Leftover Salmon: 20 Years Down River

by nancy dunham presented by JamBase in 4 parts in October of 2009

Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our Leftover Salmon: Celebrating 20 Years feature. It is with great pride that we offer you this unique, multi-part series full of interviews, photos, videos, and two albums worth (28 tracks total) of mostly never-before released live Leftover Salmon!

In Part 1 of our feature we spoke with founders Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt, as well as Sam BushWavy GravyYonder Mountain String Band‘s Ben KaufmannLittle Feat‘s Paul BarrereRonnie McCoury, and more to tell the complete story of this legendary band.

Part 1 also included the first set of songs from our free double album giveaway. You can read the full history of Leftover Salmon in Part 1 here, and you can download the first set of songs from the Leftover Salmon Celebrating 20 Years sampler here. Part 2 of the live download is offered here, and if you go to the last page of this feature you will find complete track list info and download instructions.

The second batch of songs we’re offering include sit-ins from such luminaries as Phish‘s Trey AnastasioWidespread Panic‘s John BellPete SearsKarl DensonJohn Cowan, and Jeff Austin.

We caught up with most of these artists to help shed light on just how deep Leftover Salmon’s influence runs. So, fire up that audio player at the top of this article (featuring all the songs we’re giving away in Part 2) and dig into some Leftover Salmon.

John Bell – Widespread Panic

JamBase: Thinking about Leftover Salmon’s 20 year history, how do you feel they have most significantly influenced the music world?

JB: I notice a lot of new, and very cool, bands on the scene that have turned traditional bluegrass instrumentation up a notch. It wakes you up to the energy of our most recent generation. Leftover Salmon was working in that world years ago. I believe they are a crucial link to keeping bluegrass roots alive and evolving.

JamBase: In what way has Leftover Salmon influenced your own music or perhaps your life?

JB: Listening to and playing with the boys are genuine vehicles for having a good time. They are fun and funny to hang with, and I’ve never witnessed an ego-based moment in any of them. They are a rare reminder that music is best expressed with selfless awareness.

JamBase: On 9/9/2000 at Planet Salmon in Lyons, CO, you sat in with the band on a big “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” jam with Jeff Austin, Pete Sears, and John Cowan. We are featuring this song in our live album giveaway and are wondering if you have any memories of that night, perhaps even the songs?

JB: At Planet Salmon I remember riding through the audience in a wagon wearing some freaky, wizard-y costume. I think we were throwing trinkets out to The People, Mardi Gras style. Mostly, I was trying to keep from falling off that particular wagon.

I was also invited to play “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” with Salmon on a studio album – we did a couple run throughs, two live takes without overdubs, and picked one as the track. All of life should be that uncomplicated. I was truly honored to be included. I think there was beer involved. Col. Bruce Hampton was my chaperone.

Continue reading for more interviews pertaining to Leftover Salmon…

Jeff Austin – Yonder Mountain String Band

JamBase: Thinking about Leftover Salmon’s 20 year history, how do you feel they have most significantly influenced the music world?

Jeff Austin: Leftover Salmon has given so many young and upcoming artists – like I guess I once was – so much hope that if you just make music that has a great deal of originality, people will be drawn to it. Audiences will embrace you in a whole different way if you show them your heart and soul. That’s what Salmon has given me over my time seeing them – a lot of heart and soul. And a lot of guts, too.

JamBase: On 9/9/2000 at Planet Salmon in Lyons, CO, you sat in with the band on a big “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” jam with John Bell, Pete Sears, and John Cowan. We are featuring this song in our live album giveaway and are wondering if you have any memories of that night, perhaps even the songs?

Jeff Austin: The Salmon guys have always been so encouraging to me in a lot of ways – from Vince helping me book the first Yonder tours, to Drew selling me one of his mandolins – but, I’ll never forget the early days when they would invite me up onstage, especially at Salmonfest. Yonder hadn’t been a band but about a year, and Vince pulls me up and tells me to come play, and there I am standing next to him and John Bell. For someone who was just coming up and trying to make it in the music scene it was a huge showing of generosity through music. They didn’t have to invite me up to play. They weren’t doing it to gain anything; they just always wanted to share the music that they made. They were always so unselfish with the music, and they still are. Those early invites to sit in, to meet and play with some amazing musicians, it had an impact on me I’m not sure I can explain. It was like a huge pat on the back; a showing of belief and confidence from a group of guys I had – and still have – so much respect for. It is quite a personally moving experience every time I get asked to sit in with Leftover Salmon, and it’s really fucking fun, too.

John Cowan

JamBase: Thinking about Leftover Salmon’s 20 year history, how do you feel they have most significantly influenced the music world?
John Cowan: To me, Salmon has always been a wondrous, curious mix of serious musicianship and the revelry of vaudeville, merry pranksters and carnival. I think we – the audience/the world – need to laugh while our souls are being opened by heartfelt music. The obvious answer to this is that Salmon brought not only their own music with mandolin/fiddle/banjo but John Hartford, NGRHot Rize, etc. to kids who perhaps never would have had the access to it.

