The summer is quickly coming to a close, but Jeff Austin still has time for one more tour. After playing 18 shows with Yonder Mountain String Band, Austin will team up with guitarist Larry Keel, bassist Jenny Keel and banjo player Danny Barnes under the headlining name of Jeff Austin & The Here and Now.
“I’m excited for a lot of open spaces with a group of musicians with a cool mindset,” said Austin, who plays mandolin. “Another thing is that we all have our own thing. Danny does what he does, the Keels do what they do, and I do what I do, so none of us have anything to lose and sometimes when you have that approach with music in front of a live audience, beautiful moments come from it. I’m really excited to see what happens. The songs are one thing and the structure is one thing, but those moments of freedom and the moments of openness … we all do solos in are other bands, but now we’re going to be together and we’ll be able to lean on each other. I can’t wait. I’m so psyched for it to happen.”
The 10-day tour kicks off Aug. 28 at Durty Nellie’s located in Palatine, IL.
Bluegrass Today interviewed Austin by phone from his Colorado home.
I’ve known the Keels and Danny for quite a long time now. I would consider them to be some of my closest friends in the music world without question. They are people that I go to ask advice as far as music goes and as far as life goes. We’ve gone beyond just being people that play music together. We’re friends, we’re really close.
I was hired last year to do a set of music at the Northwest String Summit music festival out in Oregon, and they said, “We would love you to play a set of Garcia music or Grateful Dead Music” and I said, “That’s awesome.” They told me I could put together any band that I want and then I saw that Larry, Jenny and Danny we’re going to be at the festival, and I thought, “This is perfect.” We got together and we played that set of music and it just lit us up. We had so much fun and thought maybe more is going on here than just this set.
Fans that come out for this tour, what can they expect?
We’re up there to get after it. It’s going to be high energy and some good serious stuff. It’s going to be material they haven’t heard before or a lot of material that they may have heard from me doing projects. Larry and Danny are definitely going to play their stuff too but the emphasis is going to be on the music I’ve written with this idea in mind.
What are you looking forward to about playing with the Keels and Danny?
We speak the same rhythmic language – that’s really one of the big things. Certain people you’ll play with, the rhythm gets accented in different ways and attacked in different ways. For me, with these three folks, it’s natural. There’s a way I like to approach rhythm and a way I like to attack the pace of a song or the pace of a set and they’re on the same page. It’s really effortless. I get to redefine the job that I do. The band (YMSB) that I play with most of the time, I have one kind of job and in this, I really get to open that wide. It’s an exhilarating experience.
How will this experience be different than playing with Yonder?
Yonder is a four-headed piece that is a democracy to the bitter end. There’s a way the shows are set up so everybody gets accented. Where in this situation, I kind of get to make the call. I make the setlist. I use my physical voice in a way and change emotions throughout the set. It’s more of me getting to control the flow of where everything is going and to me, that’s fun. Yonder is a full-out democracy in every way, so it’s nice to play in a situation where you kind of get to call the shots: “I think this song would work great right here.” Sometimes, there are certain ways I want the show to go and I don’t always get to go that way. And I’ve got musicians at such a high level that want that to happen and understand that’s what is going to happen.
Does having these type of side projects keep things fresh for you?
It does. It allows me to stay in an open headspace going back into Yonder, and it also allows me to bring ideas back to Yonder. It’s nice for me because I have a lot of ideas and I have a lot of ways I like to see things go. It’s incredibly satisfying to have that happen.
Depending on how this mini-tour goes, is there the possibility of playing more shows together in 2014?
No doubt. We already kicked the idea around of doing more stuff. We know how fun it is and how well it goes. Our intention is to try to write and get some things on the page. I have ideas that I would love to run by Larry and see what he thinks. It’s definitely something that could lead to more touring.
On this tour, what kind of mandolin will you play?
My 1984 Nugget built in Nederland, Colorado. I love her. She’s very dear to me.
What makes her so dear to you?
I bought it from Drew Emmitt. I was actually there when Drew bought it from this other guy. So in 1999 or 1998 when Drew bought it from this other guy in Nederland, I was there the night he bought it. I loved the way it sounded then, and eight years later, Drew called me and sold it to me. He knew how crazy I was about the mandolin, so I was the first person he called. We were meant to be.
Tour information can be found on the Yonder Mountain web site.