Leftover Salmon and Payne headline Mammoth Fest in Snowmass
When Leftover Salmon banjo player Mark Vann was diagnosed with melanoma in late 2001, Little Feat’s Bill Payne was among a handful of prominent musicians to step up and play benefit shows for the ailing musician. Payne’s relationship with the band continued, and he has played a pivotal role in their resurgence after Vann’s death in 2002, including producing its self-titled 2004 album.
This summer, Payne is touring with the Boulder-based festival stalwarts and Colorado jam band favorites. They headline Snowmass Mammoth Fest together Saturday night.
They’ve been playing songs from both Leftover Salmon and Little Feat’s catalogues, along with new songs that Payne wrote with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. Local fans who saw Payne showcase the new Hunter songs on keyboard last spring at his solo show at PAC3 in Carbondale will no doubt be curious to hear how they sound with the full power of Leftover Salmon behind them. Payne and the Salmon members have also been working on fresh material on this tour.
“Bill’s going through a creative boom,” Leftover Salmon singer, guitarist and mandolin player Vince Herman said from a tour stop in Washington, DC. “He’s writing a ton of stuff. He and I are writing together. There’s definitely a lot of material being generated.”
Leftover Salmon has been a frequent guest on local stages through its 25 years, playing its omnivorous string-based blend of rock, country, bluegrass, zydeco and Tex-Mex. One of the more memorable local shows was at the Chili Brew Fest — the June Snowmass Village festival that morphed into Mammoth Fest — in 2009. They played in a driving rain, with the festival crowd dancing and sliding in the mud.
“We sometimes get on stage and get entertained as well,” laughed Herman. “I remember the entertainment being particularly good that day.”
After Mammoth Fest, Payne and the band head to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, where Leftover Salmon was founded, accidentally, in 1989. The story goes that two bands — the Left Hand String Band and the Salmon Spankers — entered the festival’s band competition together with a chaotic group jam. They lost the competition, but the two bands permanently merged and Leftover Salmon was born.
In the quarter century since then, they’ve become summer festival favorites, frequently bringing along guest musicians (both announced and not). Asked whether they’ve grown weary of life on the road, Herman said making new music with Leftover Salmon remains a cathartic and essential artistic exercise.
“Every time a new song is written, it exposes a new part of ourselves to ourselves, to our bandmates and to our audience,” he said. “Music is a cool thing. You get to dig in, in an abstract way, into those things in your brain that would otherwise torment you into sheer madness. It’s a great way to digest all the things that happen in your life. It’s still doing that for us.”
The band’s June run through Colorado is extra sweet for Herman, he said, because he moved from here to Oregon in 2012 after nearly 30 years in the mountains.
“We’re a thousand times higher at our Colorado shows,” he joked. “It still feels so much like home. I guess I’ve conquered my Colorado addiction, but the lower elevation is working out for me.”
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