After encountering a “medical emergency” in the early morning hours of June 22, mandolinist Jeff Austin has died.
The news was confirmed on June 25 with an official statement, reading, “It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of a beloved family member, mandolinist, singer, songwriter and founder of The Jeff Austin Band, and Yonder Mountain String Band, Jeff Austin. Austin passed away June 24, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. He was son of Eileen Austin, husband to Devlyn, and father to Lily Rose (12), Penelope (5), and Jude Patrick (2). He was a dear friend whose music touched the lives of so many, and will be sorely missed. If you would like to make a contribution to help his family, please visit https://sweetrelief.org/jeff-austin-fund/.”
Best known for his work in the jamgrass scene, Austin co-founded Yonder Mountain String Band in 1998 and saw them through some of their greatest successes. From performing “Franklin’s Tower” with Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart at the Northwest String Summit in 2010 to playing a batch of original tunes at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, YMSB were hailed as the next generation of pickers through the turn of the millennium.
Looking back, Austin was born in 1974, raised in suburban Illinois and later studied musical theater at the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. He first picked up a mandolin in 1996 with little experience, but quickly became a master at the instrument.
“My mom let me go to Grateful Dead shows when I was 12 or 13 years old. The things that taught me,” Austin told Relix in 2009. “And I think about these kids – it’s like a sense of community, a different sense of giving and caring – we’re all here together. If you create something, you’ll have this beautiful bubble that will occur.”
In 2014, Austin left YMSB to focus on solo projects and side pursuits like The Here and Now and Grateful Grass.
“Collectively, after long, heartfelt discussions, we’ve all decided to move forth with a newly formed line-up due to varying career goals and creative pursuits,” the band wrote at the time. “YMSB fully supports Jeff Austin and his emerging solo career.”
Austin’s solo debut The Simple Truth arrived in 2015, featuring special guests like Cody Dickinson, Todd Snider, Jennifer Hartswick and more.
“What’s important is being beyond grateful for the time that I had with that group of guys and being able to do what we did,” Austin said to Relix, reflecting on his time with Yonder Mountain String Band. “Nitpicking every little detail of what happened doesn’t serve anybody. It doesn’t serve those guys—who I was able to spend that time with and change the way people think about what a four-piece acoustic band can do—and it doesn’t serve the fans.”
In the last few years, in addition to the Jeff Austin Band, the mandolinist had returned his focus to 30db, his acoustic duo with Umphrey’s McGee guitarist Brendan Bayliss. They released One Man Show in 2010, and while they toured sporadically until 2012, starting in December 2015, they began a tradition of coming together in Chicago every year for a holiday show. However, as recently as May 2019, Jeff Austin canceled his performances with his band and 30db at the Summer Camp Music Festival, citing a family emergency.
Austin is remembered for his wit, his instrumental prowess, his “boundlessly energetic rabble rousing” and his deep love for music. He will be missed dearly by the live music world and beyond.
“It’s all about inspiration and listening,” he once said. “If we can put out enough energy to sustain a crowd without drums, and show them they can still dance their asses off, well, we’ve achieved our goal.”
Watch some of Austin’s greatest moment’s below:
“Franklin’s Tower” with Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart at NWSS:
YMSB at the Democratic National Convention:
Jeff Austin Band Live at Relix: