"If people got up and started dancing on the tables, then we knew that we'd done a good job," he says. "The Mountain Sun had this reputation as a place where, if you could make an impact there, it could lead to bigger things, and that was certainly true for us."
"The Mountain Sun was the place to play in Boulder," echoes Yonder bassist Ben Kaufmann. "It was a whole scene -- a regular gathering of creative, talented musicians and music-loving fans."
And, nearly 19 years after the Mountain Sun first opened for business at 1535 Pearl St., that scene is still going strong. Mountain Sun and the Vine Street Pub in Denver host live music most Sunday nights, and Boulder's Southern Sun, 627 S. Broadway, features music on Mondays.
There's never a cover charge, and whether it's a nationally touring act or, more often than not, an up-and-coming local band playing bluegrass, funk, rock, jazz or blues, local music fans know it's bound to be good.
"It all started as a way to give back to the community," says managing partner Timothy McMurray, who has booked the musical talent at the Suns since 2003. "Music is an integral part of the Mountain Sun's DNA."
The Mountain Sun on Saturday will celebrate its 19th anniversary with its Funky Good Times party at the Boulder Theater, featuring music from the Pearl Street All Stars.
This year marks the 10th annual Funky Good Times anniversary party, which benefits Boulder community radio station KGNU (88.5 FM, 1390 AM).
Kyle Hollingsworth, keyboard player with The String Cheese Incident, and George Porter Jr., bassist with the Funky Meters, have played the party every year. They'll be joined by Dave Watts and Kim Dawson from The Motet, Brian J from Pimps of Joytime and Cochemea Gastelum of the Dap-Kings. Robert Walter's 20th Congress will open.
Although Hollingsworth joined The String Cheese Incident in 1997, after it had moved on from the Mountain Sun to play bigger venues, he recalls some of those early shows and has many fond memories of playing the Suns with his various musical projects.
"I like that it's always a free show and people can enjoy great beer and great food and watch a band in a relaxed atmosphere," he says. "It's a good place for musicians to experiment and get comfortable playing live, then as you start growing and you start packing the place, it's a good sign that you're ready to start playing bigger rooms."
Even after Yonder Mountain String Band "graduated" to playing larger rooms like the Fox Theatre, they couldn't quite leave the Mountain Sun behind. The band returned for several years to play the Mountain Sun's annual Christmas party and would even occasionally play stealth shows under the moniker Cosmic Bowling League.
"It turned into this kind of free-form bluegrass band where we would play every corny, cheesy cover you can imagine," Austin says. "We had open license to play anything we wanted, and we had a lot of fun with it."
As legend has it, on several occasions after last call, when neither the band nor the audience was ready for the night to end, the guys in the band would carry their acoustic instruments down the street to a parking garage and play into the wee hours of the morning, with many audience members still in tow.
"That's the Mountain Sun audience," Kaufmann says. "Their appetite for live music is insatiable."
What: Funky Good Times Party
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Where: Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder
Cost: $25 (no one under 21 admitted)
Info: bouldertheater.com or 303-786-7030