Remembering Jeff Austin

Photos by All Of Us

The contributors of MusicMarauders have a long history covering Jeff Austin in his various projects. Here are some of their photos and thoughts on his passing.

Words by Nicholas Stock

MusicMarauders sailed into Colorado smuggled in J-Man’s backpack some time in early 2011. It was an exciting time to be a music writer in The Centennial State. So many amazing musicians having flocked to Colorado over the years that this place became a melting pot for all forms of music more specifically bluegrass. Bands like Leftover Salmon paved the way for groups like Yonder Mountain String Band and Telluride Bluegrass seemed to make anything possible. After meeting in Urbana, Illinois Dave Johnston moved to Boulder and beckoned Jeff Austin to follow suit. Jeff landed in Nederland and made an indelible mark on that community during his time there. The two would go on to form Yonder Mountain String Band with locals Ben Kaufmann and Adam Aijala in 1998; bluegrass would never be the same. In 2011 YMSB was experiencing a peak in both popularity and musical output. They had succeeded in bringing bluegrass to the masses. Much of that success could be attributed to the songwriting and musical stylings of one Jeff Austin.

It was impossible to cover music around Colorado and not run into Jeff Austin. He was prolific in his musical output and incredibly generous when it came to supporting other local musicians. Jeff has sat in with numerous bands over the years selflessly lending his name to their projects. All the while building Yonder Mountain String Band into a powerhouse touring machine. In 2011 they were headlining Red Rocks, selling out shows nationwide, and in a more direct way changing conventional thinking about an entire genre of music. In short they made bluegrass cool again. So many, including myself, never would have nosedived into string music if it were not for Jeff and company.

Just a few years after that monumental peak he abruptly left Yonder Mountain String Band “due to varying career goals and creative pursuits.” It became apparent early on with both projects that Jeff Austin was the serrated edge that drew us all to Yonder in the first place. His gritty vocals and karate chop style of picking were unique on the bluegrass musical landscape. So when he departed in 2014 everyone lost something, no entity more than Yonder Mountain String Band. They went from a rowdy, mesmerizing late night picking party to something softer. Jeff continued his career by creating a pretty unreal super group with the first iteration of the Jeff Austin Band. Assembling Danny Barnes, Eric Thorin, and Ross Martin for a project meant we would still get to see Jeff where he belongs, on stage.

That lineup would prove unsustainable and Jeff ultimately built and rebuilt JAB from the ground up. By 2018 Jeff had solidified his band and was poised to yet again dominate the bluegrass scene. But something was wrong. He cancelled several shows and when he did play he seemed distracted and fumbled lyrics. I think we all knew something was going on, but none of us could predict Jeff’s passing. It came a huge shock, a shock that many of us are still trying to process weeks later.

No matter how you slice it Jeff Austin was a massive pillar in the world of bluegrass. He was our spirit animal and our hero. At just 45 years old he leaves behind three young children and a wife. This world won’t be the same without ol’ Jeff playing for us sinners. He was a force of nature and a true misfit in music. He had different ideas and it was those ideas that propelled him to the highest highs bluegrass has to offer. In short his legacy will live on forever. For those that got to see him live, we are the lucky ones. Rest easy Jeff, your music will be sorely missed.

Words by Brad Yeakel

It’s an incredible bummer. Dude was a powerhouse that could reign down the fire and fury, the unhinged, untethered, maniacal, madness of a natural disaster on the mandolin and then he could sing like a breeze, whispering to your soul and blowing your mind that the candle could be burned at both ends with such truth and beauty. Truly an epic loss for music and us fans. A million times more for his family.

I recall seeing YMSB at a beautiful venue in Pennsylvania, Penn’s Peak. The cabin-like structure sits high atop one of the local mountains. The boys in Yonder immediately fell in love with the hidden gem and Jeff declared we should all pool our money and buy the property; erect a rollercoaster and rename it Yonderland! I often imagine what it would have been like. I hope that’s where he’s spending his time.

Words By Mitch Melheim

It was 2009, and I had never seen a bluegrass show before. Quite frankly, I thought it was boring music for old people. Everybody kept telling me to check out this Yonder Mountain String Band because I liked Phish. The comparison made no sense to me and I ignored the suggestion for a while.

Well, Yonder finally came through Iowa City and played a free show with Gov’t Mule. I was shocked at what I saw. Warren Haynes shredding “New Speedway Boogie” with a supposed bluegrass band, and their front man scrambling around on stage like someone put the Energizer Bunny in a pinball machine.

I was intrigued to say the least. Shortly after that, I got real into Cornmeal and continued to see Yonder any chance I could get. Then came years of Greensky tour, followed by Railroad, and so many other “jamgrass” acts that have made a lasting impression on my life, whether it be the music they created or the people I met through that music. I owe it all to that one wild animal I saw on stage 10 years ago. The best front man I’ve ever seen.

Rest easy, Jeff. Ease your troubled mind.

If you want to support Jeff’s family there is a fund at Sweet Relief.

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