JamBase: In what way has Leftover Salmon influenced your own music or perhaps your life?

John Cowan: I came from a place or school of thought where music, the study of it and performing it, is very self-centered, almost like jazz or classical. Seeing Salmon over the years and the way they literally “inter-acted” with their audience was really good for a lot of us old fuckers. It taught me that staring down at my feet with my hair covering my face and my eyes closed in concentration is a much harder, longer way to include the audience than making a conscious decision to let the audience be part of not only the “creative moment” but, in fact, BE the creative moment.

JamBase: On 9/9/2000 at Planet Salmon in Lyons, CO, you sat in with the band on a big “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” jam with Jeff Austin, Pete Sears and John Bell. We are featuring this song in our live album giveaway and are wondering if you have any memories of that night, perhaps even the songs?

John Cowan: I remember it very well. The last time I ingested any psychedelic properties – that I can remember – was probably ’85. I remember thinking, “A lot of people are tripping out here. That’s cool!” Ha! It was the first time I met John Bell and probably the first time I met Jeff Austin. It was kind of actually like Mayor McCheese meets Dr. John (The Night Tripper) meets Kurt Vonnegut, and they go over to James Thurber’s for cocktails. I’ve always loved this song. What’s cool is everyone learns it from a different artist. I learned it from listening to Freddie King, who has always done it sort of uptempo, which is not how it is traditionally performed.

Performing with Salmon was/is always an exercise in letting my eight-year-old self hang out with my freshman-in-college self, hang out with my present-day self. It’s ALWAYS nothing like you think it’s going to be, but you know by their smiles that they have your back, so it’s okay to surrender and just go ahead and jump off the cliff with ’em.

Continue reading for more interviews pertaining to Leftover Salmon…

Pete Sears

Thinking about Leftover Salmon’s 20 year history, how do you feel they have most significantly influenced the music world?

Pete Sears: I met the guys from Leftover Salmon at a party Bill Graham was throwing at his place in Mill Valley, California. They were the entertainment that day, and their sideways, non-traditional approach to playing bluegrass made a strong impression on me. It was obvious they were all amazingly talented on their instruments and were also well versed in traditional bluegrass, but they gave it a more modern, quirky, anything goes slant, especially Vince’s almost vaudevillian style as a frontman. He’d go barefooted onstage, which you don’t see too often, and he’s very good at connecting with an audience. He is also very good at adlibbing lyrics, if he feels so moved. I remember Drew on mandolin and Mark on banjo trading licks on the bus between shows; they were always playing and obviously lived for their music. To my knowledge, Salmon was the first band to fuse Cajun, rock, and bluegrass. It really was a new sound. I think they called it Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass, or something like that. They helped influence a whole new crop of bands in similar styles, including The String Cheese Incident.

JamBase: In what way has Leftover Salmon influenced your own music or perhaps your life?

Pete Sear: Every band I’ve played with since 1964 in England has influenced me in one way or another, and Salmon is no exception. I already loved listening to traditional bluegrass, and loved Cajun and zydeco, so it was a lot of fun playing with Salmon, although often challenging. Peter Rowan and I had done a tour of Colorado as a duo, and piano had fit in with Peter’s style of bluegrass very well. But playing with Salmon was sometimes a bit like falling off a boat in the open ocean and wondering if you are going to be a good enough swimmer to make it back to shore. They’d start off with a nice medium tempo blues or folk song or something then without warning launch into a manic bluegrass number in the key of B at 500 miles per hour, with everybody leaping around all over the place. I’d vamp along for half the tune on piano, not generally an instrument used in that kind of banjo bluegrass picking, knowing full well that at any minute they were all going to look at me expectantly to take a solo and wondering if my fingers were going to be fast enough to cut it. You just have to sort of say, “To hell with it,” close your eyes, hunch your shoulders, and go for it. It was a lot of fun though. It seemed to work out okay most of the time…I think. I also played some accordion with them, there’s a YouTube out there called “4:20 Polka” of us at Wavy’s “Pignic” in Laytonville, California. Mark was still with us back then. He played some amazing banjo licks; the whole band played great that day.

JamBase: On 4/4/1997 at The Fillmore in San Francisco you sat in with Leftover Salmon on “Funky Mountain Fogdown.” You also sat in with the band on a big jam of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” with John Bell, Jeff Austin and John Cowan on 9/9/2000 at Planet Salmon. We are featuring both of these songs in our live album giveaway and are wondering if you have any memories of either night, perhaps even the songs?

Pete Sears: I do remember sitting in on those shows, but don’t recall what we played. One show with Salmon sticks out in my mind. It was in Chicago. I played a slow blues with them and Sugar Blue sat in also, he played some amazing harp. They have a recording of it somewhere; I’d love to hear it some time. Afterwards, we all went down to the Kingston Mines and listened to R&B and blues into the early hours of the morning.

