Yonder Mountain back in Urbana
Oh, to live on Yonder Mountain, with the banjos and the Ozzy Osbourne tunes.
Yonder Mountain String Band comes to the Canopy Club Thursday with two sets of bluegrass, punk and humor.
Yonder Mountain String Band is on a tour that includes Dallas, Austin, Fayetteville, Tulsa, St. Louis, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Salt Lake City, Aspen, Billings, Missoula and Phoenix.
It's a sentimental journey for two of the members, who lived in Urbana and played in a band here.
Dave Johnston, who plays banjo and sings, said he remembers Strawberry Fields, the Embassy and the Brass Rail with great fondness, even after 15 years in a band that formed in Colorado.
Fellow former area player Jeff Austin found the mandolin in 1994 and got serious about it when Johnston asked him to join a C-U band.
Johnston and Austin moved separately to Colorado, where there is a strong bluegrass scene, and Yonder Mountain eventually became their band.
"No mountains in Illinois," Johnston noted.
The bluegrassy band will play an eclectic mix of covers at Canopy Club, along with new numbers from their recording "The Show."
Produced by Tom Rothrock (Beck, Foo Fighters), "The Show" includes 14 original compositions and backing by Elvis Costello's drummer, Pete Thomas.
"We never do the same set twice. We never know what covers we'll do until about an hour before the show, from Ozzy Osbourne to Devo to traditional bluegrass to the Who," said Johnston, who mentioned that a favorite Who song is "The Seeker."
Johnston was playing banjo in Urbana about 20 years ago and listening to Phish, Bob Dylan and the Allman brothers as well as punk bands like Black Flag.
With some influence from guitar god Jerry Garcia, Johnston said he "started gravitating toward banjoey music" while at the University of Illinois.
"A friend of mine and his dad had a banjo; he brought it down to school. It was in an open tuning, so it could make sounds I could enjoy immediately," Johnston said.
He's largely self-taught.
"I've taken lessons here and there, but mentally you often have to teach yourself," Johnston said.
The group stays fresh by playing a large variety of songs, first in a 90-minute set and then a 75-minute second set.
"It can be a workout, more so for the audience. They're dancing the whole time, and they're awesome," Johnston said.
If you go
What: Yonder Mountain String Band with The Deadly Gentlemen
When: Doors open at 7 tonight (March 7)
Where: The Canopy Club, 708 S. Goodwin Ave., U
Tickets: $20 in advance; $25 at the door; must be 18 or older to enter