Mandolinist takes a breather in Jeff Austin & Friends – not!
September 17, 2009
ASPEN – I asked Jeff Austin, the mandolinist of Colorado’s Yonder Mountain String Band, what he does to relax, and Austin had his answer ready. He cooks, a habit he cultivated as a kid in Illinois, the only child of a single mom who encouraged Austin to express himself in the kitchen.But whether Austin’s cooking would appear to be a relaxing activity to anyone whose pulse runs at a normal speed is questionable. Austin was once a line cook, and from the sounds of it, his personality as a musician – basically, a perpetual motion device – matches his kitchen persona. “Give me 10 tables and I’m ready to roll,” he said of his approach toward restaurant work, adding that he gets into a similar mode when cooking for himself and his girlfriend. “It’s intense. There are times I go back and forth whether to do music or cook. I’m as passionate or more passionate about cooking than music. The level of importance it’s taken on is high.”So maybe the question is: Does Austin relax? His physical frame suggests maybe not; despite his fondness for food, the 35-year-old is rail-thin, perhaps from the two-plus hours of aerobic bobbing he gets onstage. Yonder Mountain, which Austin co-founded over a decade ago, recently finished its summer of touring, and also released a studio album, “The Show,” on Sept. 1.And Austin is right back at it. He takes his ongoing Jeff Austin & Friends side project on the road for a weekend that includes a stop at Belly Up on Saturday, Sept. 19. The lineup of friends has shifted over time to include fiddler Darol Anger (who appears tonight at the Wheeler Opera House), guitarist Shawn Camp, and the Jenny & Larry Keel. This weekend, Austin debuts a new trio that includes banjoist Danny Barnes and bassist Eric Thorin, both of them close musical acquaintances.”Eric – the way he plays, we blend real well together,” said Austin from his home near Nederland. “He’s a great listener, a great musician, a great producer, not just a bassist.”And Danny’s an American treasure. He’s unique; he doesn’t sound like anyone else. We always refer to it as just Danny Barnes music.”Lingering in the background is another side project, a recording co-led by Austin and Brendan Bayliss, guitarist and singer of Chicago prog-jam band Umphrey’s McGee. The album, tentatively titled “One Man Show,” also features Thorin, Nick Forster of Colorado bluegrass quartet Hot Rize, and Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars. That group is looking to hit the road next year.Austin traces his restless nature to his childhood membership in a choir. Blending his voice with dozens of others was too anonymous for his liking; he soon moved into musical theater and plays.”You got to step out, show your character,” he said. For those who think they know that character through Yonder Mountain, Austin says that quartet only reveals some of his facets. In Jeff Austin & Friends, he contributes almost all of the material – some 30 songs that are separate from Yonder Mountain’s repertoire – and busts out his octave mandolin, a guitar-sized instrument he plays sparingly with Yonder Mountain. “In the trio, I’m able to show more honesty onstage. Because they’re my words. I get to create this thing, who I am. I get to portray myself. It’s better representative of who I am, more of a personal thing.”And does he come off just as hyper in his own combo as he does in his usual role?”Even more so. As far as bouncing around and going nuts? Yeah,” he said. “I can’t help but get excited. Because it’s [songs] that only see the light of day a few times a year. That’s really liberating.”I’m like Curt Schilling” – the baseball pitcher known not to let something like a bleeding foot keep him off the field – “in the postseason. He’s ready to pitch every day. I’m the same way. I don’t like to sit idly by.”Clearly, Austin is a baseball fan. And clearly, watching baseball isn’t something that lets him wind down.”Being a Cubs fan – that’s not relaxing,” he said. “I shout a lot.”firstname.lastname@example.org