I did a few tours with the early Salmon, mostly between my gigs with Hot Tuna and Zero. They had an old yellow school bus, which had been modified with plywood. They gave me a bunk to use. It was a bit like going back to my early years touring England with my first band, The Sons of Fred, in 1964. We’d play six or seven nights a week all over the British Isles, traveling in an old, beat up van with a couple of guys lying on top of the amps in the back. We played a few TV shows and recorded at Abby Road Studios, then EMI, but most of the time we roughed it. Salmon’s bus was full of music, laughs, and pot smoke. I hadn’t smoked much for many years, so the secondary smoke gave me a nice mellow high. It was sort of like traveling in a big yellow joint with wheels. As well as respecting the band’s musicianship, I liked them as people. The road manager, crew, everyone was into the music and played an essential part in keeping things running as smoothly as possible.

I remember one time I joined them for a few shows when they came through California. They were towing this fiberglass fish behind the bus. It was to spread word about saving our rivers from pollution. I got this crazy idea to get a friend of mine who had an old Stearman biplane to fly alongside the bus and film us as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. I used to fly this old plane myself; it was beautiful. He was unfortunately only able to make one pass due to restricted airspace. We did get a few seconds of shaky film though; it’s hard to film out of an open cockpit. Not sure if I ever showed the band what we got on film that day. All I know is we had a lot of fun driving across the bridge looking up at the old biplane with the Pacific Ocean in the background, and parking over at the Marin Headlands. It was a beautiful sunny day; we laughed a lot.

Another incident sticks out to me. I remember being present at a band meeting in Denver when a large, well-known booking agency offered Salmon a chance to take everything up to another level. They declined out of loyalty to the guy who was already booking them. You don’t come across that sort of selflessness much in this business. I was impressed. You could say by staying loyal to their booking agent they may have held themselves back from perhaps becoming a stadium band, but at the same time, that decision enriched their sense of personal integrity. I didn’t play much with them after Mark died. I loved that man; he had a pure spirit. I have jammed with both Drew and Vince since the old days though. Leftover Salmon made an important mark on the music of an entire generation, and I am proud to have been a small part of it.

Part 1

Editor’s Note:

In honor of Leftover Salmon’s historic 20th anniversary, we’re working with the band to offer fans a unique look back at their legendary career. Pop in an old tape (yup, we’ve still got our Maxells), catch the band at a festivaaaaaal, or take a look around JamBase and Leftover Salmon’s influence on the live music scene(s) we cover and care for so deeply is clear and present. In fact, we’re proud to say that Leftover Salmon helped water the very soil that JamBase has grown out of. Maybe you feel the same way.

Yet, as we celebrate what Salmon has given the music world, they want to give us just a little bit more. Leftover Salmon is well aware that they’d never be celebrating 20 years if it weren’t for the fans and they want to say thank you. We’re honored to partner up with them on this opportunity to bring you two albums worth (28 tracks total) of mostly never-before released live Leftover Salmon that covers the band’s entire career. It’s packed with special guests, classics, covers, and it tells as much of the band’s story as the words you’re about to read. And they’re all free, like a proper thank you should be. At the end of this story you’ll find a track listing, link and more info on Part 1 of our four part free live album download, but you can get started and Download Leftover Salmon Celebrating 20 Years Disc 1 now. You can also stream the first installment with the nifty little audio player to the right. And keep an eye out for the second batch of songs coming soon.

Ben Kaufmann‘s life was changed by Leftover Salmon. The Yonder Mountain String Band bass player knew he wanted to be a musician, but it wasn’t until he was 19 and saw the Boulder-based “Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass” band at The Wetlands in New York that he had a view of what musical path to take.

“From the minute they took the stage, their music blew me away,” said Kaufmann. “I never heard anything like them before. As soon as the show ended, I went over to the VW bus with the merch table and bought the CD and listened to it and said, ‘Where does this music come from?’ That’s what encouraged me to move to Boulder.”

Stories about how Leftover Salmon affected various lives abound in all quarters of the music community. Kaufmann recalls that once YMSB formed, Leftover Salmon was instrumental in getting them gigs in the Denver area.

The impact of Salmon is even more interesting when you consider the fact that when the band formed in 1989 – when members of the Salmon Heads joined forces with the Left Hand String Band – it occurred by happenstance.

“Last night I watched [Martin Scorsese’s film about The Rolling Stones] Shine A Light and those guys are so much like us,” said Leftover Salmon co-founder Drew Emmitt, the group’s mandolin player. “It’s not that we’re like The Rolling Stone but they’re just a ragtag bunch of maniacs like us.”

In the film, Mick Jagger talks about forming the band in 1962 and thinking he’d try it one year and see if it worked out. If so, Jagger said he’d re-up for another year. Of course, the band is still going strong.

“That’s just like us,” said Emmitt. “There was no preconceived notion. We never thought we’d go out and play and travel the country. We just wanted to go out and play and have fun.”

Looking Back On Leftover Salmon

“Their music is unique. It just makes you feel good,” said Wavy Gravy, an activist, comic and all around friend to musicians since the 1960s. “There is nothing like them, with their incredible buoyancy and joy. That’s what they do – they make joy.”

