Leftover Salmon


Leftover Salmon celebrate 30 years together and return to The Broadmoor for an extravagant weekend celebration

Steamboat Springs Strings Music Festival | March 17
Boogie at The Broadmoor Hotel | March 20-22


By Brian F. Johnson
Photo by John Ryan Lockman

On New Year’s Eve this year, when the clock struck midnight, it didn’t just signify the dawning of a new calendar year and a new decade, it also marked thirty years of the most unlikely of groups — the freaks from the Peak-To-Peak — Leftover Salmon.

At the culmination of a blistering cover of the John Hartford song “Up on the Hill, Where They Do The Boogie,” ringleader Vince Herman, with his arms outstretched to the packed Mission Ballroom said “Thank you with all of our hearts and souls for giving us thirty years of doin’ the boogie, y’all.”

As he looked down the stage at his bandmates, and his fellow ringleader, Drew Emmitt, Herman said it was the proudest he’s ever been of his three-decade-long partner-in-crime.

“Just standing there, loving each other and waving at the crowd and crossing that line of thirty years of doing this together, was just a great moment,” Herman said during a recent interview with The Marquee. “The Mission Ballroom was raging. It was the biggest production we’ve ever done and it just feels amazing to be 30 years in and feeling as fresh as it’s ever been. For it to be so alive at 30 was a very proud moment and waving at the crowd at New Year’s that night was a beautiful thing.”

Making it thirty years in any business in this day and age takes a level of resilience that is difficult to find, to say the least. But making it thirty years in the volatile music business puts Leftover Salmon into a very elite segment of bands who’ve endured for that long.

“It definitely amazes us that we kept it going,” said Emmitt, during the same interview. “A lot of obstacles have been thrown our way and we never made it to the ‘big time’ and maybe that’s a good thing. This band wasn’t meant to get super super big and I think we’ve gotten to a nice level. But I’ve seen bands that go out with the three busses and the semis and all that and sometimes think maybe that’s part of the reason why we’ve kept it going for so long. It didn’t get out of hand, you know, and that seems like it can take the fun out of it.”

Anyone who knows anything about Leftover Salmon knows that it all comes down to the fun of it. Whether it’s break-neck speed picking, hilarious lyrics or waving the freak flag high, Leftover Salmon is all about, driven by, and lives for the fun. In his book “Leftover Salmon Thirty Years of Festival” Tim Newby spoke to the “absurdity of Leftover Salmon,” which many other bands who’ve made it so long might take offense to, but Herman embraces it.

“We are absurd. We’re surreal. We’re a band called ‘Leftover Salmon’ that has a plastic cheeseburger as our mascot. It doesn’t make any sense at all. But so little makes sense. Absurdity is everywhere around us and it’s something I enjoy. Surrealism is some of my favorite art. It’s a surreal lifestyle we have. It’s nuts to be doing this.”

Of course, the last three decades haven’t come without some struggles or without some hard resets for the band. The most obvious, of course, was the loss of their banjo wizard Mark Vann, who passed away in 2002. That was sort of the start of the big deep sigh that put the band on hiatus for a minute before they were able to pull it back together. Vann’s replacement Noam Pikelny announced he was leaving the group in 2004, and the band announced they were pumping the breaks shortly thereafter. “It was the machine,” said Emmitt. “We have a machine now too, but it’s much more reasonable. We were literally touring three weeks out of every month and it was definitely killing all of us and we didn’t know how to get out of it. We needed to stop and refigure and it was the best thing we could have done. You know, it’s supposed to be your dream, but it becomes your nightmare.”

It took until 2007 — after the band members all went off and did some solo projects — for them to reconvene, and it took a bit longer for them to admit that it was no longer a “reunion” but a full-force shift to being back in the saddle for good, albeit with some sanity-inducing downtime mixed in, to find “peace in the middle of the hurricane,” as Emmitt put it.

When it comes to “our scene,” 2019 will long be remembered as the year that Jeff Austin and Neal Casal were swept up by the hurricane. And now, as they enter elder statesmanship status in their third decade together, Herman, Emmitt and the rest of the group are utilizing that role to help bring awareness to the struggle of touring musicians, and the larger discussion of mental wellness. When the group hosts their weekend getaway Boogie at the Broadmoor this month in Colorado Springs it will coincide with the Boogie To Benefit Mental Health, which is a series of events throughout the weekend designed to bring awareness to the topic and to raise money for the Backline Organization, whose mission is to connect industry professionals and their family members with a trusted network of mental health and wellness providers.

“We’ve been through a lot in the music community this year,” Herman said. “It’s a pretty profound revelation to know that this business can just suck the will to live out of people. We saw it with Jeff and with Neal this past year and to see our comrades losing their will to press on because this business is so hard it would be ridiculous not to address it. We love our cohorts in this business and to see them succumb to the pressure of trying to make a living in this nuts world of music gets harder and harder to do all the time. Felt like we had to do something.”

The activities for the weekend will include a bowling with the band tournament, a massive charity auction and the We Bee Spelling comedy game show hosted by Alex Greer and Kyle Ayers, along with Andy Frasco and Leftover Salmon.

In addition to those shenanigans, the weekend’s musical lineup will also feature performances by Jerry Douglas and Friends, Circles Around the Sun, Andy Frasco and the U.N., Nick Forster’s Hippy Bluegrass Church, Deadphish Orchestra, Lonesome Days and more.

Later this year, if the vinyl industry is able to recover from the recent devastating fire at the Apollo Masters Corp. — one of only two places in the world that produces the lacquer discs needed to assemble master plates for pressing records — Leftover is planning on releasing a massive vinyl box set Leftover Salmon: 30 Years Under the Big Top, which will feature the band’s entire catalog on 10 discs.

Steamboat Springs Strings Music Festival | March 17
Boogie at The Broadmoor Hotel | March 20-22

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