There was a hole in the early afternoon schedule at the Targhee Bluegrass Festival. The Jeff Austin Band was meant to play at 1:30, but bandleader and mandolin player Jeff Austin died unexpectedly in late June.
Instead of finding another band to fill the 1:30 spot, festival organizers enlisted a tribute group — dubbed the Targhee Allstars — for Austin, with the likes of Larry Keel, Sam Bush and whoever else wanted to sit in and tell stories about Austin and play songs from his lengthy career, which included 15 years as a founding member of Yonder Mountain String Band.
“It feels weird to play these songs,” Jeff Austin Band banjo player Kyle Tuttle said onstage. “But it sure feels good to be here.”
The collaborative tribute was a poignant moment in a weekend filled with star-studded sets. Bush, who headlined Friday night, seemed to be everywhere, playing a Sunday afternoon set with bluegrass legend Del McCoury and making cameos with a host of other bands. And every group seemed to stretch its slot by one or two songs, unwilling to stop playing.
From McCoury’s traditional songs and stories about bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe to set from headliners like Greensky Bluegrass and The Infamous Stringdusters that stretched the bounds of what one might consider bluegrass, the festival showed both where the genre started and where it’s headed.