“Their music is unique. It just makes you feel good,” said Wavy Gravy, an activist, comic and all around friend to musicians since the 1960s. “There is nothing like them, with their incredible buoyancy and joy. That’s what they do – they make joy.”

That joy must have been what the fates had in mind when they brought the core of the band together.

Drew Emmitt grew up in Tennessee just outside Nashville. Although his family was musical and artistic – his dad was a writer, his mom a playwright – the family feared that Emmitt wouldn’t be able to make a living in music. But Emmitt was hooked from a young age, having grown up on influences that ranged from Gordon Lightfoot to Muddy Water to The Allman Brothers Band and Black Sabbath.

“I was exposed to classic music, rock & roll, and the blues. It was coming from all sides,” Emmitt said of his parents and siblings.

At about the same time, Vince Herman was growing up in Pittsburgh where Motown and doo-wop sounds prevailed.

“My first influence, though, was actually polka,” said Herman. “I was convinced you couldn’t get married without an accordion. I still have a weakness for the accordion.”

In high school, Herman became a fan of Southern rock and bluegrass, and those influences deepened when he was in college in Morgantown, West Virginia, where he got into the “bluegrass and old timey scene.”

“That really made me want to do that for a living,” said Herman, who put his dream on hold after he got married. “I did every kind of work imaginable, from working on fishing boats to construction. I tried the real jobs but they just weren’t for me.”

Emmitt, whose family moved to Boulder when he was about 10, also tried various jobs – most notably working with children in a daycare center, which he enjoyed – but found himself more and more caught up in the city’s music scene.

“In Boulder in the ’70s, it was a little more folk. Pure Prairie League, Stephen Stills, and Dan Fogelberg were always around,” said Emmitt. “But it was when I saw Hot Rize that everything totally changed for me. I was totally bit by the bluegrass bug.”

Although he was in garage bands in high school, the atmosphere surrounding the bluegrass scene was a strong pull for Emmitt.

“I realized there was a whole culture attached to it,” he said. “I loved that whole scene of people getting together around the campfire and playing. That’s what really got me.”

The first time Herman was fully exposed to the bluegrass scene was in about 1977 at a festival at the University of Pittsburgh.

“I had been playing music for years at that point but that’s really when I found my musical niche,” said Herman. “What a great way to socialize and enjoy music.”

Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of our Leftover Salmon: Celebrating 20 Years feature. JamBase has been working with the Salmon guys, as well as artists they’ve influenced and been influenced by, to bring fans this intimate look at one of the most important bands to grow out of the jam scene.

Part 1 of our story featured interviews with Vince HermanDrew Emmitt and a bunch of contemporaries like Yonder Mountain String Band‘s Ben Kaufmann and Little Feat‘s Paul Barrere, as we broke it down, telling the Salmon tale from the very beginning. Part 1 also included the first set of songs from our free double album giveaway. You can read the full history of Leftover Salmon in Part 1 here, and you can download the first set of songs from the Leftover Salmon Celebrating 20 Years sampler here.

Part 2 of our feature revolved around interviews with John BellJeff AustinJohn Cowan and Pete Sears, and can be read in full here. Part 2 also came with the second batch of songs from the album giveaway, which you can download here, and if you go to the last page of the feature you will find complete track list info.

For Part 3 we’re offering the next six songs from the double live album, which you can download here. We also caught up with Sam BushCracker‘s David Lowery, and Ronnie McCoury to lend some more insight into what Salmon means to the scene.

Sam Bush

JamBase: On February 20, 2003 at The Fox in Boulder, you sat in with the band on “Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow.” We are featuring this song in our live album giveaway and wondered if you have any memories of this night, perhaps even this song?

Sam Bush: I learned that tune originally from The Country Gentlemen when I was 16 years old, so I’d always played the mandolin on it. But I find, one, when you have such a great player as Drew Emmitt playing mandolin, why would I need to play the mandolin? And two, they don’t have a fiddler in the band, so I would rather play fiddle with Salmon. I don’t know how he does it, but Drew can play faster than maybe anyone I’ve ever played with. Me, with a fiddle bow, it’s all I can seem to do to just hang on with the guys. That’s one thing I love about Salmon: they bring the energy to the table that not many bands can, so basically, all I gotta do is hang on. They’ve already set the groove and it’s my job just to keep up with ’em.

JamBase: There are a lot of instances when you’ve sat in with Salmon over the years. What else comes to mind?

Sam Bush: I can remember one great time, New Year’s Eve 1999 going into Y2K. We were staying in downtown Denver, and back then, there was the Y2K scare of not knowing what was going to go wrong with the country, the electronic grids and what have you, and I remember many storefronts downtown having plywood over the windows! It was a little odd. So, we get to the Salmon gig and everything’s back and fun again, and Salmon has a costume for everyone to wear, and I remember having a great time jamming with the guys that night; it was a truly wonderful experience. And we did sort of a musical parade through the audience, so to speak, in our costumes, and we were about two-thirds of the way through the audience and all of a sudden something smacked me in the forehead so hard that I actually saw colors, and it was a big ice cube that someone had thrown! It hit me right in the forehead, ended up making an egg on my head. And I thought, “Okay, I’m going to leave the audience procession to the young folks from now on.”

