Ever since founding member Jeff Austin left Yonder Mountain String Band in 2014, there’s been a question floating in the air among fans: How can the band be the same without Austin? The simple answer, of course, is that it can’t. But to say that’s necessarily a bad thing would be to forget what Yonder is about in the first place.
Fundamentally a Bluegrass band, Yonder has carved out a progressive niche in its nearly two decades of playing by fusing the string-picking madness of Bluegrass with improvisational Rock & Roll. As such, the group’s nature has been one that is always shifting and evolving. The band’s dedicated and constantly growing fan base was built around its in-the-moment existence, making concertgoers feel as if every show is something special and one-off.
Those are things that remain as the members fill the gap left by Austin. The band — now consisting of Adam Aijala on guitar, Dave Johnston on banjo, Ben Kaufmann on bass, Allie Kral on violin and Jacob Jolliff on mandolin — has proven that rather than a hindrance, change can be a chance for growth. This summer, Yonder celebrates its 17th anniversary, new partnerships with some of the best pickers out there and a fresh album, Black Sheep, which was released on June 16.
Following a long line of live and studio albums, Black Sheep is the first album produced completely by the band, and the members say it’s the most Yonder-sounding Yonder album released to date. As the group continues to carve out new formations in its music, pushing through change to reach new heights, there is no doubt its rock-solid foundation is as strong as ever.