When Yonder Mountain String Band members line up on stage, what you're seeing and what you're hearing are often at odds. These four inconspicuous looking white dudes look casual, but their crazy excellent musicianship is evident when they shred, their fret boards a blur of fingers and strings. If you've been musically conscious since 1998, when the band formed, and have any interest in bluegrass or all-around kickass live acts then you've probably seen this bass, guitar, mandolin and banjo playing quartet play. After all, these boys now head a progressive bluegrass empire which includes their own record label, Frog Pad Records, and the extremely successful site youndermountainlive.com, an archive of hundreds of their live performances dating back to their inception that is available for download and sale.
But if you have not seen them live, below are three reasons you shouldn't miss these non-conformist pickers in their Bend appearance at the Midtown Ballroom.
Reason one: They're different. Their playing is sort of a "Devil-Went-Down-to-Georgia" style of fast-picking improvisation that burns through fret boards, assaulting your ears and getting your feet a-stompin. But their bluegrass fundamentals are influenced by rock and jazz, creating a sound that challenges the expectations of bluegrass traditionalists.
"People have a pretty well-defined idea of what they expect from bluegrass, so whenever you vary it at all you get resistance," said Dave Johnston, who plays banjo in the quartet. "When we put drums on the records we caused a reaction. We meet resistance. But if it's good music, people tend to have an open mind about it."
Reason two: You'll never see a repeat performance. Yonder jams turn a three-minute song into a 15-minute psychedelic jamgrass symphony where every song is different every performance.
"We have a long and varied list of tunes and we change them up," explained Johnston. "We don't ever repeat a set."
The sheer volume of their catalogue accounts for the band's ability to create a new experience with each performance. They have so much music, in fact, that not all of it is recorded even after the release of five studio albums and an additional five live records known as Mountain Tracks. Eleven years into touring, Yonder Mountain still plays about a hundred dates a year, but as the band members grow up, they find that recording time is scarce in part because Johnston and Bassist Ben Kaufman now have children.
"We have tons of material," said guitarist Adam Aijala. "We would like to have newer stuff [recorded], but we still have a lot of old material that's not on the new record because we don't do records that often."
Reason three: Everyone loves them, you will, too. You've been taught to reject peer pressure, but in this case, the masses are right on. These guys are everything that's right about contemporary bluegrass music, and have a longstanding reputation for their live kickassery! How can you not go see them when they're right here in Central Oregon? Get off your butt and experience some genuine down-home country-style dancing and shenanigans.Now that I've effectively antagonized you, the reader, I'll give it a rest. But seriously, check out these average looking dudes playing above average jamgrass.