I remember another time as well. We were all in Boulder to pay tribute to Mark Vann by getting to sit in with Salmon, and I had been to see Mark earlier in the hospital that day down in Denver. As a cancer survivor, I always want to try to see my brothers that are going through it. I really loved Mark a lot, and he obviously, of course, was a driving force in that band. Basically, I felt like Mark brought the work ethic to the band. He was a true professional.

JamBase: Thinking about Leftover Salmon’s 20 year history, how do you feel they have most significantly influenced the music world?

Sam Bush: Well, you can look down a ladder of progression in music, and see where some bands may have influenced others. Coming from the band New Grass Revival for 18 years, I know the bands that we were influenced by, bands like The Osborne Brothers, Jim & Jesse, The Country Gentlemen and The Dillards, bands that had already strayed away from bluegrass. Even though I grew up loving The Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs, we tended to be more influenced by the more progressive-style bluegrass bands. So there already was progressive bluegrass before we came along. And then bands like us, Breakfast Special from the Northeast, the New Deal String Band from North Carolina, we came along – we being NGR – and then as the years roll by, then we influenced bands like Leftover Salmon and others.

So, NGR is long broke up, Salmon is going strong, and I think you can see where they influenced a lot of people who wanted to play music, especially musicians interested in acoustic instruments. I would venture to say Salmon did a lot, maybe more than anyone else for a period of years, to influence young people; by young I mean kids in their teens, to want to play bluegrass-style instruments. So you can see a band like Salmon that can do reggae and rock & roll but also play the fast and furious jamgrass and newgrass, that they were very influential for a lot of young musicians that got interested in mandolins, banjos, and acoustic guitar from listening to Leftover Salmon. In that way I believe they were very influential for the furtherance of acoustic music and progressive-style bluegrass.

JamBase: Obviously, you and NGR were a huge influence on Salmon. In what ways have they influenced you or your music?

Sam Bush: I think they’ve influenced me in that just playing with them and feeling the energy, helps me remember that one of the things I love about music is the onstage energy and the communication with the audience. So, in that way, they’ve influenced me and encouraged me to keep playing and keep the energy cycle going and the circle of communication with the audience.

Sam Bush was interviewed by Cal Roach

Continue reading for interviews with David Lowery and Ronnie McCoury…

Ronnie McCoury – Del McCoury Band & The Travelin’ McCourys

JamBase: You’ve collaborated with Leftover Salmon many times over the years. Can you share some memories?

Ronnie McCoury: It’s funny, last night the Emmitt-Nershi Band came to Nashville and I played a gig and they came to the show and I jammed with Drew last night! We’re just really good friends.

I don’t know exactly the first time that I played [with them], probably some place like Telluride. But the first time we did a co-bill would’ve been at a place called The NorVa in Norfolk, Virginia. I’m really bad with the timeline here, but I’m thinking it was about 2001. We got up and played some stuff together, basically the two bands, my dad’s [Del McCoury] band and their [Leftover Salmon] band. And from that, it led to booking a string of shows and doing a tour called “Under The Influence.” Basically, it was kind of a play on “under the influence of my dad” a little bit. You know what I mean? And we went out for about a month, bouncing around the country together, and just had a great time.

And I’ll tell you what, besides the collaborating and the singing and all that stuff, one thing that we got from that is that was the first time that we all really plugged in. It was kind of funny, “under the influence,” it turned us into that, too. And my dad, too. I’ve been playing with dad since 1981, and that was the first time that I remembered him getting a guitar plugged in. There wasn’t any kind of distortion, it was still acoustic, but still…Coming from our world, all acoustic, that was a big deal.

Part 4

Every once in a blue moon, a group of musicians will get together and find that they have unleashed a spark of musical and personal compatibility that will not only change their lives but the many lives of the people around them as well. They might not see the longevity of what they are creating at that point, but as the years roll by and the band endures, the magic shines through in their music and amongst the troupe of fans that returns their energy.

If you’ve been following the first three parts of this series (Part 1Part 2Part 3) then you have come to realize that Leftover Salmon is a band of this ilk. And like Salmon instinctively do, the band recently returned to the exact site of their spawning some 20 years ago. It was at The Eldo in Crested Butte, Colorado in December of 1989 where the journey began, so it was only natural for the band to kick off their four-show holiday anniversary run back where it all got started.

Here in part four of “Celebrating 20 Years” it seemed fitting to have Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt recall the recent run of shows and what it meant to the both of them.

“It was taking it all the way back to the beginning,” explains Emmitt. “There was a lot of intense energy in that little room. I don’t think I’ve seen that many people in The Eldo before. It was a wall of sound in a very small space.”

