Yonder Mountain String Band at TempleLive in Wichita, KS

When Nick Piccininni got the call in 2020 from the Yonder Mountain String Band to perform on some shows in place of mandolin player Jacob Jolliff, he didn’t expect it to be a big deal.

“At the time, I didn’t think anything would necessarily come out of it,” Piccininni recalled in a phone interview. “I guess my main hope was that it might help my career in terms of being around the right people.”

What it has become is a chance to become a long-term member of the Yonder Mountain String Band, performing May 20 at TempleLive, the venue inside the Scottish Rite Center in downtown Wichita. . At the end of 2020, Jolliff left the group and Piccininni accepted an invitation to join the group.

Ironically, Piccininni didn’t know much about Yonder Mountain, one of the jamgrass scene’s most popular bands, before replacing Jolliff. But he was friends with Allie Kral, the band’s fiddle player, and that put him on the band’s radar when the need for a replacement mandolin player arose.

“I knew a few tunes and had heard their names a lot,” Piccininni said. “I was running in a traditional bluegrass (circle). So really, even though both, you can say Yonder is bluegrass and it’s just a different brand, but it’s like two different worlds, really. You have the jam world they were in (and a distinct traditional bluegrass scene). So I wasn’t really exposed to them, I just had the faintest idea who they were, really.

The split with Jolliff marks the second major personnel change for the band since 2014. That year, mandolin player Jeff Austin left after a decade and a half of being a central figure in the band he co-founded with the guitarist/vocalist Adam. Aijala, banjo player Dave Johnston and bassist Ben Kaufmann in 1998 in Nederland, Colorado. The remaining trio moved forward, bringing in Kral and Jolliff and releasing 2015’s album, “Black Sheep.”

A second album with this lineup, “Love. Ain’t Love,” followed in 2017. But as the band continued, it became apparent that mandolin virtuoso Jolliff was not the good person.

“I think the main thing with Jake is that he’s on a very different musical trajectory than Yonder,” said Aijala, who joined Piccininni for the interview. “He really is that good. I imagine if you have that level of ability, playing with a band like us would probably be boring or uninspiring (even though) he never said those words to me.

“He’s a great guy,” Aijala said of Jolliff. “There was no ill will in that departure. I think it was a natural progression, an evolution, both for Yonder and for him.

In Piccininni, Yonder Mountain not only found a capable mandolin player, but a musician who also plays guitar, dobro and fiddle and is a powerful singer. And Piccininni has already made her presence felt on “Get Yourself Outside,” Yonder Mountain’s new album released in February.

Even though he was the “new guy”, Piccininni was heavily involved in writing “Get Yourself Outside”. That was the intention from the start of the writing process.

“I feel like we encouraged him to have as much (input) as possible,” Aijala said. “I think he’s a great singer and the songs are good. So why don’t you encourage that? »

For Piccininni, perhaps the biggest adjustment was learning to write as a collective.

“It’s kind of weird to say that, but I’ve never co-written songs before. So it was a new experience,” he said. “It comes with its own set of (challenges ), a bit shy, because you bare your soul there… But I think they made me feel comfortable about it.”

Aijala said Yonder Mountain’s broadcasts recently underwent a slight change. The band is famous for playing completely different sets of songs every night for a week or more while touring. But that’s changing somewhat, in part because Aijala and his bandmates re-evaluated some songs that had been jamming vectors. These songs now appear in sets in a much shorter form, meaning the band plays certain songs more frequently.

“We’ve had a lot of thinking during the pandemic, and talking with Ben and Dave, talking, just circulating solos doesn’t really make the song a jammer anymore, or make it better,” Aijala said. “We used to do that with ‘Casualty’, and we do that every once in a while where we play the solos. (There are) songs that I can think of that maybe we need to stop doing that, and there are others where we don’t do that at all anymore and they’re three or four minute songs now. I think it also helps with maybe having to play a song twice a week or a few songs.

Yonder Mountain String Band

When: May 20. Doors open at 7 p.m., show at 8 p.m.

Or: TempleLive, the venue inside the Scottish Rite Center, in First and Topeka

Tickets: From $30, available through Ticketmaster

Evelyn C. Tobin