By Maria Wyllie
Explore Big Sky Staff Writer
BIG SKY – A lot of people move to mountain towns to have fun. And Leftover Salmon gets that.
Currently on their Powder Daze tour, the band is making stops in mountain towns throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, to party and play with the mountain people on stage and on the slopes.
They’ll be taking the stage at Whiskey Jack’s March 15 and 16 for two nights of revelry.
Often called “poly-ethnic Cajun slam grass,” Leftover Salmon’s music is a blending of calypso, bluegrass, reggae and Tex-Mex.
“Montanans are pretty willing to get rowdy when it comes to music it seems,” said lead singer, guitarist and mandolinist Vince Herman in a phone interview. “We like that because we’re kind of a rowdy band.”
The hopped up bluegrass band consists of Herman; Drew Emmit (vocals, mandolin, acoustic and electric guitar, mandola, fiddle); Andy Thorn (vocals, acoustic and electric banjo, National guitar); Greg Garrison (vocals, acoustic and electric bass, acoustic guitar); and Alwyn Robinson (drums, percussion). Also joining them in Big Sky is Bill Payne of Little Feat on keyboard.
Not usually found in a bluegrass band, the keyboard throws in more of the mid- to low-end sound, and Payne has no problem keeping up with Leftover’s fast-paced playing and high-energy shows.
“Playing with Leftover Salmon is like being at the end of a rope of a very powerful boat that’s going to pull you out of the water and you just have to hang on for all your worth,” Payne said.
Payne also recently joined the band in the studio to record some songs for the upcoming album, which may be called High Country, according to Herman. “We got some new material we are pretty fired up about,” he said. “Bill Payne is joining us, so we are doing a tune written by him and Robert Hunter of The Grateful Dead.”
Payne said the song is called “Bluegrass Pines” and that they also recorded another song by Lowell George of Little Feat called “Six Feet of Snow.”
“It’s one thing to have great players, but the vehicle is all these songs so I was very pleased they included a song of mine on the latest record their working on,” Payne added.
Since Leftover Salmon’s founding in Boulder, Colo. 25 years ago, the band’s impact on bluegrass and the live music scene is palpable. Bands like Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth and the Infamous Stringdusters, among many others, have cited them as influences in their own music.
After an eight-year hiatus, the band reconvened in 2012, going back to the studio and coming out with Aquatic Hitchiker and a new banjo player, Andy Thorn.
“I think Andy Thorn is just unbelievable,” Payne said. “He’s also a very avid skier and I imagine he skis the way he plays, and that’s full out.”
Herman says the 29-year old banjo picker a new sense of energy to the band since the break and is helping push them as musicians.
The group tours all over the country, but the Powder Daze tour allows them to connect with the mountain town folks they refer to in so much of their music. For example, in Leftover’s cover of “Blister in the Sun” at McCabe’s in Boulder on May 4, 1991, the band improvises the lyrics, tapping into the mountain culture people find so appealing:
“My girlfriend, she’s always telling me why don’t you drive to Denver and get a reeeaaal job…I think what I really have in mind is maybe a position as a ski bum in some far off mountain town… I want to play tunes, I want to have a good time. Let me go on as a blister in the sun, Let me go on, I just want to be a ski bum!”
Many Big Sky residents can relate to those lyrics about playing in the mountains and having fun. The band has also been complimented by other musicians for their high level of energy and how much fun they have on stage. Herman says this is probably because being a musician is the most fun job he’s had.
“I’ve been a carpenter, fisherman, bartender, cook, waiter, painter and roofer.” Herman said. “…None of them is as fun as playing music and I feel incredibly grateful to get to do it every time we’re lucky enough to get on stage.”
Rooted deep in tradition, bluegrass music is interactive and egalitarian in that anyone can jump in the circle and start picking. “It’s community music, and that’s kind of unusual in the music scene,” Herman said.
Fans at Big Sky Big Grass, held Feb. 6-9, witnessed this over the course of the weekend, with artists from various bands playing together on stage and off. If you missed the Big Grass festival, March 15 and 16 are your chances to see what it’s all about – live music by musicians who want to give you a good time.
“We’re just psyched to get up there to Big Sky and get some wildness going,” Herman said about the upcoming show. “We’re fired up.”