“For me, it was huge personally. I’ve been here now in Crested Butte for almost ten years. So for me to be able to play with Salmon in my hometown for all my friends and give that to my community was huge. I was so psyched we were doing it here,” adds Emmitt. “It was incredibly significant and really fun.”

For a band that has nearly 375 songs in their repertoire, it was any one’s guess what they might play that first night in Crested Butte.

“Vince just really wanted to be old school and he said, ‘You know what? Let’s play everything that really slams.’ Because he really wanted people to slam dance,” Emmitt says. “And I agreed with that.”

The band brought out many of those early slam-grass zingers to get things going down in Crested Butte, saving their ballads and long epic jams for the Boulder and Denver shows.

“For me, it did reveal what’s happened over the years,” says Herman. “It was like, ‘Mission accomplished!’ And it was so cool to see a lot of the same people that were at that first show and what’s become of their lives and you know, up to the same tricks kinda thing – in brand new ways.”

“One of the things that was a revelation to me was thinking about getting there in the beginning and not having a repertoire. You think twenty years later there is this whole repertoire of tunes and all this stuff. But we had absolutely nothing when we rolled into there that we had played together,” Herman recalls. “Lefthand [String Band], at that point, had been playing really fast and the Salmonheads were playing fast but with a drummer and an accordion player, so we just figured out what it was we could pull off. It turned out the more bluegrassy, rowdier stuff caused slam dancing; and probably to the crowd’s surprise and to ours. But slam dancing was kind of a thing at the time. It didn’t have any intention, but it was obvious where to go once those people showed up. And then they showed up again.”

Of course what Herman is talking about is the birth of their sound, an amalgamation of music that they coined Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass, which would ultimately go on to help pioneer the jam band scene.

After the Crested Butte show, the band returned to Boulder, their other Colorado home, where they played two nights leading up to New Year’s Eve at the historic Boulder Theater. It was a family gathering and the vibe was one of optimism and hope as the Emmitt-Nershi Band took to the stage to open things up.

As we awaited Salmon’s arrival, it seemed appropriate that just Herman and Emmitt appeared first on the stage for an acoustic rendition of a Woody Guthrie tune and a heartfelt welcome and thanks for twenty wonderful years.

“Everybody came out of the woodwork, all the old friends. It was wonderful,” says Emmitt. “To be honest with you it was a little more overwhelming when we did our last shows at the Fox before the hiatus. That was intense, with a lot of emotion. This was more relaxed and happy. I think this was more of a beginning, with a sense of something we are going to keep doing, and finally after twenty years we have figured out how to do it and have it make sense and have everybody still be able to do their other projects. And it’s great. It was a real nice way to kick off a new era for us.”

Like many New Year’s shows, the anticipation began building early and the room was charged with a special glow. It is said in Salmon folklore that it was a blue moon the night of their first show in 1989. So, it was only appropriate to celebrate twenty years of this band in a special, surreal way on the night of another blue moon. It seems with these fish, things really get done, well, twice in a blue moon.

Salmon was scheduled to play three sets with no opener. When the lights dimmed, we were off. There are many simultaneous things happening to make this sound called Leftover Salmon and if you have been to a Salmon show, you know the carnival atmosphere I’m speaking of. So, peruse the setlist (at the end of the story) and use your imagination to envision how this band rejoiced in their rebirth at twenty years and how this following of LoSers helped bring in the New Year.

To commemorate this historic four-night run, the band and their management went the extra mile to accommodate the fans. The Eldo show in Crested Butte was broadcast on KBUT and streamed live on their website. It was a great way for all the folks that didn’t get tickets to this intimate show or just couldn’t make it out to Colorado to listen. Likewise, the Boulder shows were streamed in High Definition and will be available through the On Demand stream throughout the month of January. Both shows were also filmed for a possible future DVD.

“The Millennium Hotel was Salmon headquarters over the New Year’s run in Boulder. Most of the band and many fans were staying there,” explains John Joy of Salmon’s management team. “An organized poster signing on New Year’s Day took place at the hotel bar and it was dubbed ‘Bloodys with the Band.’ Longtime Leftover Salmon artists Jason Rizzi and Scramble Campbell, who collaborated on the poster art and the set design that went with the 20th celebration run, where both on hand displaying their work. It was a fantastic event where the entire band was there signing posters for over three hours straight with a constant flow of fans, some great storytelling, and even some picking going on in the hotel lobby with some of the members of Elephant Revival along with Vince Herman’s two sons, Colin and Silas. It was the perfect way to erase the hangover from the night before and to reminisce on what a great twenty years it has been.”

“Painting with Leftover this New Year’s was like riding a roller coaster into a new decade,” says Scramble Campbell. “There were plenty of friendly, familiar faces with the music, which simply made my brushes dance. Friday’s gathering was the perfect way to start the year off smooth. It was an honor to be invited to be in their historic 20th anniversary.”

