Bluegrass heads Yonder across the Bay

Longtime bluegrass group Yonder Mountain String Band will bring their jam band-inspired country flair to Jannus Live Saturday. Scene & Heard had a chance to talk with bassist Ben Kaufmann about making records in the digital age and life on stage.

Kauffmann said the band, which has been together for over 12 years, has played every kind of venue imaginable.

“We started in the bars,” Kaufman said. “The scene has changed now. It’s totally different.”

The band came from humble roots in Nederlands, Colo. Since its inception in the small mountain town, the band has toured worldwide.

“We were most surprised by the international shows. We got a great response,” Kaufmann said. “We played one music festival in the south of France where the reaction was ridiculous. We wanted to play an encore, but we were going to leave the stage and come back. We looked over and the show promoter was on the side of the stage blocking our exit and smiling, wanting us to play more.”

Kaufmann said he feels that musicians have a duty to connect to their audience.

“It’s our job to show up and play our a– off,” he said. “I hate bands that just phone it in.”

Kauffman and the rest of the band are also beginning to embrace how websites like YouTube have helped to create a digital age for the music industry. Kauffman, who studied film at New York University, has been collecting video of the band over the years and is beginning to release them online.

Kaufmann’s videos are not just of the band playing music. In fact, Kaufmann’s goal is to show that the band is more than just music.

“I feel like people learn about us when they see what goes on behind the scenes,” he said. “All people know of us is when we walk on stage and when we walk off. That’s such a small part. There’s things people won’t expect.”

These videos help to showcase the jovial nature of the band. One entertaining video is of Kaufmann’s band mate, Dave Johnston, eating a habanera pepper that his mother sent him.

“It’s four and a half minutes of brutal physical pain,” Kaufmann said. “It’s funny because Dave is (usually) quiet and introspective, and I had to bleep out a bunch of what he says.”

But things aren’t always fun for celebrities. Kaufmann said he has two favorite fan stories – one tragic and one frightening.

While on tour, a girl in her late teens approached the band backstage and shared with them that she and her first love had just broken up.

“There was a song that she connected to and she said it was the only thing that kept her going,” Kaufmann said. “My heart was bleeding for her; she was tragic. I asked her what her name was and she said ‘Sunshine.'”

Kaufmann noted another time while playing a show when a fan got on stage and wanted to play harmonica.

“He made his way to the front and even onto the stage,” Kaufmann said. “I asked him politely to get off the stage and he lifted his jean jacket where he had a gun and he pointed (it) at me.”

While Kaufmann and the rest of the band have had interesting experiences performing, they feel an equally important job is to make records. Since 1999, Yonder Mountain String Band has released 10 albums, including their “Mountain Tracks” live sessions. In that time, the band’s recording process has changed along with their sound.

“Our budget has increased, so our time in the studio has increased,” Kaufmann said. “And that means more time to experiment.”

But with their new offerings, the band is heading back to their roots as a classic bluegrass band.

“We’re back in the studio, but we’re stripped down. We’re going back to the sound of our first album. It’s everyone’s favorite.”

For more information and links to Ben’s online content, visit the band’s official website,