bluegrass pop act Yonder Mountain String Band, there is good news and bad news.
The bad news is that the upcoming three-date stand in Boulder and Denver will include the last foreseeable edition of the band’s traditional New Year’s Eve show in Colorado, according to bassist Ben Kaufmann. Boulder is short on the type of huge venues Yonder Mountain can pack, and Colorado has become a New Year’s Eve beachhead for jam bands. Sound Tribe Sector 9 is playing Denver on Dec. 31, and so are Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and the Greyboy Allstars. Leftover Salmon will play Boulder that night. Sorry Atlantic City, you get O.A.R.
The good news for Yonder partisans is that Kaufmann says these shows — Boulder Theater on Dec. 29, and the Fillmore Auditorium in Denver on Dec. 30 and 31 — will be special. The band is planning “production elements” including a “celestial theme” and, if Kaufmann’s wish comes true, a disco ball of exceptional provenance. Kaufmann predicts that if you wake up in 2010 and you ask what everyone did the night before … “Then the answer’s gonna be that you fuckin’ missed out,” he says.
Eleven years into this Rocky Mountain jamgrass experiment — too bluegrassy for rock fans, too jammy for Ph.D. candidates who insist on authenticity in their backwoods music and Thai food — Kaufmann is refreshingly earnest about his still-inflamed ambition. He eschews artiste posturing. The man wants to hear his music in movies. He wants to be on TV again. The Yonder Mountain boys played “Out of the Blue” from their new album, The Show, on Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show on CBS the other night, and the band felt a “burst of energy” from the crowd that was not prompted by an “APPLAUSE” sign or a production assistant. Kaufmann wants that moment again.
“It was the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” Kaufmann says. “I can tell you, man, we felt like we accomplished something huge.”
Albums are often an afterthought for jam bands, and Kaufmann admits Yonder Mountain is, and probably always will be, “about the live show.” Still, the members of Yonder dumped a ton of money into making The Show, and Kaufmann doesn’t expect the band to recoup that money. That will be done with live shows.
Kaufmann says the record is part of the group’s “continuing experiment” with mixing bluegrass with rock. Indeed, the disc veers from tornado string-picking to the heavily rhythmic jams that occasionally wander near O.A.R. territory (Danger! Danger!). Critics — those who deign — have downgraded Yonder Mountain for their undisputed pop and classic rock proclivities. For those who see this record as “poppy,” Kaufmann responds: “They’re right.” That shouldn’t be a bad thing, Kaufmann said. He isn’t dying to get “motherfucked” by critics, but he isn’t worried about his credibility.
“The only thing you need to do is to make the thing that you’re proud of at the time,” he says.
Kaufmann proudly noted that Yonder has enjoyed occasional radio play.
“It’s pretty hard to get the radio to play anything that’s called Anything String Band,” he says.
But in light of all the indignities the Internet has visited upon record industry’s business model, Yonder Mountain is sitting pretty, thanks to their fans. It was the free and unregulated promulgation of bootlegged show recordings that brought more and more people to their live shows, their real moneymakers. They don’t have a big record label, and they don’t need one. Free distribution strikes again.
Kaufmann knows his band has “built something that’s pretty solid” with fans. Which means they have the joy of endless touring. Kaufmann admitted that when Yonder took a break from touring starting Oct. 31, he felt like someone gave him a “bluegrass roofie.” Still, he hopes to be doing this at 80.
“That’s a life well spent,” he says.
On the Bill: The Yonder String Mountain Band plays the Boulder Theater on Dec. 29 and the Fillmore Auditorium on Dec. 30 and 31. Doors at 9 p.m. 16 and over. Three-day passes start at $117.50 and 2-day pass $86.50. Visit www.livenation.com for more ticket and venue information.