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To The Pepsi Center And Beyond: Checking In with Yonder Mountains Ben Kauffman

Yonder Mountain String Band will continue an annual New Year's Eve concert tradition in the band’s native Colorado with an unprecedented 4 nights of shows, two of which will take place at the 18,000 capacity Pepsi Center in Denver with Widespread Panic. It's safe to say that the four member acoustic band from the high altitude mountain town Nederland (outside of Boulder) strides large across the musical landscape.

On the heels of a string of sold out multi-night run of shows starting last New Year's Eve, the four members of Yonder Mountain (all four are Midwest transplants) adjusted their rearview mirrors, flipped on the afterburners, and proceeded to make 2008 one for the record books. Early spring saw Yonder Mountain String Band on their nationwide Cabin Fever tour, then hurtling into the summer festival season with notable appearances at Bonnaroo, Green Apple, Telluride Bluegrass, Northwest String Summit, and Rothbury festivals, followed by a headline appearance at the world famous Red Rocks amphitheatre, and the rare honor of playing for 75,000+ people at the historic Obama presidential nomination speech at Invesco Fields Stadium. Then the group lit out for to California to begin its second recording with producer Tom Rothrock. The year will end with two nights at the Pepsi Center (to be simulcast live over the internet) and two nights as headliners at the nearby Ogden Theatre.

So what looms for Yonder Mountain String Band? In the following brief conversation Ben Kauffman outlines what's in store for New Year's Eve, the upcoming album and what's left on the band's wish list.

What led to decision to appear with Widespread Panic at the Pepsi Center?

We've played New Years in Denver for I don't know how long, Denver's always been a great place for New Year's Eve shows and word gets aroundOur business managers approached us and told us that Widespread Panic wanted to do New Years in Denver. Well of course putting together concerts sometimes comes down to basic numbers. After listening to the business managers make their case on playing the Pepsi Center with Panic at Pepsi Center compared to possibly competing and playing our own show, it just made sense to play with Panic. Besides, it sounded like a great show and opportunity to play in front of a new audience who maybe hadn't seen us yet. We're totally excited.

Somewhat along these lines, can you talk about the specific goals that Yonder Mountain has achieved over the past ten years?

As a band, our number one goal was to have a career playing music; play music for a living. We've worked hard and made our own luck and had some good breaks along the way for sure. If you’re talking about dreams, well…we've had so many that have come true: Playing Red Rocks, playing with Willie [Nelson]...and the Obama acceptance speech at Invesco Fields stadium in front of 75,000 people. Man, that was amazing. Do you remember that blue carpet on stage you saw on TV? That was hands down the best carpet I've ever stepped on. Like, exponentially way better carpet, so thick, so blue…Anyhow, we're always coming up with new dreams, always thinking about new, exciting, and challenging ideas.

What about the group’s goals for the future?

It would be nice to sell records, although I don't know what format that will be in the future. Wait, let me rephrase that, it would be nice for people to just get a chance to listen to our new music. This new record is something we’re very proud of, something we worked very hard on. It would be nice for people who assume we’re just a string band that we actually have great songs that tell stories. In fact, the whole album is fantastic. A record that tells a story from start to finish with no tracks you wouldn’t skip. It's pretty amazing really even right now with just the rough mixes you can tell it's something special.

Yonder Mountain has a tradition of bringing up and coming talent as well as living legends on stage at your shows. How important is it to Yonder Mountain to bring these other great musicians to your fans?

We didn't start that tradition, it actually goes way back and we just borrowed it [laughs]. It’s funny, we have a great career, we've worked hard and had some good breaks, but then there's these guys who are 100 better times than us, legends, still out there grinding it out in the trenches. So we love the opportunity to show our fans how great these guys are. Plus it's a guilty pleasure for us [laughs]. I mean you have guys like Danny Barnes, the born-again, second coming of the banjo, and Todd Snider, a true living legend. Yeah, we're pretty lucky we can do this!

Can you give us a brief preview of the new Yonder record?

It was recorded in California at our producer Tom Rothrock's studio. It was so comfortable. I mean, we're a pretty portable band, just instruments, we could record anywhere, but it was really a great experience. We just finished recording the last note of the album and the rough mixes sound incredible. We have a full record plus 45 minutes of b-sides that didn't fit.

Jumping back to the New Year’s Eve shows, does the band have any surprises in store?

Well I can tell you that we'll be playing some songs from the new album that we are really excited about for sure. We're doing two nights on our own (at the Ogden Theatre) on December the 28th and 29th. On the 28th, we're playing with Darol Anger and he’s doing a cool thing and arranging a few of our songs for string quartet with four string voices: two fiddles, viola, and cello. It'll be maybe one or two brand new songs (from the new album) and one or two old songs that everyone will recognize. It's gonna be very cool.

Any truth to the rumor that the guys in Widespread Panic are going to show up and jam with Yonder Mountain at the Ogden Theatre on December 29th?

I hope so! We know the band will be in town and the offer has already been extended. I would love to jam with Jimmy Herring or JB – I'll bring some thunderbass to the jams! Man that would be great!

_Stay tuned in the months to come for an extended conversation on the new album and the shows to follow. For more on the band, check out staff writer Randy Ray’s April 2008 interview with Ben, “A Decade on Yonder Mountain.”

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