After two decades of blazing the trail for Colorado musicians, Jeff Austin — formerly of Yonder Mountain String Band — passed away on June 24, 2019. The impact Austin had on the jam and bluegrass community is immeasurable, and thousands of fans gathered at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield to commemorate Austin’s life and to raise money for his family. Originally slated to take place at The Mission Ballroom, the event had to move due to the popular demand and inclusion of Austin’s many musician friends. The much larger venue sold out within minutes, and tickets were in high demand.
The night welcomed performances from Billy Nershi, Billy Strings, Brendan Bayliss, Greensky Bluegrass, Hot Rize, The Infamous Stringdusters, Keith Moseley, Keller Williams, Leftover Salmon, Members of the Jeff Austin Band — Kyle Tuttle, Jean-Luc Davis, Julian Davis, Mimi Naja, Noam Pikelny, Railroad Earth, The Travelin’ McCourys and Yonder Mountain String Band. Conscious Alliance offered two versions of a commemoration poster that could be obtained through a donation of 20 non-perishable food items or $35. A large silent auction featuring items from musicians both performing and not took place throughout the night, serving as another effort to provide the Austin family with financial relief in their difficult time.
Right at 7 p.m., the music started with Sam Bush, Billy Strings, Greg Garrison and Noam Pikelny performing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Bush claimed the quirky song played tribute to their shared passion for baseball, which played an important role in his friendship with Austin. After another jam, the lineup switched, which set the tone for the schedule of the evening. Members of the Jeff Austin Band went up next, followed by Keller Williams performing Grateful Grass, which included Austin in its original lineup. Leftover Salmon jumped up next, with guitarist Vince Herman calling on the audience to “keep those who have gone before us alive,” before jamming their fan-favorite track, “Troubled Times.”
In rapid succession, bands like The Infamous Stringdusters, Greensky Bluegrass and others took the stage to finish the first set. After a quick break, the event picked up again with Todd Snyder, Brendan Bayliss, Bill Nershi and Hot Rize. Yonder Mountain String Band powered up their set to perform three of their favorite Austin songs. They kicked off with “Half Moon Rising,” arguably Austin’s most popular song. “Keep on Going” and “If There’s Still Ramblin’ in the Rambler” were next, the latter of which inspired the stage to crowd with the other musicians to gulp down a shot at the famous lyrics, “just one more shot!” in memory of Austin.
Sets by the Travelin’ McCourys and Railroad Earth kept the energy high through the wind-down of the second set, including Railroad Earth’s rendition of “What the Night Brings.” The song, which inspired the name of the event, comes from Austin’s 2015 album The Simple Truth.
The night closed with the entire lineup of musicians taking the stage together to perform “No Expectations” by the Rolling Stones. The song was a favorite of Austin’s to cover, and over the years he had truly made it his own. With more people on the stage than could be seen or recognized, the voices and instruments joined together in the air for one last uniformed track that perfectly rounded out the evening. While Austin will be forever missed, his spirit came alive Monday night and created a memory for all his fans to cherish for years to come.