Fusing progressive bluegrass with a jam band mentality, the Yonder Mountain String Band has cultivated a devoted following over their more than two decades of existence. Their story begins in Illinois where Dave Johnston and Jeff Austin were students at the University of Illinois. Johnston invited Austin, a novice mandolin player, to join his band. Although he could not play anything very well, Austin was instructed to just play fast and loud.

Both musicians moved independently to Colorado but reconnected, forming Yonder Mountain String Band there, playing their first show at Boulder’s Fox Theater. The four-piece band collectively had broad musical tastes, which they applied in equal parts to their new band. The result was a mix of rock, punk and bluegrass that attracted the attention of fans on the jam band circuit. The group released their first album in 1999.


Owning their reputation for great live shows, Yonder Mountain String Band began releasing live albums early on. Now with five volumes, their Mountain Tracks series pulls material from their live shows.

The band has had two personnel changes along the way. Original member Jeff Austin left in 2014 citing creative differences, and more recently Nick Piccininni has replaced Jacob Jolliff on mandolin. It is a new challenge for Piccininni, who had been playing traditional bluegrass.

The bands’ live shows have also changed recently. They have been famous for playing completely different song sets each night for a week or more on tours. But that is changing somewhat, partly because they reassessed some songs that had been vehicles for jamming. Those songs now appear in sets in much shorter form, which means the band is playing certain songs more frequently.