Ben Kaufmann opened his eyes at 6:40 A.M. on April 20 to the sound of his son’s voice, calling him to come “play trains.” He got out of bed in his Northern California home and made breakfast for his family. Then, the two converged on the train set. After hitting the road hard in early 2015 with his group of jamgrass pioneers Yonder Mountain String Band, everything was finally in its right place.
“It was the same breakfast, the same place, the same little voice,” says Kaufmann. “But my appreciation of those things was completely different.”
Two weeks earlier, Kaufmann stood up from his hotel bed in Reno, Nev. and felt a bolt of pain rip through his gut. He dragged himself through the show that night, relying on adrenaline from the crowd to push him along, and then was off to Oakland and Los Angeles, swallowing the pain—as well as a few Advil—that was searing his kidney. The three days were crushing and as he stepped back onto the tour bus in Los Angeles, he knew that it was past time to find an emergency room.
Those days, and the hospital stay that followed, were already a bad memory as Kaufmann ate breakfast with his wife and son in late April. They were a bookend to one of the most dramatic years in the lives of both Kaufmann and Yonder Mountain String Band: In April 2014, Yonder’s mandolin player and co-founder Jeff Austin announced that he was leaving the band to launch a solo career, sending a divisive ripple through the band’s fanbase and the blue- grass world at large.
But often, clarity comes after pain. And, on this morning, Kaufmann saw that clearer than ever: “Almost a year ago, we made what was probably the most difficult decision of my life: to basically break up the original Yonder Mountain,” he recalls. “But musically, that was the best thing that’s ever happened to us.” Continue reading