“Needless to say it was a trip to work with Scramble to commemorate twenty years of LoS,” says Jason Rizzi. “Scramble has a deep respect for music, art and culture; I appreciate that about him. It’s a blast just to be around him. He’s got amazing intuition, a big heart, and a swell sense of humor if you catch him at the right moments. This three piece project was a joy to work on and has certainly ‘Scrambled’ my mind up real good in the process.”

JamBase: Was that Salmon’s idea, or just a spontaneous thing?

Ronnie McCoury: Well, they were playing all plugged in, and we were playing like we do normally with two or three mics. We play with microphones that pick up from all directions called omnidirectional, that’s how we play, and it picks up from two or three feet. So, we were out with those guys and we couldn’t get onstage and do the same thing. We actually tried to, the first night or two, playing around our mic, and you just can’t compete. The crowd can’t hear you; you can’t hear yourself. So, one night, Vince just gave Dad a guitar and plugged it in. And I knew by that time, we figured we’d better try and get some pickups at least and see what we can do because I knew we were going to be doing stuff together in the show, not like just jumping up and playing at a festival or whatever. So we kinda had it arranged that we would do that, but I wasn’t sure what my dad was going to do. Well, he took that guitar from Vince, strummed across it and heard that volume and it was good! And that really is the beginning of us doing that.

JamBase: Was it like Dylan at Newport? Was there any kind of resistance among the traditional bluegrass crowd, or was it a natural absorption into the modern idea?

Ronnie McCoury: Exactly what you said. I couldn’t have put it any better. Sometimes you don’t hear bad news or if somebody doesn’t like it, but I never heard anything. My dad is someone who is very open-minded and goes with the flow, as opposed to a lot of guys who would never even do that. To me, that was a turning point for us in the band, knowing that we could do that if we needed to do it.

So, we had some really good times, and on some nights off we’d just go hang out and really bonded with all the guys [in Salmon]. I can’t say enough about the friendship we have. And we did some recording, The Nashville Sessions[Hollywood Records, 1999], with them, and dad sang with Drew on a song called “Midnight Blues.” A really good recording, I think, really a classic.

JamBase: Looking back on the past 20 years, what do you think that Salmon has brought to the music world in general?

Ronnie McCoury: There have been bands somewhat like that, say New Grass Revival, which is their roots. But what they did is they took it another step and really blended even more different music together. There was really nothing else like it, and there still isn’t. I don’t think there’s any other band that puts that combination together quite like that. Really, with the keyboards and the different sounds with the bluegrass, the blending of the music, it’s something that I hadn’t heard before and haven’t heard since.

Ronnie McCoury was interviewed by Cal Roach

Continue reading for the David Lowery interview…

David Lowery – Cracker

JamBase: Do you remember how you first came into contact with Leftover Salmon?

David Lowery: I can’t remember what festival it was, but there were a couple festivals we played one summer where we kept running into them, and I just liked them. I just thought they played well, had good chemistry, there were just a lot of cool things about [their music]. And mainly Vince [Herman, Leftover Salmon], Johnny [Hickman, Cracker] and I just ended up palling around at these festivals. I don’t remember exactly but somehow, we ended up onstage together and we played a couple Cracker songs, and it was a blast. And what it led to was that they were coming through town and I played with them again just as a guest musician, and they were going to be coming back through town about three weeks later, and I said, “Hey, why don’t you guys just come into my studio when there’s a couple days off in your schedule, and we’ll just see what we can record?” So as it ended up, the simplest thing to do was for us to record essentially a lot of songs that me and Johnny Hickman had written.

JamBase: The O Cracker, Where Art Thou? album?

David Lowery: Yeah. So basically, over the course of a summer and then a year, we ended up hanging out together a lot and doing some jamming, but the real connection between the bands was when we made this record. And we didn’t really have a plan or anything like that; that’s why we just did a bunch of Cracker songs in a different vein with them. But the cool thing about it was the whole recording session, once the crew and my engineer at the studio got everything set up, it really just became more like a bacchanalian feast. It became more about drinking, smoking cigars, or whatever else. There was a pretty nice restaurant across the street from my studio that they completely fell in love with, and we were constantly just eating, drinking, smoking, and occasionally playing a song. And there was like 48 hours of this. And then right after the holidays we just kind of roughly mixed it, and that was the record. But it really was just like something you’d do in another country or something, like a two-and-a-half-day party that involved recording and playing music. Not in a bad way, it was like something that musicians have been doing for thousands of years.

JamBase: I think a lot of people sort of imagine that as the rock & roll fantasy lifestyle, like that’s what musicians do for every album.

David Lowery: Mmm hmm, but they don’t! But that’s what those sessions were [like], and [the album] is just a great documentation of that, and I’m very happy with it. And that just sort of bonded the two bands together, and kind of introduced our audiences to each other. You know, they’re kind of like “our guys.” In some ways, they don’t exactly fit. They’re a little bit the odd man out in the jam world, because they lean a little more bluegrass, more traditional than most, and Cracker is sort of the odd man out in the alternative world because we do lean towards country and the more jammy stuff. And so we are sort of the odd man out in that world, and so there’s a kindred spirit connection there.

