Leftover Salmon: A Band That Still Shines Today

Words, Photos & Video By Nicholas Stock (www.phatphlogblog.blogspot.com)

Leftover Salmon was my second love in the world of jam behind Phish. They represented a different take on what is possible in this genre. I first read about them in the Pharmer’s Almanac and decided to look them up. Defined as Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass, Leftover Salmon is the epitome of musical juxtaposition in a live setting. They are yet another band that has had to overcome hurdles to get where they are today, which in my opinion is finally a very good place.

Leftover Salmon formed in 1989 as a sort of inspired accident when the Salmon Heads with Vince Herman invited Drew Emmitt, Mark Vann, and Glenn Keefe of the Left Hand String Band to play a New Year’s gig. There was a blue moon in the sky that night and it would be marked as a sign; what happened that night at The Eldo in Crested Butte was very special to say the least. Leftover has had a rotating lineup but the constant was the dynamic between Herman, Vann, and Emmitt.

They were the foundation on which this band was built, and over the many years of touring they defined the sound of Salmon. Their first two albums, Bridges to Bert and Ask the Fish were self-released. They were members of the now famous H.O.R.D.E tour, and in 1995, Hollywood Records picked them up. They released Euphoria with Pete Sears sitting in on keys for the album. This was yet another moment in a long history of the continued diversity in Leftover Salmon. Things went along like that for a while with members coming and going. In 1999, they released The Nashville Sessions which was a look back at the truly inherent genre of bluegrass to their developing sound. I personally love this album and although it diverges from their Cajun element a bit, it is probably their most listenable endeavor. With a star-studded supporting cast that included Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, John Cowan, John Popper, John Bell and many more, the album was another amazing notch on Leftover Salmon’s belt.

In 2002, Mark Vann was diagnosed with melanoma and died that spring. Mark had one request and which was that Leftover Salmon continue playing. True to his wishes, they pressed on. I first saw them just a few months after Mark’s death at the 2nd annual Salmon Fest which took place that year in Missouri at Camp Zoe. They were incredibly reverent for their fallen band mate with a shrine set up in the corner of the concert field to memorialize his passing.

They continued to play and release albums with Noam Pikelny stepping in on banjo duties, but in all honesty, things were not the same. They collaborated with Cracker on a bluegrass album of their songs entitled O’Cracker Where Art Thou. They seemed listless, and in 2005, they took an indefinite hiatus.

Things looked grim, but just two short years later Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt played together in Telluride and the bug must have bit them right there. They have struggled to get back in the groove for sure, but I can honestly say that their current lineup with Andy Thorn on banjo and Wally Ingram on drums may be just the spark of new blood that will reinvigorate them and push them into the future. And with that being said, I would like to take a look at the Saturday show of their River Run, which took place this summer at The Mishawaka. I think this show really demonstrates how they can finally move forward as the great band I know them to be.

The Vince Herman Clan began the evening with an acoustic set. They opened with “Gold Hill Line,” and here is the rest of the setlist:

Acoustic Set: Gold Hill Line, Whispering Water, Valley of the Full Moon, Livin' Hi

SET I: Euphoria, Muddy Water Home, I Don't Know, Down in the Hollow, Railroad Highway, Dear Old Dixie, Liza, Breaking Thru, Don't Look Back, On My Way > Nobody's Business > I Know Your Mother > I Know You Rider, Rivers Risin'

SET II: On the Other Side, Mama Boulet, Boscoe Stumble > L.A. Woman > Boscoe Stumble, Highway Song, Whiskey Before Breakfast, Tu N'a Pas Aller, Cryin' Bout My Baby, Little Maggie, Unplug The Telephone, Darkness and Light, Let It Bleed

ENCORE: Need a Thing The Doctor Order Me, Rise Up

(With Wally Ingram on drums in place of Jose Martinez)

Leftover Salmon Live at Mishawaka Amphitheater on June 11, 2011.

Thanks to Eric Wilkens for posting.

When I look at that setlist, I see a level of creativity and energy that has been missing from recent shows. One element of this is the inclusion of Andy Thorn on banjo. The man is singlehandedly revitalizing the LoS sound. Another element has to be the inclusion of Wally Ingram on drums. From what I understand, this was only a temporary replacement of Martinez, but I will just go ahead and start petitioning now to have him full time on the kit. I mean Martinez is good, but he is no Jeff Sipe. You know who is as good as Jeff Sipe? Wally Ingram. So musically I was overjoyed with the performance on Saturday at the Mish.

By the time I got there, all of Leftover was onstage for the acoustic jam. They played “Valley of the Full Moon” and “Livin' Hi,” but I didn't really get to focus on the music until they began their first set. They opened with a quick but energizing “Euphoria.” Drew belted out his signature vocals on “Muddy Water Home.” Due to the fact that Poudre River was practically spilling out of its banks, it seemed that they would be playing on watery themes throughout the show. Vince busted out a cover of New Riders of the Purple Sage's “I Don't Know You,” before Drew got back on the mic with “Down in the Hollow.”

Andy shredded the banjo on “Railroad Highway” and once again impressed the audience with his picking ability. Finally, we were seeing some great back and forth between Drew's mando and Andy's banjo. “Eliza” was a new song written just a couple days before the River Run, and I found that it fit pretty well into the LoS repretoire. If they hadn't said so, you'd almost think it was an old tune they busted out. “Breaking Through” was simply beautiful. Salmon put on their reggae hat with a sweet cover of Peter Tosh's “Don't Look Back.” The “On My Way > Nobody's Business > I Know Your Mother > I Know You Rider” segment of the first set was a high-octane blast of fun. They segued seamlessly from each song and completely invigorated the audience. They finished the first set with a totally appropriate “River's Risin'.” I had heard that Wally was a little uneasy about this number but he proved both his ability and zeal by absolutely nailing it. They closed on a huge high note before disappearing backstage.

Leftover Salmon came out with Emmitt blasting off on a sizzling “On the Other Side.” Vince took over with a “Mama Boulet” that was truly entertaining. Now the “Boscoe Stumble” into “L.A. Woman” back into “Boscoe” just blew me away. I was happy to hear the rare “Boscoe” but the transition into The Doors classic set the stage on fire. It was a huge highlight of the entire show.

Vince premised “Highway Song” by saying that it was a tune about how lucky they feel to get to do what they do. “Whiskey” was a melodic masterpiece and “Tu N'a” brought us back to Salmon's zydeco roots. Bill McKay has the ability to transform LoS into a rowdy blues band which is exactly what he did with ‘Cryin' Bout My Baby.” It just shows how versatile they are, embracing so many genres of music and doing so incredibly well. Drew went nuts on the mandolin with “Little Maggie,” and Bruce Lish from Fat Rabbit joined the band on “Unplug That Telephone.” It may seem like a strange combination to toss some brass in with Salmon, but it works. It reminded me of when Karl Denson joined LoS in Snowmass a few years back.

“Darkness and Light” was like a warm blanket on that cool Mishawaka night. Salmon closed the second set with a rocktastic version of the Rolling Stones' “Let It Bleed.” I was on cloud 9. I was just flabbergasted with how well they were playing. This is the Salmon of old and they are finally hitting their mark. They encored the show with “Need a Thing the Doctor Order Me” and a “Rise Up” that literally spilled out of the venue into the street as the very happy crowd found their way to their respective buses. It was just an amazing night of music, the kind that energizes the soul. It was a wonderful experience overall, and it gives me hope for this once lost band. They have all the right tools in place now and this show is the perfect example of what is possible in the world of Leftover Salmon.



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