The 9th Annual Mark Vann Benefit 12.16.11

Boulder Theater
Boulder, CO

Words By J-man
Photos By Carly Marthis & J-man

The Mark Vann Benefit had been on the radar for a while. The line-up featured the ever-so-rare, Contribution, as well as Great American Taxi and The Everyone Orchestra, among others. Add to that "friends" and "special guests" and you've got yourself one hell of a night on music! I've listened to a lot of older Leftover Salmon recordings and I've heard a lot of Mark Vann's playing, but I didn't really know all that much about his life and who he was. We headed to Boulder to celebrate and find out more about Salmon's original banjo player and to enjoy an evening of music with friends.

We arrived at the Boulder Theater shortly following doors and headed next door to George's to grab a bite to eat with Pete Wall (Motet). Pete would be sitting in with a couple of the bands that evening, further elevating the stacked line-up. We dined and drank before heading over to The Boulder Theater. Pete informed us that not more than a block away, there was an acid jazz show/benefit for "Michigan" Mike. He considered making an appearance.

There were tables set up in the lobby of The Boulder Theater covered in autographed merchandise and other special items for the auction and ticket drawings that would take place. So many smiling faces hugged and greeted with excitement. I recognized several folks almost immediately and there was lots of catching up before stepping into the main room for the festivities.

Andrew McConathy & The Drunken Hearts:

the Drunken Hearts were a wise choice to open the evening. Their acoustic blend of folk/rock seemed to appeal to the early crowd. Instrumentally the music was nothing mind-blowing but was clean and well composed. Andrew's vocals were enjoyable and somewhat reminiscent of Eddie Vedder. Their set began slowly and with a delicate approach only to grow in both tempo, jamability and energy. They were joined by Tim Carbone for what would be the highlight of their set.

Bill McKay Band:

The Bill McKay Band was what you would expect from the keyboardist of Leftover Salmon. It was solid, sort of popular rock that featured both Bill's fantastic piano playing and sound vocals. Just a couple of songs into the set, Bill called out Pete for some Saxophone. The following three songs were the highlight of Bill's set. Pete played well, showing what he was capable of with a couple well executed solos. Again, another good choice for an early band on the line-up.

The Herman Clan:

Vince Herman and family came out for an unscheduled set. It was sloppy, the stage was packed and we figured it would be a good time to step out...

Acid Jazz "Michigan" Mike Benefit:

We headed a block over to Shine with Pete Wall to catch a song or two at the Jazz Benefit. We ducked in and found ourselves in the middle of an odd room that reminded me of an art gallery. The minute we walked in, Pete took his sax out and made his way up onto the platform stage.

I noticed a few familiar faces; Dave Watts (Motet) on Drums, Scott Messersmith (Motet) on percussion and couple of others that I recognized. I was really impressed with the guitar player, whom I had seen earlier in the fall in a bluegrass setting. When Pete stepped up to the mic, all hell broke loose. The next several minutes included by far the best playing that I had ever heard from Pete. I was blown away.

I glanced down at my phone to realize that The Contribution's set was about to start. We made our way back over to The Boulder Theater.

The Contribution:

The Boulder Theater was packed by the time The Contribution (Tim Carbone, Keith Moseley, Matt Butler, Jeff Miller, Phil Ferlino & Sheryl Renee) hit the stage. You could feel the excitement and anticipation for their set. That night would mark Matt's first gig with the band, replacing Jason Hann on drums. Immediately the elevated level of production was evident. Tim and Sheryl's vocals were strong and impressive, captivating the near full house.

The songs translated well live, the jams were coheisive and enjoyable and the chemistry was evident. Matt Butler fit in well, displaying some of the best drumming that I have seen/heard from Matt. The crowd, as well as the band, clearly loved the set. It was a lot of fun and we look forward to more live shows from The Contribution.

Great American Taxi & Friends:

The evening's headliner hit the stage to a packed main floor. The balcony remained almost completely empty throughout the show, though the main floor was another story. Folks got down to the sloppy folk/jamgrass that unfolded as the stage slowly became crowded with guests filing out. Vince seemed to be having fun as he lead the jams with his head nods and glances. Though the set was cluttered the energy was high.

The Everyone Orchestra:

This was for me the most anticipated set of the night, though the Theater was near empty following Taxi's set. Matt Butler's Everyone Orchestra almost always delivers and I was curious as to who would be involved as the set began. To my dismay, the stage remained packed with more folks being added. I felt bad for Matt Butler, as it was clear that these folks had no idea of what the concept of the Everyone Orchestra was. It was clearly a picking party, which often occurs at the end of shows.

There were folks on stage who hadn't been on stage prior that evening. Vince took over as he often does with these style of jams. It was no longer an Everyone Orchestra set. There were points where Matt was standing on the side of the stage with his hands in his pockets. In a battle for control of the set, Matt continued to write on his characteristic white board to communicate the direction of the jams.

At one point the command was to "sit". The massive group of musicians sat on stage as the crowd caught on and the whole place was in a low/sitting position. I had never witnessed anything like it. The band rose to their feet, the jam climaxed and broke for a couple of banjo players. They picked as the microphone sqeeled. The musicians behind them cringed with the crowd. When the sqeeling stopped, you could hardly hear the banjos. It was pretty much a disaster.

The night came to a close with "Knocking on Heaven's Door" which may have been an appropriate choice to close the evening, but it translated poorly and came off as very cheesy. The music stopped, the musicians stepped to the front of the stage and sang the chorus repeatedly accapella. The crowd seemed to eat it up, I however was left disappointed.

The lights came up, the theater cleared out and Carly and I approached the stage to thank Tim and Matt who were meeting with fans.

"What did you think?" Matt asked me with an almost shy cander.

"Dude, I thought it was great! I thought you fit in perfectly and it was some of the best drumming that I've heard from you" I replied.

He smiled and patted me on the shoulder. "Thanks for coming out," he said.

"Justin!" Tim yelled with a smile.

"Thanks for having us out, Tim," I said appreciatively.

"What did you think?" Tim asked in regards to The Contribution.

"It sounded great" I said with a smile.

With that, Tim smiled, we shook hands and said our goodbyes. We headed back out into the cold Colorado evening. Though the show musically wasn't all that I had hoped it would be, we had a lot of fun.

J-man's Photo Gallery


  1. I haven't read a review this negative (not to mention off-base) in a long time. For being interested in learning more about Mark Vann, you might have mentioned Vince's impromptu story requested by Matt during the Everyone Orchestra or given a brief history of the man. Sorry a night of celebrating him, life and music didn't do it for you. If perfection is your thing, consider studio recordings. And spellcheck.

  2. Honesty hurts. I'm sorry that you feel that the review was off base, but that's how I saw it. In regards to learning more about Mark, there wasn't much information provided or discussed. We had fun, but the truth was it was a pretty sloppy night of music.

    Perfection is not necessarily my thing and nor is sloppiness. Additionally, I much prefer the live experience to studio recordings.

    If you see errors in our text, feel free to point them out so that we may make corrections. We do the best we can on editing, however sometimes we miss a couple of mistakes.


  3. That's the struggle with writing music reviews. Sometime you've got to be honest, call a spade a spade, and folks get offended. At least you were honest.

  4. It's what we do... A lot of times I am put into a position where I am reviewing shows of musicians who are also friends. It's caused a few odd situations, but those who are friends or fans of MM know it's nothing personal. It's all just perspective...

    As I said, we had fun.


  5. i can see how this could get sloppy. But taken for what it was, a bunch of 'rado musicians getting together for a good cause, the sloppiness is almost expected. when 'and friends' gets thrown out there you know the stage might get a little cluttered and any songs everyone knows may have only been practiced once together prior to the show. sounds like a 'good night to boogie'...

  6. I took it for what it was, I wrote about it as I saw/heard it and I enjoyed myself.



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