Jeff Austin passes

Jeff Austin, mandolinist, singer, and songwriter – and co-founder of Yonder Mountain String Band and the Jeff Austin Band – died yesterday in Seattle, WA. He was 45 years of age.

A “medical emergency” had been announced early Saturday morning, but no other details were provided outside of the fact that Austin would not be able to make his show at ROMP in Kentucky this coming weekend, and requesting prayers.

His family posted this note a few hours ago, announcing Jeff’s passing.

“It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of a beloved family member, mandolinist, singer, songwriter and founder of The Jeff Austin Band, and Yonder Mountain String Band, Jeff Austin. Austin passed away June 24, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. He was son of Eileen Austin, husband to Devlyn, and father to Lily Rose (12), Penelope (5), and Jude Patrick (2). He was a dear friend whose music touched the lives of so many, and will be sorely missed.”

A Family Fund has been set up online to collect donations to help the Austin family deal with the sudden loss of their husband and father. Contributions can be made online at the Sweet Relief Musician’s Fund, or by mail to:

Sweet Relief Musicians Fund
2601 East Chapman Ave., Suite 204
Fullerton, CA 92831

It would be hard to overstate Jeff’s importance in the early days of the jamgrass scene emerging in the mid-to-late 1990s. Following the passing of Jerry Garcia in 1995, a huge void was left in American music, especially among followers of The Grateful Dead who stopped touring following his death. A number of contemporary bluegrass artists began performing Garcia’s and the Dead’s music, along with their own original songs, and many disappointed Dead heads adopted these groups in their stead.

Yonder Mountain stepped into this void, with Austin on mandolin, Dave Johnston on banjo, Ben Kaufman on bass, and Adam Aijala on guitar. Based in Colorado, they quickly built a huge audience consisting of some existing fans of bluegrass music, but many others who were drawn by the imagery and lifestyle vibe that felt comfortable for Dead heads.

They toured widely, drawing crowds far larger than bluegrass groups were accustomed to seeing, and released a number of albums cherished by their fan base. They also maintained the Grateful Dead tradition of allowing and encouraging concertgoers to record their live shows, and an exchange of fanatics trading archived recordings was soon established.

In 2014, Jeff stepped away from Yonder Mountain to pursue his own solo project, which became the Jeff Austin Band with Danny Barnes on banjo, Eric Thorin on bass, and Ross Martin on guitar. He had been touring with his band when he passed.

No arrangements have yet been announced by the Austin family. He will be profoundly missed by them, and by a legion of fans of his music through the years. Gone way too soon.

R.I.P., Jeff Austin.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.