Live rowdy, live loud, stay up late, make peace, make music. These words are the mission statement of Leftover salmon as they have inspired and helped pave the way for many bands to break free from traditional bluegrass and explore the genre in a more contemporary direction. As a fan, photographer, and writer, it seems the group’s intentions are simply this – we’re going to melt your face, open your mind and heart with artistic expression, and spread as much love and positivity as possible in the process. This group is highly regarded not only for the music they create, but also for the environment in which they are created. The music moves the band in ever-changing directions as the show brims with infectious enthusiasm. The public feels this atmosphere and sends it back to him. It creates a swirling movement of musical adventure that takes you into the band’s musical spirit of creativity, weirdness and expression.
Now thirty-three years on from their pioneering journey, Leftover Salmon presents a lineup that has been together longer than any other in the band’s history. In the mid-’80s, Vince Herman moved to Boulder, Colorado from Morgantown, West Virginia where he was attending West Virginia University, and on his first night in town he met future bandmate and future Leftover Salmon co-founder Drew Emmitt and they have been friends and fellow musicians ever since. Drew had a band at the time called the Left-Hand String Band, I guess after the famous Left Hand Canyon in Boulder. They were extremely popular as they mixed bluegrass and rock and roll which gave them immense popularity in the area. Vince joined the band for a time before going his own way to dive into his own musical business and form a band called the Salmon Heads, a Cajun jug band exploring many of Vince’s diverse influences. On New Years Eve in 1989 the two bands came together for a show and the energy and enthusiasm could not be ignored and a new band Leftover Salmon was born.
Fast forward a few decades to the current lineup of Vince on guitar and vocals, Drew on guitar, mandolin and vocals, Andy Thorn on banjo and vocals, Greg Garrison on bass and vocals, and Alwyn Robinson on drums and vocals and new member Jay Starling on keyboards, dobro and vocals. All of these players have so much diversity in their musical back pockets that it’s head-spinning and awesome as hell. Garrison on bass with his background in jazz, rock, bluegrass and funk is a powerful and versatile performer with a great feel for the groove. His wide range of influences and experience are key to Salmon’s sound and he’s been at the bottom of that band since 2000. He’s played with industry legends including Sam Bush, Del McCoury and the Motet for n’ to name a few. and he also co-founded the Punch Brothers.
Andy Thorn brings a whirlwind of experience both as a player and as a music specialist. He has a degree in jazz guitar and I’m sure this guy can play anything with strings. Moving to Colorado from North Carolina opened up all kinds of creative doors for Thorn. He joined the Broke Mountain Bluegrass Band which won top honors at the 2003 Rocky Grass Bluegrass Festival Band Contest. The band broke up soon after and Thorn returned east to join Larry Keel’s band. He was soon recruited to fill the vacant banjo position in Emmitt Nershi’s band, which led to him joining Leftover Salmon in 2011.
Alwyn Robinson on drums has insane abilities to switch genres in and out, often these genre switches are within the same song. Robinson gives this group a solid base of stability and tempo. When you consider the ever-changing moods, arrangements, and improvisational nature that Salmon is known for, Alwyn has to pick it up quickly and provide the right timing for everyone else. Growing up in Texas, he’s been playing in rock and country bands since middle and high school. He continued his musical endeavors at Texas Tech which allowed him to hone his jazz and improvisation techniques which serve him well every time he takes the stage. He was introduced to Greg Garrison and Greg recommended him to step behind the kit for Leftover Salmon in 2013. Garrison and Robinson’s combination was meant to be and they just crush it night after night.
Jay Starling of Fredericksburg, Virginia joined Leftover Salmon about a year ago. Starling has a very diverse musical background, he learned to play classical piano as a child and also explored guitar, bass and drums. He comes from a musical family as his father John Starling was the founding member of the highly acclaimed bluegrass band The Seldom Scene. Starling has explored many musical genres and is a perfect fit for Leftover Salmon. He has known everyone in the band for some time and when the keyboard job was offered to him, he accepted it. His diversity on the piano provides all sorts of exciting opportunities for the band as he can play the jazzy psychedelic styles on the piano and then take over the dobro for the bluegrass songs. Starling is a great asset to Leftover Salmon and brings a lot of flavor to the sound. Last night was his first anniversary of the first gig he performed with the band.