JamBase: So, how would you say working with Leftover Salmon has influenced your music, or you personally?

David Lowery: Well, like I said, I never had really recorded a record quite in the way that we recorded that record that we did together. And since that time, it’s not like I’ve ever done any Cracker records that way, but at our studio, with certain artists that I’m involved in recording or producing, I have adopted sort of a much more informal “let’s eat, let’s drink, let’s do this, and we’ll record and see what happens,” approach on some projects that I have recorded there.

Also, Johnny and I are going to do something with this [Leftover Salmon] 20th anniversary party, too. We will be joining the Leftover Salmon guys on January 2 at the Ogden Theatre. We’re playing New Year’s Eve in Denver, so we’re just going to stay and go to the party and play, which is going to be great. Basically, on their home turf, it’ll be fantastic.

JamBase: What about Leftover Salmon’s influence on the music world in general?

David Lowery: Well, I believe that they are the guys that brought bluegrass to the jam world, and you see a lot of that now. It’s everywhere, and they brought that in; they made that part of it. Before, it was more jazz-based, and now it seems there’s more roots-based stuff, and clearly, they were the first ones to really do that. And [they have] just good ensemble playing, with solos but rooted to a pretty traditional song structure. I think it was a really necessary thing to happen in the scene, and they did that well.

David Lowery was interviewed by Cal Roach

“I feel this 20 Year Celebration undoubted marks a new era for Leftover Salmon and their Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass following family,” adds Rizzi. “The band is really playing at the edge of magic, and honestly embodies the spirit of renewal and celebration.”

But just when you think it can’t get no better, it does! The final show at the Ogden Theatre in Denver on January 2 was billed as “Salmon and Friends” with Herman and his Great American Taxi opening.

“From the twenty year perspective, it was really cool to be able to do that, because that is where my focus is now, [with] Salmon being a thing we revisit at times,” says Herman. “It’s a great repertoire of tunes that I would hate to see go away because it’s really fun to play them and share them with the family we’ve had listening to those tunes. But, the focus of my writing now is in Taxi.”

“I think we might start integrating some of our newer stuff since Salmon stopped touring and there might be the possibility of introducing some other stuff, here and there. I think as we get more in the groove with this that will begin to happen,” says Emmitt. “In my opinion, I think it’s still okay to put this thing back together as it is and as it was. By in large, that’s what people really want to hear anyway. I think we are playing some of these songs better than we ever have. There is always the possibility for something new. Just let things unfold. I think at this point with this band we don’t need to push it, just let it all happen – just see what happens and what develops and go from there.”

There were many guests and friends that sat in with the band in Boulder and that began right from the start of the final night. Just sighting two drum kits onstage, the crowd knew we were in for a rousing treat. It was an underlying tribute and benefit for Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward, who is suffering from severe liver disease. With both longtime Salmon drummers, Jeff Sipe and Jose Martinez, behind the kits, the band sounded better than ever.

“It was like a monster – powerful, with a light laughter thing over the top of it,” remarks Herman about the two-drummer set-up.

Guests kept filling up the setlist, with Bonnie Paine of Elephant Revival on washboard, the Peak To Freak horns (Danny Sears and Justin Jones), Joe Jogerst on accordion, and Yonder Mountain String Band‘s Jeff Austin on mandolin as well as Sally Van Meter, who played a big role in the evening, ripping through many tunes on the pedal steel.

“It had been so long since we played with Sally. You hear her play the acoustic stuff and you kinda forget she gets absolutely raunchy on that thing,” says Herman. “Her and Drew definitely had a great dueling, slippy-slidey thing going on.”

Pete “Dr. Banjo” Wernick was also a friend that sat in on a number of songs, bringing a real full circle moment for Herman.

“It had been way to long since I had seen Pete,” says Herman. “Hot Rize is the reason I moved to Colorado, wanting to get out of West Virginia and get into some new bluegrass scene. And Hot Rize was the center of that. I thought it was incredibly poignant to have Pete there.”

But, the bulk of the evening was dedicated to the numerous rousing renditions with Cracker‘s David Lowery and Johnny Hickman, who’d once played a New Year’s gig in Denver with Leftover, then stayed on to recreate some of the magic found on the collaborative 2003 O’ Cracker Where Art Thou? album. Herman sums it up, “The Cracker stuff was just so fuckin’ fun.”

As the Ogden show wound down four magical nights, you could see the infectious joy across the faces of everyone on the stage and in the crowd. The music spoke for itself and now after twenty years of ups and downs, it might be said that Leftover Salmon may have found a new niche.

The LOS family has now grown to encompass a number of side projects, and the delicate balance of these influences has set a new direction. Salmon has always been a unique and special sound and gathering, so it should be no surprise that when this bunch assembles the magic is sure to follow.

They are bringing the goods and are once again throwing the special kind of party that they’ve become famous for. So, when the call comes, both band and fans will be ready to reconvene and come together in the church of Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass.