Since forming their band some 20-odd years ago, Leftover Salmon have anchored the jam-band scene. What came about as a haphazard conjoining of two bands in Boulder, Colorado, transpired into a consistent project, which combines a unique blend of bluegrass, rock, country and Cajun/Zydeco to create a genre they’ve coined “Polyethnic Cajun Slamgrass.”
“Aquatic Hitchhiker,” their recently released album from 2012 on Los Records, boasts a clever representation of Americana music, all of which merges rock and blues, yet uses intense picks on the banjo to give it a slamgrass quirk. The album and namesake of the first-titled track started out as banjo warm-ups for Andy Thorn. Eventually, the band built harmonies and chords to flesh out the full-length EP. The endeavor has taken them on a travelling journey of tours and several festivals, including Telluride Bluegrass Festival, High Sierra Music Festival, and All Good Festival—“all the big, fun ones,” as Thorn puts it. “[We’re] not a band that tours just because we have an album out. Other guys have toured for 24 years, because that’s just what you do.”
What formed in 1989 by the merging of two separate bands, Drew Emmit, Vince Herman and Mark Vann found themselves at the forefront of the emerging jam band scene. Although the lineup would change significantly throughout the years, these three would remain the signature heartbeat of Leftover Salmon—until Vann’s widely bereaved passing after losing his battle with cancer in 2002.
After their two independently released albums, “Bridges to Bert” in 1993 and the 1995 follow-up “Ask the Fish,” the band earned a gig on the Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere, or H.O.R.D.E. festival for short. Thus, it landed them a contract with Hollywood Records. With the rise of their music and establishment of being a forerunner on the scene, Leftover Salmon released what is considered to be their most definitive album, “Euphoria,” in 1997. This gave way to ‘99’s “The Nashville Session.” The band pursued this record and the opportunity to play along other well-oknown colleagues like Sam Bush, Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Widespread Panic’s John Bell, Blues Traveler’s John Popper, Earl Scruggs, Waylon Jennings and Lucinda Williams.
By 2007, it seemed Leftover Salmon dissolved to an afterthought, with a majority of the band taking off for solo careers or other projects. Some festivals and reunions took place, but nothing which solidified a reformation. However, one night in 2010 Andy Thorn had to sub for former banjo player Matt Filner, and a new generation of Leftover Salmon was born.
Thorn, a North Carolina native and Chapel Hill alum, follows the legacy of Mark Vann. He claimed it’s an easier adjustment joining a band that encapsulates so much history already.
“[They] have put in so much work,” he says. “Their old banjo player was very loved by people in the scene, so they had a hard time getting over that, but people are very accepting and have compared me to him in a flattering light.”
Thorn realized his love for Colorado because of access to its amazing skiing—the ultimate impetus for his move to the mountainous land. Twelve years ago, he visited for a skiing trip and started to fill in on banjo for another band. Throughout his excursions, folks repeatedly asked him about moving away from North Carolina. Ultimately, he gave in six years later because he “got the gig” and realized how fun it was to tour within the jam-band scene.
While soaking up the natural mineral pools of Hot Sulphur Springs in Colorado, Thorn gushed over the natural beauty of its landscape. Most of Leftover Salmon’s music spawns from inspiration of the Rockies’ intoxicating scenery. The song “High Country” came to be after his hike into the wilderness, where he experimented with different verses inspired by his surroundings. By the time he got back to his cabin, he picked up the guitar and finished it after only a couple of takes.
The song ended up being a perfect fit for a partnership Leftover Salmon created with Breckenridge Brewery. Because the band always characterized themselves as more of a touring outfit that cultivated an experience with fans, rarely did they produce music just for the sake of promotion. Yet, they’ve bridged the gap between being on the road and remaining connected to community. When people buy a 12-pack sample of Breckenridge’s fine Colorado ales, a code on the packaging allows buyers to download four Leftover Salmon songs for free, including “High Country.”
“The great thing about it is, [the promotion] forced us to go into the studio and record some new songs,” says Thorn, who admitted the band is not always motivated to write and record. Thorn’s catalogue of original songs needed to be put down, so it acted as a propulsion to create. Now, they have plans to complete another Leftover Salmon album to feature Thorn’s music as well.
The band will take over another wondrous reserve of nature this weekend, as Leftover Salmon plays the Greenfield Lake Amphitheatre on November 3rd, presented by the Penguin 91.3 FM. Opening for the band will be the John Stickley Trio, which Thorn says is a great bluegrass band. He should know; he used to play with while beginning his music career in Durham, NC.
“I love that I get to play with someone that I’ve known for so long,” Thorn notes. “It will make it twice as fun.”
Greenfield Lake Amphitheater
1941 Amphitheater Drive,
Sunday, November 3rd, 4:30 p.m. doors, 5:30 p.m. show
$20 adv, $25 day-of; all ages