Mandolinist Jeff Austin has plenty of stories and anecdotes about John’s Alley Tavern, Moscow’s home of live music.
“If you go into a place and it still smells like cigarette smoke and you haven’t been able to smoke there for 10 years, you’re going to have a good night,” he said.
“If you go into a place and a 7-foot-something bartender has to lean down to ask you what you want, you’re probably going to have a good night.
“If you go into a place (pauses) and it doesn’t have windows, you’re guaranteed to have a good time,” Austin said.
In all seriousness, Austin said, he has a real fondness for John’s Alley.
And these memories are exactly the reason his band, the Jeff Austin Band, will be performing there Saturday night.
“You know, Moscow, Idaho, is on the way home,” Austin remembered telling his agent while compiling tour dates.
Back in 1999, Austin said his former band, Yonder Mountain String Band, first attracted an audience in Moscow. The show started small, with about 30 people, he said, but the audience swelled to the point that there was a line forming along Sixth Street.
A Jeff Austin Band live show is about collective improvisation, Austin said.
With this newly formed unit, Austin hopes to create more musically diverse compositions and songs that tell stories.
“Anyone can take a song and play it for 20 minutes,” Austin said. “But it’s what you do with it.”
At home or on the road, Austin would rather listen to Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen. They are artists who tell stories, and when they pause, the silence is gut wrenching, Austin said.
Although the Jeff Austin Band formed only a little more than a year ago, its newest member, banjo master Ryan Cavanaugh, joined in August and instantly changed the band’s course.
Austin said he called Cavanaugh – who had left Bill Evans Soulgrass earlier in 2015 – and within 10 minutes he had joined the band.
Cavanaugh spent nine years in a jazz-bluegrass fusion group Austin said and his furious finger creation promises new possibilities for Austin’s grouping.
“He drives this band in a way that is just unbelievable,” Austin said.
John’s Alley is the final stop on the band’s winter tour, but jAb has already announced spring tour dates that will begin March 18. The band recently recorded a five-track EP in Arcata, California, that will be released full length in December.
If You Go:
What: Jeff Austin Band
When: Doors at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, show starts at 9:30 p.m.
Where: John’s Alley Tavern, 114 E. Sixth St., Moscow
Cost: $15 in advance, $20 day of show