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Monica Topping / For the Tri-City Weekly

Posted: 12/01/2009

Humboldt sees a lot of killer live bands and fans feel lucky when, instead of taking the fast route from San Francisco to Portland, the musicians take the scenic route.

When a tour is only six dates long, though, and one stop is Arcata, one gets the feeling that maybe they actually have planned it this way. This Friday flatpicking legend Larry Keel and Yonder Mountain String Band guitarist Adam Aijala will hit the stage at Humboldt Brews, one of only six dates on a tour whose only small-town stops include Ashland and here.

Keel is a rising star in the bluegrass scene. He was born and raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, the son and brother of skilled musicians. When he was 18, Keel went to Japan to play bluegrass at the Tokyo Disneyland for seven months. Upon his return, he hit the East Coast bluegrass festival circuit, and eventually paired up with banjo player Mark Vann of Leftover Salmon.

Vann convinced Keel that he needed to take a trip to Colorado where the bluegrass, jam grass and newgrass grow wild and free. Keel competed in the prestigious Telluride Bluegrass Festival guitar competition in the early ’90s and won, coming back in 1995 to win the band competition with Will Lee and their band Magraw Gap.

Keel has played in bands with Tony Rice, Darol Anger and Joe Craven and played sets alongside Keller Williams and Sam Bush. He’s played guitar workshops with David Grier and Jorma Kaukonen adding a little

bit of his own personality to the bluegrass tradition that he aims to keep alive and well.Keel plays with his band Natural Bridge, which includes his wife, Jenny on bass, Mark Schimick on mandolin and Jason Flournoy on banjo.

For this brief tour, Keel is teaming up with guitarist Aijala whose background couldn’t be more dissimilar. Aijala was brought up on punk, rock and metal music. Rather than absorbing the music of the bluegrass forefathers, Aijala was listening to Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, Metallica and Slayer. It wasn’t until his late teens, after he’d been playing electric guitar for a few years, that he picked up an acoustic guitar and began studying Bob Dylan and Old and In the Way.

After high school, Aijala went to school to study forestry and worked in the field through a knee surgery and another knee injury. He then began to rethink his career and decided to follow his love for music to Nederland, Colo., where he met Jeff Austin, Ben Kaufmann and Dave Johnston. They formed Yonder Mountain String Band in late 1998.

Yonder Mountain String Band has released a number of live and studio recordings since 1999 most recently releasing “The Show” in early September.

Keel and Aijala will start their tour in Seattle followed by stops in Portland, Ashland and Arcata before wrapping up with two nights in San Francisco.

The duo will be in Arcata Friday at Humboldt Brews. Doors open around 9 p.m. and the show starts at 10 p.m. Tickets are $15, available in advance at The Works and Humboldt Brews, and online at www.passionpresents.com.

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