Telluride Without Jeff Austin
The news came in late April. Yonder Mountain String Band is proceeding with a new lineup: Ben Kaufman, Adam Aijala, and David Johnston are the band now, along with some "special guests" for this year's tour. A permanent lineup is promised for 2015. Jeff Austin has left the band to pursue "his emerging solo career."
Later, we learned that Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter will join the band as special guests at their three Telluride shows this year. Not too shabby, I'd say, and I fully expect that those shows will be high-energy and full of great music.
I've been going to Telluride since 2006 (yeah, I know I'm a newbie to some), but I've never been there without Jeff Austin. Most years started out with Wednesday at the Mountain Village Conference Center, Yonder on stage, Jeff doing that thing he does with his face, head going up and down, strumming that mandolin like a man trying to put a fire out. And Saturday afternoon, that's Yonder's slot. Jeff Austin's slot. Sure, I know the band is an ensemble, and it's bigger than any one guy, always has been. I've interviewed Adam on these pages, love Dave and Ben, and I'll be there Saturday at 4:00 when they take the stage (didn't make the lottery for the Wednesday night show, or I'd be there, too).
Jeff Austin has been at every Telluride since 2000. In my view, he is one of the younger guys who represent the future of the festival. I'll concede he might lack the chops of Sam Bush, but Austin has that "it" factor that Bush has. When he gets excited about a song, you get excited; and, Saturday afternoon at Telluride, if the sun is shining just right -- as it often is -- the situation can become transcendent. Which, of course, is what a festival is all about.
I was disappointed when Nickel Creek broke up, but that resulted in some fine music from all three of them, and this year they're back together, back in the Telluride lineup. We never know where it goes from here, and we never know how things will work out, or how they'll come back around. New Grass Revival no longer exists, but Sam Bush, John Cowan, and Bela Fleck are all in this year's lineup.
It's not going to be the same Wednesday night at the Conference Center, or Friday night at the Sheridan Opera House, or Saturday afternoon on the Town Park Stage. We'll miss you, Mr. Austin. Here's hoping your path leads you back to Telluride next year. Even better, crash the party this year. I bet Sam Bush would let you sit in with his band.
Photo by Dorothy St. Clair, from www.jeffaustin.com.