Leftover Salmon’s legacy: Tasty bluegrass, country and rock | AspenTimes.com

Leftover Salmon’s legacy: Tasty bluegrass, country and rock

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesDrew Emmitt, singer and multi-instrumentalist of Leftover Salmon.

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – It is possible for an object, if properly designed, to maintain its balance with just two points of surface contact. Take the human body, for example – two legs, easily able to stay upright.Leftover Salmon, however, was not built this way. The band had a haphazard birth to begin with: At the 1989 Telluride Bluegrass Festival, prankster Vince Herman, leader of a group called the Salmon Heads, made a farce of the band competition by inviting a couple dozen musicians to join him on stage. Herman’s ensemble came in last, but the more memorable result was a combining of forces between the Salmon Heads and the Left Hand String Band.The resulting Colorado-based group, Leftover Salmon, was made to stand on three pillars: Herman, a singer and songwriter with a big, theatrical personality; Drew Emmitt, a quiet personality and a monster string player whose arsenal included mandolin, guitar and fiddle; and banjoist Mark Vann. Other musicians were brought in to fill out the band’s mission to cross bluegrass and country with rock ‘n’ roll. Those side players occasionally came and went, but the three-way foundation remained – until Vann died of cancer, in 2002. The group carried on with various musicians filling the banjo slot, but the equilibrium had been disturbed. In mid-2004, Leftover Salmon announced its disbanding.”We never really recovered from the loss of Mark Vann,” said Herman. “Spiritually, we had to struggle with that. We were 13 years on the road with Mark, and he was the core of handling the business side of things. A real creative force, a great attitude.”It was kind of a trio of Mark, Drew and me. It was like walking with three legs, and then you’ve got only two.”Herman has gone on to form Great American Taxi, a quintet that focuses on more of a countryish sound. Emmitt has toured and recorded under his own name, and also collaborated often with guitarist Billy Nershi, of fellow Colorado band, String Cheese Incident.But Leftover Salmon has proved a sturdy enough entity to withstand the occasional latter-day appearance. Over the past two summers, the group – including keyboardist Bill McKay, bassist Greg Garrison and drummer Jos Martinez, all longtime members, plus banjoist Matt Flinner, who spent time with the band soon after Vann’s death – has made a handful of appearances each summer, hitting such festivals as Telluride Bluegrass and California’s High Sierra. In 2007, they played at Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ Labor Day Festival. This summer, they have dates at High Sierra and Denver’s Dancin’ in the Streets event in August. They kick off the latest round of reunion shows with an appearance Friday at the Snowmass Chili Pepper & Brew Fest, where they will be joined by saxophonist Karl Denson.Herman says putting Leftover Salmon back together as a fulltime band isn’t in the cards. His focus is “lots of Taxi. Taxi, Taxi, Taxi,” he said, adding that his group has an album completed, which he is shopping to major labels. Still, a handful of summertime festival dates is a welcome opportunity to reflect on past glory.”It’s a great pile of repertoire,” said Herman, “and it’s really fun to go, ‘Oh yeah. Yeah!’ It’s fun to see old friends coming out and getting their revival with [the songs]. The crowd is deeply involved; it’s cool to see the emotional impact these songs have after all these years. You can see the relationship people have with the tunes.”Leftover Salmon has arguably left behind a bigger legacy than those songs, and a ton of concert memories. In their wake, numerous bands have followed that combine bluegrass and jam-rock sensibilities. But Herman is hesitant to take much credit, acknowledging only that Salmon is part of a prominent ancestral line.”It’s a long chain, from Hot Rize and New Grass Revival,” he said. “I don’t know how much we had to do with it. But I guess we were standing around for a lot of it.”stewart@aspentimes.com

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