All these talented musicians put together are quite breathtaking. The music they make is adventurous, diverse and inspiring. They can take you on many journeys in many genres and sometimes you just stare in amazement and say to yourself or your gig mates, did they really do this? Well, I can assure you they did. They are not afraid; they are players with guitars and their mission is to give you the most exciting hand every time they take the stage. Music touches us all in different ways and yet our minds and bodies accept that it is our own experience. Leftover salmon provides all of us with these wonderful opportunities to paint our own picture of deliciousness on the open canvas of ourselves.
Grateful Web, spoke with Andy Thorn and here’s what he had to say:
GW: Does Leftover Salmon use a concrete set list or does it evolve and possibly change as the set progresses?
ANDY: Drew usually does the set list and we all offer a contribution if we’re there. It’s a fun thing to do during dinner. But in 12 years of being in the group, I don’t think we’ve ever joined! We call a lot of audibles.
GW: Is Leftover Salmon planning (or has already) recorded new music that will be released in the near future?
ANDY: Yes, we just recorded a new album for Compass Records. It was super fun recording in Nashville because of all the friends we brought in to play. The album is made up entirely of covers and will include guest appearances from Billy Strings, Oliver Wood and Daryl Anger. Look for it in 2023.
GW: Are all members of the band involved in songwriting and if so, do you write together or individually?
ANDY: Drew and Vince do most of the writing but the rest of us also added more of our own songs. Co-writing with Vince is super fun. Our last album has one that we wrote together, “We’ll Get By”.
GW: With Colorado as the backdrop for most of your lives, has living here had an impact on the overall sound of the band?
ANDY: Life in Colorado absolutely influenced the sound of this band. You can hear themes of the high country and its river and screams running through the lyrics of many of our songs. And the Colorado festivals really shaped the band’s sound. The band formed around the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and you can really hear the influence of Sam Bush and the Newgrass Revival and Hot Rize.
GW: Are there any gigs or festivals on your tour schedule that you can’t wait to play?
ANDY: We have a lot of good festivals this year. The vibrations are high after the pandemic. I’m super excited for Floyd Fest, it’s right on Blue Ridge Parkway and I’m still from North Carolina with my dad. I’m also excited for the Northwest String Summit, it’s at Horning Hideout in Oregon and it’s the last one.
Red Rocks shows RECAP! Leftover Salmon took the stage at Red Rocks last night with big smiles as the Colorado crowd greeted them with hearty applause. Vince Herman welcomed everyone as he looked up at the mass of people in front of him and the group. It was a beautiful warm summer night in the extraordinary amphitheater and the atmosphere was strong! Salmon opened the set with We’ll Get By, a recent track the band wrote together. The fans were dancing and happy, the band was excited and eager to play. The band’s eclectic diversity was on full display as they ripped through Something Higher and Boogie Grass. Each song takes you on a whirlwind adventure of personal lyrical expression and divine musicality. The string sounds swirled around the rocks with great clarity and power, like a well-oiled musical machine, the band sounded tight, rehearsed the tour and was thrilled to play on the rocks.
The ten-song set was well thought out and took many musical styles on a wild ride. Evermore, Brand New Good Ole and Hobo Song were all included in the well-mixed gumbo of genres the band stirs up at every gig. They can take you to Kentucky in one song and then drop you off in the bayou in the next. The complexity that meets simplicity in the band’s style is truly a wonder to experience. The classic Sound Gardens song Black Hole Sun was next and it was heavy, trippy and took you on a wild ride through the heavy lyrics. High Country and All Night Ride closed out the set they played in direct support of The String Cheese Incident and the boy made Salmon kill him. Fans were overjoyed at the end of the band and you can clearly feel the love pouring down on them from all directions.
On a personal note, it was great to see my close friends from Fort Collins, Colorado Andrew Waltman working in front of the house and Christopher Fernald working the lights for Leftover Salmon. This band, their team and their friends all feel like family to me, it’s just a cool vibe with lots of love and respect for each other. Thank you to everyone involved for putting on an amazing show. Thank you, Annabel, for always being such a beacon of joy to everyone.
What Salmon fans are saying: