'Grass Keeps Growing 

Yonder Mountain String Band brings genre-bending bluegrass to the raceway.

Style recently spoke with Aijala about the increasing popularity of new-school bluegrass bands like YMSB, which hearken back to traditional American music but take it in new, genre-defying directions.

"I think [the recent spike] is just a matter of bands seeing others doing it and saying 'Well if they can, we can,'" he says.

The Boulder, Colo.-based YMSB is best known for its high-energy, improvisational jamming that incorporates elements from jazz and rock, as well as for its unusual choice of covers from the likes of Ozzy Osborne ("Crazy Train"), the Rolling Stones ("No Expectations") and the Talking Heads ("Girlfriend Is Better").

As we speak, Aijala is practicing for a late-night gig at the High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, Calif., which follows a set by Ashland's own Old School Freight Train — whom he's never met. "If they wanna pick, we're down for sure," Aijala tosses in.

Although YMSB has played Virginia sparsely, Aijala's well aware of the talent from this area.

"One of my favorite guitarists on the planet, Larry Keel [and his band Natural Bridge], is from Virginia," he says. "He's playing with us tonight. He's one of the sickest guitar players you'll ever hear."

Aijala says his group is excited about the upcoming BIG Summer Classic tour because they get to hang out with old friends on the bill, like String Cheese Incident, Umphrey's McGee and Keller Williams.

"We're pushing for a lot of cross-pollinating, if you know what I mean," he says. "One band will be playing, and then it will meld into the next, with people joining each other onstage. … When we only have an hour set, we come out strong."

The group is also in the process of working on a new studio album in Los Angeles with noted rock producer Tom Rothrock (Beck, Elliott Smith), but don't expect its sound to change radically.

"We don't want to change who we are, but we want other audiences to hear us," Aijala says. "Most of our studio albums are kinda boring, in my opinion, compared to our live stuff. So we're trying to incorporate more of that feel into the studio."

"Being labeled a jam band is more about the scene and the people who attend the shows than the band. … It really doesn't bother me," he says. "We just kind of evolve musically how we want and don't worry about it." S

Yonder Mountain String Band performs with The String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Umphrey's McGee and New Monsoon at the Richmond Raceway Complex Friday, July 15. Doors open at 1 p.m. Tickets range from $25 for lawn seats to $37.50 for Gold Circle seating.

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